This has been a crazy off-season for the Pittsburgh Steelers so far in 2021. With so many players coming and going, there are many candidates for most interesting to keep an eye on. Here is what we think will be the five most intriguing Steelers players as we head into training camp.
5. James Pierre:
As we all know, the Steelers cut corner Steven Nelson early on in the process for salary cap purposes. This left a giant hole in this team’s secondary. To make matters worse, Pittsburgh also lost slot corner Mike Hilton to free agency. Cam Sutton was retained, and can play either corner position quite well. That still leaves one rather large position un-filled on this roster.
The buzz around mini camp has been that James Pierre has shown quite a bit of improvement. https://stillcurtain.com/2021/06/22/steelers-cb-james-pierre-surprise-player/ He already had passed Justin Layne on the depth chart last season. Pierre will be unquestionably the player to watch in the Steelers secondary during the pre-season. If he continues to play well, it could go a long way in solving this team’s issues in the secondary. If he can’t, it could be a long season for this franchise on defense.
4. Alex Highsmith:
Bud Dupree is gone, and so too is his dominate play opposite TJ Watt. So much if the success of the Steelers defense over the last few seasons was due to the relentless pass rush these two players provided. Not too mention both were dominant versus the run as well. Alex Highsmith has some huge shoes to fill entering the 2021 season.
How well Highsmith plays could very well determine the fate of this defense. With absolutely no one behind him, the Steelers have made a huge bet that he can be at least partially as good as Dupree was in 2020. Tomlin and company need to be very right on this player, or else this once dominant defense could fall a long way.
3. Dwayne Haskins:
Another player creating lots of buzz out of minicamp is quarterback Dwayne Haskins. With this very likely to be Ben Roethlisberger’s last season with the Steelers, this franchise could really use a quarterback with some upside. There’s no questioning the immense physical talent here. It’s maturity, and work ethic that is the real concern. If Haskins could ever realize the potential that made him a first round draft pick, this would make for one of the best Kevin Colbert acquisitions of all.
2. Najee Harris:
The Pittsburgh Steelers made a huge bet in the 2021 NFL draft. They gambled they could take an elite running back in the first round, and still piece together an offensive line with their remaining draft picks. To say there is a lot riding on how Najee Harris’ play this season would be an understatement. The team passed on several impactful offensive lineman to get what they think is a special player in Harris. If his play is anything less than stellar, this will be seen as a major failure by the front office.
1. The entire offensive line:
When we started this post about the five most intriguing Steelers this off-season, we could have just gone with all five offensive lineman. No where on the team has there been more turnover. The recent shocking release of David Decastro means that this team will have four new starters out of five from the 2020 squad. We warned this unit could become a huge problem prior to last season. Steelers offensive line could be a weakness in 2020
There are question marks up and down this line heading into training camp. Newly signed guard Trai Turner is a multiple time Pro-Bowl player, but he is also had an injury riddled career so far. The most concerning being three straight seasons of concussions from 2017-2019.
The one bright spot on this line heading into 2021 is second year man Kevin Dotson. Dotson played very well in limited games last season. He appears to be the one sure thing along this questionable offensive line.
Zach Banner will be the starting right tackle in 2021. Considering he has one career start under his belt, and is coming off a major injury, this can not be considered a position that is locked down. Banner has lots to prove this pre-season.
Okorafor started 15 games at right tackle for the Steelers last season. His play would be considered average at best, and he is moving to the much more challenging left side of the line. The good news is left tackle is Okorafor’s more natural position.
It would appear that career backup BJ Finney has the upper hand in the starting center race. This would not be good news if he were to hold down that job for very long. Finney is a good piece to have as a backup. He can play center, and both guard spots making him a versatile option on the bench. He is not however someone you’d want starting any length of time.
Kendrick Green is an exciting young talent the Steelers managed to pluck away in the third round. His athleticism has drawn comparisons to that of Maurkice Pouncey. Unfortunately, he is a long ways away from that kind of play on the field. How quickly he can take over the center position in 2021 will go a long way in determining the success of this offensive line.
All of these players will be extremely interesting to watch in pre-season. They all have enough talent to make for a very good offensive line. They also have enough question marks to make this a very concerning group. As a whole, this will be the most fascinating group to keep an eye on the entire off-season.