It isn’t often that the Pittsburgh Steelers start a season and the local media and social media pages don’t over exaggerate their expectations of the black and gold.
After finishing 9-8 in their first year post Roethlisberger, the Steelers had an excellent draft and signed some much needed pieces, adding depth to the roster. For the most part most pundits proejct the Steelers around the 10-7 mark which is just one game better than 2022. Understandably so, as the Steelers play in a tough division and each team did their part in the offseason to get better.
Here are some areas where the Steelers may be underestimated in 2023:
It is not hard to see that Kenny Pickett has gotten bigger and stronger and it shows with the velocity in which the ball comes out of his hand. For example, watch the highlight of his 25-yard touchdown pass to Pat Freiermuth against Buffalo this past week. He threw a seed in between multiple defenders and did so effortlessly. And if Pickett misses time, the Steelers have veteran QB Mitch Trubisky in the wings, and he can sail the ship for a week or two as long as he does not try to do too much.
Pickett also gets another year to gel with his weapons, some new and some familiar. Wide receiver George Pickens has been the talk of camp and he is getting national attention for his combat catches and overall play. Flanker Calvin Austin’s speed and twitch may be a talent the Steelers haven’t had here since Antonio Brown. His punt returning ability and his ability to separate himself on routes could make the Steelers receivers unit a surprise around the league. Add Dionte Johnson and veteran newcomer Allen Robinson to the mix and the Steelers will be a handful for opposing secondaries in 2023.
And opponents will do well not to sleep on the Steelers emerging tight end unit. Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry and rookie Darnell Washington will add to the weapons that Pickett will have at his disposal.
The Steelers run game should be better as well this season. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren will be running behind a rebuilt offensive line that now has Isaac Seumalo at guard and potentially #1 pick Broderick Jones at left tackle. They ran for over 1,400 yards combined last year and it is not far fetched to think those numbers will go up this season. As far as depth goes, Anthony McFarland has shown some flashes this training camp and if he can stay healthy it would be a huge plus for the Steelers running back depth. He has only played three games in the past two seasons, and when healthy he is a quality 3rd down back.
Stellar? No. Underestimated? Yes.
Injuries are always a concern with an aging defensive corps. Last season T.J. Watt missed 7 games (even though he’s not in the aging category per se) and the Steelers defense suffered immensely.
GM Omar Khan went fishing. He added depth everywhere on the defensive side of the ball, using both the draft and free agency to improve and add depth. The team signed veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson and drafted Penn State corner Joey Porter, Jr. They kept their bookends at outside linebacker/edge by re-signing emerging star Alex Highsmith to a long term deal and may have hit on selecting Wisconsin’s versatile swiss army knife in Nick Herbig, who appears to be a strong depth piece that can play right away.
They reconstructed the inside linebacker position as a whole, signing former Commanders ILB Cole Holcomb and former Dolphins ILB Elandon Roberts to start, and added past pro-bowler Kwon Alexander for depth.
Again, stellar? No, but more than serviceable and perhaps a bit underrated, especially if Watt and Heyward stay healthy.
Overall, the Steelers can be sneaky good. With the potential growth of Pickett, Pickens and the retooled defensive unit and offensive line, the team may surprise many this season, perhaps even crawling back into a backend playoff spot in the loaded AFC.
Draft 412’s warning to the division: don’t sleep on this squad.