After an offseason filled with additions and subtractions to the roster and the coaching staff, the Pittsburgh Steelers — at least on paper — appear to be in a better spot heading into the 2023 season compared to where they were when the 2022 season ended.
The offseason additions of Isaac Seumalo, Cole Holcomb, Patrick Peterson, Elandon Roberts and Nate Herbig in free agency, the trade for Allen Robinson II and the selections of Broderick Jones, Joey Porter Jr., Keeanu Benton and Darnell Washington have the Steelers in a really strong spot as minicamp and training camp approach.
Pro Football Focus seems to agree, ranking the Steelers No. 12 in its roster rankings Thursday, putting them in third in the AFC North behind the Cincinnati Bengals (No. 3 in the rankings) and the Baltimore Ravens (No. 9).
Entering the 2023 season, PFF tabbed the Steelers’ pass rush as the roster strength, while highlighting the cornerback position as the biggest weakness.
“T.J. Watt missed most of 2022 after tearing his pectoral in Week 1. The 2021 Defensive Player of the Year should be back fully healthy in 2023 alongside the always-improving Alex Highsmith to form one of the most impressive pass-rush duos in the league,” PFF writes. “As it stands, the best cornerback on this defense is (32)-year-old Patrick Peterson. The Steelers did address the position twice in the draft with Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice Jr., but expect some growing pains in 2023.”
The pass rush of Watt and Highsmith, assuming good health, should be lethal once again. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better duo in the league right now from the outside linebacker position. Highsmith is coming off of a career-high 14.5 sacks in 2022, stepping up admirably in Watt’s absence, while Watt was able to return in the second half of the season and get back to his dominant ways.
PFF didn’t even highlight other key contributors in the pass rush like Pro Bowl defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, coming off of his second straight 10+ sack season, or veteran defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi, who re-signed on a three-year deal in free agency and should take a step forward in 2023 in his second season in the Steel City.
As for the weakness, it’s a fair label for the Steelers. The cornerback position was dealt another blow on Wednesday as slot cornerback Arthur Maulet was released, putting the slot cornerback position in major flux. Though the Steelers did well to address the outside corner role with the addition of Peterson in free agency and the drafting of Porter and Trice, slot cornerback remains a clear concern with no real answers at the moment.
Outside of the biggest strength and weakness on the roster, PFF highlighted second-year receiver George Pickens as the Steelers’ X-factor for 2023.
As a rookie, Pickens showed flashes of being a true No. 1, finishing his first season with 52 receptions for 801 yards and four touchdowns, displaying great chemistry with quarterback Kenny Pickett in the second half of the season. Entering Year 2, Pickens is expected to make a significant leap.
“Pickens showed flashes as a second-round rookie in 2022, catching 52 passes for 801 yards and 4 touchdowns to go along with a 69.3 receiving grade. The 22-year-old will have every opportunity to take over as the team’s No. 1 receiving threat and make second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett’s life easier in 2023,” PFF writes.
Though the Steelers seem to be trending more towards a ground-and-pound style of offense, there will still be plenty of opportunities for big plays in the passing game between Pickett and Pickens.
Pickens proved to be a serious matchup problem for defensive backs last season due to his ability to make plays in contested-catch situations while also having the speed to threaten vertically. If he takes a step forward in the YAC department, look out.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about the Steelers roster as currently constructed, outside of the slot cornerback position. GM Omar Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl had a great offseason overall, reshaping the roster on the fly while plugging a number of holes. We’ll see how it plays out on the field, but on paper the roster looks rather strong.