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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / State Of The League: Pittsburgh Steelers

State Of The League: Pittsburgh Steelers

A Look ahead to the 2021 Steelers!
Publish Date: 07/23/2021
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

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

Position Starter Backup
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
K Chris Boswell
P Jordan Berry Pressley Harvin
LS Kameron Canaday
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

Expired Contracts
Player Position Age 2020 Team 2021 Team Info / Notes
Avery Williamson ILB 29 PIT
Jayrone Elliott OLB 30 PIT
Jordan Dangerfield FS 31 PIT
Danny Isidora G 27 PIT
Jerald Hawkins T 28 PIT
Arrivals
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
Departures
Player Position Age 2020 Team 2021 Team Departed via
Maurkice Pouncey C 31 PIT Retirement
David DeCastro G 31 PIT Released
Vance McDonald TE 31 PIT Retirement
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
Steve Nelson CB 28 PIT Released
James Conner RB 26 PIT ARZ Free Agency
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi LB 24 PIT TEN Free Agency
Sean Davis FS 28 PIT IND Free Agency
Vince Williams ILB 31 PIT Retirement
Re-Signed
Player Position Age 2020 Team 2021 Team Info / Notes
JuJu Smith-Schuster WR 25 PIT PIT
Zach Banner T 28 PIT PIT
Cameron Sutton CB 26 PIT PIT
Tyson Alualu DL 34 PIT PIT
Joshua Dobbs QB 26 PIT PIT
Chris Wormley DL 28 PIT PIT
Robert Spillane LB 26 PIT PIT
J.C. Hassenauer C 27 PIT PIT
Marcus Allen S 25 PIT PIT
Cassius Marsh DE 29 PIT PIT
Jordan Berry P 30 PIT PIT
Ray-Ray McCloud WR 25 PIT PIT

 

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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