Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers have received nearly universal praise and acclaim for their 2023 NFL Draft class, the power rankings and playoff projections coming out since then still don’t seem to shine an overly favorable view on their immediate future for this upcoming season.
For a team that was just a win away from making the playoffs and still posted a winning record, it might strike you as odd that so many can feel so good about the improvements they’ve made, yet project them to get no further. Former Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, however, has a little more confidence in them.
“I think they’ll be very competitive”, he said on 93.7 The Fan earlier this week with Joe Starkey and Ron Cook. “Don’t be surprised”.
The Steelers won seven of their final nine games last year and were beginning to earn the reputation of being one of those teams you wouldn’t want to see make the playoffs, because they’re hot and might prove to be a tough out.
They haven’t really lost much since last season, at least not in areas where they haven’t heavily replaced what went missing. The biggest name gone was Cameron Sutton at cornerback. They signed Patrick Peterson in free agency and then drafted Joey Porter Jr. (and later Cory Trice Jr. as well).
But of course the season rides primarily on the growth and development of second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett and how much the Steelers can help him—not just in the passing game, but in all phases, including on defense, on special teams, and on the sideline. In terms of his own talent, however, we should see a player with significant growth now with a season under his belt.
“You’re gonna see Kenny Pickett take another jump this year”, Spielman believes. “They went out and traded for Allen Robinson to add to already a very talented receiver class. You’re always going to play good defense, and I think they helped themselves on some of the guys that they drafted on the defensive side of the ball”.
The Steelers retain former Pro Bowler Diontae Johnson at wide receiver, and many—including Spielman—believe second-year George Pickens will be a breakout star. He is already a highlight-reel catcher, but he can learn to do much more between the highlights.
On top of what he already mentioned, the additions along the offensive line will help the offense in all phases. Pickett having a more reliable running game, and possibly even one that is more capable of producing the occasional explosive play, would help take a lot of the burden off his shoulders.
But how much ground have the Steelers gained in relation to the rest of the AFC North? To the AFC in general? That’s the real question. You can get better, but so does everybody else at the same time. They are expected to have a more favorable schedule this year. But they can’t afford to let winnable games slip away in 2023.