The NFL Draft and free agency is in our rearview mirrors. There is very little day to day NFL news aside from random minor transactions across the league and conversations about where/when this star player will be traded. The NBA finals are over and the NHL season has ended with a repeat champion. Baseball is gearing up for a long, hot second half of the season. The dog days of Summer are upon us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look down the line at what else the summer holds for us: Training Camp and the NFL preseason. We will be going over all 32 teams’ offseason, division by division: their player personnel moves, coaching changes, and projected preseason depth charts. With the NFC North in the books, we move on to one of the toughest divisions in the NFL: the AFC North. We begin with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pittsburgh Steelers Pre-Training Camp Projected Depth Chart
|QB||Ben Roethlisberger||Mason Rudolph|
|RB||Najee Harris||Benny Snell|
|FB||Derek Watt||Jaylen Samuels|
|WR1||Diontae Johnson||James Washington|
|WR2||JuJu Smith-Schuster||Ray-Ray McCloud|
|WR3||Chase Claypool||Rico Bussey|
|TE1||Eric Ebron||Zach Gentry|
|TE2||Pat Freiermuth||Kevin Rader|
|LT||Chukwuma Okorafor||Dan Moore|
|LG||Kevin Dotson||B.J. Finney|
|C||J.C. Hassenauer||Kendrick Green|
|RG||Trai Turner||Rashaad Coward|
|RT||Zach Banner||Joe Haeg|
|DL||Cameron Heyward||Henry Mondeaux|
|NT||Tyson Alualu||Chris Wormley|
|DL||Stephon Tuitt||Isaiahh Loudermilk|
|OLB||T.J. Watt||Quincy Roche|
|ILB||Devin Bush||Marcus Allen|
|ILB||Robert Spillane||Buddy Johnson|
|OLB||Alex Highsmith||Melvin Ingram|
|CB1||Joe Haden||James Pierre|
|CB2||Cameron Sutton||Arthur Maulet|
|CB3||Justin Layne||Antoine Brooks Jr.|
|FS||Minkah Fitzpatrick||Tre Norwood|
|SS||Terrell Edmunds||Miles Killebrew|
|P||Jordan Berry||Pressley Harvin|
|KR||Anthony McFarland||Ray-Ray McCloud|
|PR||Diontae Johnson||Ray-Ray McCloud|
*BOLD player name = Rookie*
Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 NFL Draft Class
Round 1 (24th overall): RB Najee Harris, Alabama
Round 2 (55th): TE Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
Round 3 (87th): G/C Kendrick Green, Illinois
Round 4 (128th): OT Dan Moore Jr., Texas A&M
Round 4 (140th): LB Buddy Johnson, Texas A&M
Round 5 (156th): DL Isaiahh Loudermilk, Wisconsin
Round 6 (216th): EDGE Quincy Roche, Miami
Round 7 (245th): CB/S Tre Norwood, Oklahoma
Round 7 (254th): P Pressley Harvin III, Georgia Tech
Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Player Personnel Moves
|Player||Position||Age||2020 Team||2021 Team||Info / Notes|
|Player||Position||Age||2020 Team||2021 Team||Acquired via|
|Trai Turner||G||28||LAC||PIT||Free Agency|
|Melvin Ingram||OLB||32||LAC||PIT||Free Agency|
|B.J. Finney||C||30||CIN||PIT||Free Agency|
|Joe Haeg||T/G||28||TB||PIT||Free Agency|
|Arthur Maulet||CB||28||NYJ||PIT||Free Agency|
|Miles Killebrew||S/LB||28||DET||PIT||Free Agency|
|Rashaad Coward||G||27||CHI||PIT||Free Agency|
|Kalen Ballage||RB||26||LAC||PIT||Free Agency|
|Tyler Simmons||WR||24||HOU||PIT||Free Agency|
|Chaz Green||T/G||29||IND||PIT||Free Agency|
|Player||Position||Age||2020 Team||2021 Team||Departed via|
|Bud Dupree||OLB||28||PIT||TEN||Free Agency|
|Alejandro Villanueva||T||33||PIT||BAL||Free Agency|
|Matt Feiler||RT||29||PIT||LAC||Free Agency|
|Mike Hilton||CB||27||PIT||CIN||Free Agency|
|James Conner||RB||26||PIT||ARZ||Free Agency|
|Olasunkanmi Adeniyi||LB||24||PIT||TEN||Free Agency|
|Sean Davis||FS||28||PIT||IND||Free Agency|
|Player||Position||Age||2020 Team||2021 Team||Info / Notes|
Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Review
The Pittsburgh Steelers are nearing the end of the Big Ben era. In what will likely be Ben Roethlisberger’s final season, the team opted to try for one more championship before hitting the reset button. The team suffered some big losses this offseason, and it will be interesting to see just how much losing all that veteran leadership will affect this roster. The Steelers started 11-0 last season, but collapsed late in the year (again), losing five of their final six games – including the wild-card game versus the Browns at Heinz field. Does head coach Mike Tomlin have some more magic in him for one more run at a Lombardi trophy with his Hall Of Fame quarterback? Will the rebuilt offensive line supply the elite protection Ben has become accustomed to and open up holes more consistently in the running game? Can the Steelers defend their crown as AFC North champs and run it back in one of the toughest divisions in football?
Roethlisberger taking a pay cut was just one of many moves Pittsburgh had to do to get under the cap. The team lost key veteran free-agent starters on both sides of the ball due to a lack of cap space and replaced them with low-risk/low-cost free agents and nine NFL Draft picks. Pittsburgh also re-signed a bunch of its own free agents to short-term, team-friendly contracts – like JuJu Smith-Schuster, who signed a 1 year “prove it” deal after testing free agency. Maurkice Pouncey retiring set off a domino effect leading to a total tear-down and rebuild of the offensive line this offseason – the Steelers will have four new starters on the offensive line, with the lone returning starter being Chukwuma Okorafor and he moves from right to left tackle. Pittsburgh lost Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler in free agency and released Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro in a surprise salary cap/recurring injury-related move. Replacing that much veteran starting talent along the offensive line when you’re trying to compete for a championship is a very tall order. Pittsburgh signed several free agent offensive linemen, but only Trai Turner and B.J. Finney look to be significant parts of the revamped line. Turner is penciled in to start at one of the starting guard spots, while Finney can start or be a quality backup at either center or guard. The team also re-signed J.C. Hassenauer, and drafted Kendrick Green in the NFL Draft to battle it out at center with Finney; the team would like it if Green emerged as the long-term answer at the position. Zach Banner was re-signed to start at right tackle after missing 15 games last season. Rashaad Coward, Joe Haeg, and rookie Dan Moore will battle it out for backup roles. As it stands now, this looks to have gone from one of the very best offensive lines to one of the weaker lines in the league – at least on paper.
The offensive line underwent a massive overhaul, but the front office gave Big Ben some new toys as well. Running back James Connor saw his contract expire, and he left in free agency to Arizona. Connor is talented, but injury-prone, and the team decided to move on when they drafted Najee Harris in the 1st round. Harris is a plug-and-play three-down back, who has excellent vision, balance, and ball skills. He is a bruising runner and can contribute in the passing game, which is very important in this offense. The other big offensive addition was the selection of tight end Pat Freiermuth in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft. Freiermuth is another plug-and-play type player who had 310 yards in four games with 23 catches on 37 targets before missing time this past season due to a shoulder injury. He is a prototype in-line tight end who does good work as both a receiver and a blocker. Should excel in the middle of the field in two tight end sets with Eric Ebron.
The defense returns mostly intact, but there was one big loss and some changes in the secondary. Losing edge rusher Bud Dupree to Tennessee hurts, as he and TJ Watt formed one of the NFL’s better pass rush duos. Dupree had 8 sacks in 11 games last season before going down with a torn ACL in December. The Steelers signed free agent edge rusher Melvin Ingram a couple of days before the start of training camp to help replace Dupree. Alex Highsmith is penciled in as the starter opposite Watt, and Ingram bolsters the depth at a shallow position. Ingram is coming off an injury and is aiming to show he can still produce. Pittsburgh also lost corners Mike Hilton (free agency) and Steve Nelson (released), but still, have solid depth. The Steelers re-signed the up and coming Cameron Sutton, and signed Arthur Maulet in free agency. Sutton is all but locked into a starting role, while Maulet is one of five or six guys vying to fill the nickel and dime roles. Getting Devin Bush back from a season-ending ACL injury will be huge, and adds another playmaker in an already stout defense. He was cleared for training camp and is ready to go.
Pittsburgh has an elite defense, one of the better head coaches in the league, and one of the best home fields in the NFL, but don’t be confused – this team will only go as far as Big Ben can take them. The Steelers will be hard-pressed to repeat as division champs, as the Ravens and Browns are legit playoff contenders, and the Bengals are a rising team. The offensive line will need to come together quickly, despite all the new faces if this offense is going to be better than it was in the final six weeks of the season. It all starts upfront – if they can’t protect an aging/injury-prone Big Ben, and can’t run the ball more consistently, then this offense will struggle.
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