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Steelers' Rookies vs. 49ers

by J.T. Toth

Photo courtesy of

Though the Steelers’ week one depth chart does not have a rookie in the starting lineup, Draft 412 believes their top three draft picks will see the field at some point against the San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco is a talent laden team with stars on both sides of the ball and they will need all the help they can get.

Here’s a rundown of some of the matchups the Steelers’ top rookies may face when they lace them up for the Black & Gold for the first time:

Left Tackle - Broderick Jones

One of the biggest battles of training camp featured a heated sparring between incumbent tackle Dan Moore Jr. and first round draft pick Broderick Jones. Jones played well during the preseason, but the Steelers gave the nod to the veteran Moore Jr.

The Steelers traded up for Jones in the first round of last year’s draft but expectations, although perhaps not voiced, were that Jones would learn from Moore Jr. and the other veterans in a reserve role until he was ready to be the shield for emerging quarterback Kenny Pickett’s blind side.

In reality, it will be a matter of time before Jones gets the promotion, but for now, Jones will see rotational play to spell Moore and to get his feet wet before diving in.

The 49ers just signed edge rusher Nick Bosa to a 5 year, $170 million dollar extension. Bosa missed all of training camp but the 49ers announced yesterday that he will play against Pittsburgh. Regardless if Bosa is game-ready or not, he will still be a handful when the whistle blows.

Bosa’s backup, Clelin Ferrell, was a first round draft pick in 2019 and has shown moments of competency while playing with the Raiders. He’s never really lived up to first round expectations, but the Niners hope a change of scenery will give him a second chance to emerge.

Cornerback - Joey Porter Jr.

The Steelers’ first pick of the second round, Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr., continually improved during training camp and will start the season as the third cornerback behind starters Levi Wallace and Patrick Peterson. Peterson signed a 2-year, $14 million dollar contract in the offseason to be a starter, and Wallace is a 6 year veteran who started 9 games for Pittsburgh last year. Porter Jr. will see the field on Sunday in a similar rotational role as Jones, spelling Wallace and other starters at times.

The wide receivers he will match up against, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, will give Porter Jr. a strong challenge in his first minutes in an NFL game. Expect him to be tested when they see him trot onto the field.

Defensive Tackle- Keeanu Benton

The Steelers’ “other” second round draft pick, Keeanu Benton of Wisconsin, has the best chance out of the rookies to play for an extended time on Sunday. Benton was the talk of camp early on and had a big performance against Tampa Bay in the first preseason game.

However, Benton suffered an injury and missed some practice time and the week two preseason matchup. In front of him on the depth chart is journeyman Montravius Adams, who is holding down the fort until the Steelers feel comfortable enough with Benton to start him.

The 49ers interior linemen are average at best and the Steelers will be looking to clog up the running lanes to try and keep running back Christian McCaffrey from springing some long runs.

Tight End - Darnell Washington

Darnell Washington is a bit of a mystery as the Steelers really haven’t tipped their hand as to how and when they may use their third round draft pick.

The Steelers released veteran tight end Zach Gentry during the final cuts, elevating Washington to the backup tight end role, and if the Steelers get their run game going, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him get some playing time. Washington’s freakish size makes him a weapon in both the rush offense and in mismatches in the passing game, but like the other rookies, he will likely be relegated to spot duty on rushing downs and in the red zone.

Edge Linebacker - Nick Herbig

If things go well and there are no injuries, Nick Herbig should play only a reserve role on Sunday, but if Alex Highsmith or T.J. Watt needs to leave the game for any reason, Herbig will be pressed into service at edge rusher.

Herbig had an amazing camp and at one point, was the PFF’s highest rated linebacker in the preseason.

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