2022 NFL Offseason: Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Year: 9-7-1)

2022 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Mitchell Trubisky, WR Gunner Olszewski, G James Daniels, C Mason Cole, DT Larry Ogunjobi, LB Myles Jack, CB Levi Wallace.
Early Draft Picks:
QB Kenny Pickett, WR George Pickens, DT DeMarvin Leal, KR Calvin Austin. Steelers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR James Washington, TE Eric Ebron, G Trai Turner, DT Stephon Tuitt, LB Joe Schobert, CB Joe Haden.

2022 Pittsburgh Steelers Offense:
The Ben Roethlisberger era is over. For the first time since 2004, the Steelers will enter the season without him as their starting quarterback. He announced his retirement, so the Steelers had plenty of time to formulate a plan to find a successor. They began by signing Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft. Trubisky failed in Chicago, but could point to Matt Nagy’s poor coaching as a reason for why that occurred. Trubisky could be better with superior coaching, which he’ll receive in Pittsburgh. It’s not out of the question that he’ll finally live up to expectations, but it’s probably more likely that he’ll fail.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that the Steelers spent their first-round pick on a quarterback. It was more shocking which signal-caller they chose. They were expected to target Malik Willis because he was a better fit for their offense, but because ownership vowed never to pass on another Pitt quarterback again, they opted for Kenny Pickett. The Pitt product has some positives to his game, but his small hands could be very problematic in the cold and windy Pittsburgh environment come December. His low Wonderlic score of 18 is also disconcerting. Pickett could pan out, but it seems more likely than not that he’ll bust.

It doesn’t help Pickett that the offensive line is still a question mark. The blocking was poor last year, resulting in numerous lackluster performances by the offense. The Steelers signed two offensive linemen to potentially rectify this issue. The first was guard James Daniels, who figures to be a big upgrade. The other was Mason Cole, a mediocre center. Though Cole isn’t great, he’ll also provide a boost over what the Steelers had at the position last year.

The three returning linemen are left tackle Dan Moore, right tackle Chuks Okorafor and guard Kevin Dotson. Of the three, Dotson is the best. The tackles struggled last year, but Moore was a rookie. The former fourth-rounder could improve in his second season, leaving Okorafor as the lone weak link. Of course, Moore could just as easy struggle again in 2022.

Pickett will at least have some talented weapons at his disposal. Diontae Johnson is an excellent receiver who has overcome the drop issues that plagued him in 2020. It’ll have to be Chase Claypool who rebounds from a poor season. Claypool took the league by storm as a rookie in 2020, but regressed in his sophomore campaign. JuJu Smith-Schuster also declined, so the Steelers decided to move on from him. He signed with the Chiefs, prompting Pittsburgh to use a second-round pick on George Pickens, a physically gifted receiver who slid in the draft because of injuries and off-the-field concerns. There’s also tight end Pat Freiermuth, who showed major potential in his rookie season.

Speaking of rookies from last year, Najee Harris handled a huge workload in 2021. Not only did Harris rush 307 times for 1,200 yards; he also caught 74 passes. He’ll continue to be a huge part of the offense, and the team’s improved offensive line should allow him to post better stats this upcoming season.

2022 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense:
The Steelers had one major issue on each side of the ball last year. Blocking was the problem for the offense, while the defense endured massive struggles when trying to stop the run. Opposing teams constantly trampled over the once-vaunted Pittsburgh defense throughout the season.

The primary reason why the Steelers couldn’t stop the run was that their defensive line was missing two starters. Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu played just two combined games, and they were both sorely missed, especially the former. Alualu will be back to join Cameron Heyward, but Tuitt has announced his retirement. Pittsburgh added Larry Ogunjobi via free agency and DeMarvin Leal in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, so one of them will replace Tuitt. Their play will determine if the defensive line is better in 2022, but it’s worth noting that Ogunjobi is better as a pass rusher than a run stuffer.

Still, there are other problems with the run defense. The linebacker play, for example, was horrid last year. Devin Bush, who has regressed in each NFL season, was a massive liability last year. The Steelers will give him another chance, but they shouldn’t be holding their breath at this point. They signed Myles Jack this offseason to help with the position, but like Bush, Jack has also been in a sharp decline in recent years.

While the Steelers were poor against the run last year, they were excellent at stopping aerial attacks. This was because they rushed the passer extremely well. T.J. Watt, who could arguably be the best defensive player in the NFL, has led the league in sacks in consecutive years, logging 22.5 in 2021 alone. The Steelers will be hoping for better play from Watt’s bookend, Alex Highsmith, who tallied six sacks last year.

The pass rush will really need to fuel the secondary, which lost top cornerback Joe Haden this offseason. The Steelers signed Levi Wallace to take his place across from Cameron Sutton, who is coming off a bit of a down year. Sutton is used to playing in the slot, but he was used primarily on the outside in 2021. That could change with Ahkello Witherspoon expected to see more action.

There’s also a problem at safety. Minkah Fitzpatrick also struggled this past season, but he’s expected to perform better in 2022 because he’s such a great talent. Conversely, Terrell Edmunds has disappointed throughout his Steeler career. Pittsburgh wanted to upgrade him this offseason, but failed to do so.

2022 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule and Intangibles:
The Steelers had some major kicking woes in 2015 – until they found Chris Boswell. He’s been an excellent kicker for them ever since. He was 36-of-40 in 2021.

Pressley Harvin took over as the team’s punter last year. He had one of the worst net averages in the NFL.

Pittsburgh was mediocre on special teams last year; it didn’t allow a touchdown, but didn’t score either. The team spent an early draft pick on kick returner Calvin Austin to help in this regard.

The Steelers have a very rough start to their season. Five of their first six opponents are the Bengals, Patriots, Browns, Bills and Buccaneers. Things get easier after that, but a slow start could bury the team.

2022 Pittsburgh Steelers Rookies:
Go here for the Steelers Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2022 Pittsburgh Steelers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2022 Pittsburgh Steelers Analysis: The Steelers will naturally endure some growing pains in the first year of the post-Ben Roethlisberger era. They’ll be breaking in a rookie quarterback, all while trying to improve their offensive line and run defense woes. Throw in some issues in the secondary and linebacking corps, as well as a tough schedule, and the Steelers seem destined to miss the playoffs this year.

Projection: 8-9 (4th in AFC North)

2021 Projection: 6-11. 2021 Actual Result: 9-7-1.
2020 Projection: 10-6. 2020 Actual Result: 12-4.
2019 Projection: 11-5. 2019 Actual Result: 8-8.
2018 Projection: 8-8. 2018 Actual Result: 9-6-1.
2017 Projection: 11-5. 2017 Actual Result: 13-3.
2016 Projection: 10-6. 2016 Actual Result: 11-5.

NFL Draft Team Grade: C Grade

Goals Entering the 2022 NFL Draft: The Steelers want Malik Willis, but there’s a growing possibility that he won’t fall to them. The Steelers may trade up for him. If not, they’ll have to figure out which quarterback they want to pick in the second round. They’ll also need to bolster their offensive line to make sure this new signal-caller has all the protection he needs.

2022 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Steeler front office and coaching staff reportedly wanted Willis, yet they ended up with Kenny Pickett. It appeared as though ownership made the decision, as the Rooneys once promised that they would never eschew another Pittsburgh quarterback after passing on Dan Marino. Ownership forcing its hand is often a dubious proposition for any team, and this decision was illogical because Pickett would still be the same quarterback if he played in Atlanta, San Francisco or even Bangkok rather than Pittsburgh.

Pickett isn’t even a good fit for the Steelers, as the cold December and January games will expose his small hands. While Pickett played at Pitt, the college football regular season doesn’t extend past Thanksgiving, so he didn’t have to deal with this issue. Yet, he still fumbled 37 times while in college! Furthermore, Pickett’s 17 Wonderlic score is problematic as well. As you can tell, I absolutely hated this pick, especially when considering that all the other quarterbacks fell to the third round. The Steelers effectively outbid themselves in an auction.

It’s a shame I despise the pick so much because the rest of the Steelers’ draft picks were excellent values. George Pickens, DeMarvin Leal and Calvin Austin all should have gone prior to where they landed. That said, it was a mistake for Pittsburgh to avoid addressing the offensive line. Perhaps it could have done that with Tyler Linderbaum at No. 20, allowing them to take a quarterback in the second round.

The Steelers received a “B” grade or higher for all their individual picks, save for the Pickett selection. The Pickett mishap will drag down this grade, as will Pittsburgh’s reluctance to fix the blocking.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

20. Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh – D- Grade
I have to wonder if the owners called this one in because they regretted passing on another Pittsburgh quarterback, Dan Marino, back in the early 80s. This makes no sense otherwise. Pickett didn’t generate any interest from anyone else in the first round, and he doesn’t have the mobility the Steelers want from the position. He’ll also have massive fumbling problems with his small hands once the calendar flips to December and January. Yuck.

52. George Pickens, WR, Georgia – A- Grade
I have to wonder how Kenny Pickett will have any sort of time in the pocket. Receiver wasn’t a big need for the Steelers, but they lost JuJu Smith-Schuster this offseason, so I understand it. Pickens is a top 15-caliber talent, but some major character issues have sunk him. He’s a great value here, so I like this pick.

84. DeMarvin Leal, DE/DT, Texas A&M – A Grade
Everyone knows the Steelers needed to bolster their offensive line, but they also had to add to their defensive front as well. The Steelers have an old defensive line, so they really needed to get younger there, especially after they were steamrolled each week. I had Leal going to the Steelers in the second round, so I love this value.

138. Calvin Austin, WR/KR, Memphis – A- Grade
I’m surprised Calvin Austin lasted this long, as I’ve had him in the third round consistently. He’s a very small receiver, but he’s incredibly fast and explosive. Given the receiving talent already on Pittsburgh’s roster, Austin will likely settle in as the return specialist.

208. Connor Heyward, FB, Michigan State – B Grade
A fullback was drafted. Huzzah! Connor Heyward is actually the brother of long-time Steeler Cameron Heyward. He’ll help in the running game, which will be crucial because the Steelers have dubious play at quarterback.

225. Mark Robinson, LB, Ole Miss – B Grade
I pegged Mark robinson in the seventh round, so he makes sense as the Steelers’ 225th-overall pick. Robinson can provide some much-needed depth the Steelers currently lack at linebacker at the moment.

241. Chris Oladokun, QB, South Dakota State – B Grade
A quarterback to challenge Kenny Pickett once he begins fumbling a dozen times per game. I’m kidding, well, sort of. Chris Oladokun projects as a possible No. 2 quarterback in the NFL, and I thought he could go a bit earlier than this. It might be difficult for him to make the final roster though.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Steelers managed to sneak into the playoffs because of Brandon Staley’s inexplicable timeout. However, they were completely outclassed once they got there, getting blown out right away. Now, Pittsburgh will have to enter the season without Ben Roethlisberger for the first time since 2003.

Offseason Moves:
  • Steelers announce retirement of DT Stephon Tuitt
  • Steelers sign WR Gunner Olszewski
  • Steelers sign LB Myles Jack
  • Steelers sign CB Levi Wallace
  • Steelers sign G James Daniels
  • Steelers sign C Mason Cole
  • Steelers sign QB Mitchell Trubisky
  • Steelers announce retirement of QB Ben Roethlisberger

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger’s time in Pittsburgh has come to an end. The Steelers will need to find a new franchise quarterback or a veteran who can be an upgrade over the future Hall of Famer. Signed Mitchell Trubisky

    2. Two Offensive Tackles: Aside from finding a new quarterback, bolstering the offensive line is the top priority. The Steelers had one of the worst blocking units in the NFL last year. Re-signed Chuks Okorafor

    3. Two Interior Offensive Linemen: Getting two blockers for the interior is also required. Kevin Dotson is the sole entity up front who doesn’t need to be upgraded. Signed James Daniels and Mason Cole

    4. Inside Linebacker: The Steelers had poor linebacker play, which is one of the reasons why they were so terrible against the run. Signed Myles Jack

    5. Cornerback: Joe Haden is set to hit free agency, but the Steelers needed to get younger at cornerback anyway. Signed Levi Wallace; re-signed Ahkello Witherspoon

    6. Safety: Terrell Edmunds is also an impending free agent, but Pittsburgh could do better. Re-signed Terrell Edmunds

    7. Wide Receiver: JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud are all impending free agents, so a new third receiver may need to be obtained.

    8. Punter: Pressley Harvin was one of the worst punters in the NFL last year.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2022 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. James Daniels, G, Bears. Age: 24.
      Signed with Steelers (3 years, $26.5 million)

      James Daniels has been a rare, steady presence on the Bears’ offensive line. He’s both stellar at run blocking and pass protection. It’s crazy that he’s still only 24.

    2. Levi Wallace, CB, Bills. Age: 27.
      Signed with Steelers (2 years, $8 million)

      The Bills don’t like Levi Wallace very much, but he’s a quality starting cornerback and still happens to be fairly young.

    3. Myles Jack, LB, Jaguars. Age: 26.
      Signed with Steelers (2 years, $16 million)

      Myles Jack had a great start to his career, but he has progressively gotten worse over the years. He’s still only 26, so he could rebound.

    4. Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Bills. Age: 28.
      Signed with Steelers (2 years)

      Mitchell Trubisky never got a fair chance in Chicago because of Matt Nagy’s incompetence. He’s talented, so perhaps a better coaching staff can turn him into a viable quarterback.

    5. Mason Cole, C/G, Vikings. Age: 26. — Signed with Steelers (3 years)

    Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Joe Haden, CB, Steelers. Age: 33.
      As a 33-year-old, Joe Haden is not nearly the same cornerback he once was. There’s a chance he could rebound next year if he remains healthy.

    2. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Steelers. Age: 25.
      Signed with Chiefs

      JuJu Smith-Schuster has somehow gotten worse each year. He’s still young and talented, so perhaps he’ll improve on another team.

    3. Trai Turner, G, Steelers. Age: 29.
      Signed with Redskins (1 year)

      Trai Turner was one of the better offensive linemen on the Steelers’ roster last year, but that’s not saying much.

    4. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers. Age: 40.
      Announced retirement

      Ben Roethlisberger took a team to the playoffs despite having a miserable offensive line and a horrible run defense. He can still be an effective game manager if he decides to play one more year.

    5. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Steelers. Age: 25.
      Re-signed with Steelers

      Chuks Okorafor is a young tackle with some promise, but he hasn’t been an effective starter yet in the NFL.

    6. Terrell Edmunds, S, Steelers. Age: 25.
      Re-signed with Steelers

      Terrell Edmunds has been a disappointment as a former first-round pick. He missed so many tackles and was poor in run support last year.

    7. Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Steelers. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Steelers (2 years)

      Ahkello Witherspoon has been incredibly inconsistent throughout his career. He sometimes has horrible moments, but he can play at a high level at other times.

    8. Joe Schobert, LB, Steelers. Age: 28.
      Signed with Broncos

      Joe Schobert was a quality linebacker for the Browns, but has struggled ever since joining the Steelers.

    9. James Washington, WR, Steelers. Age: 26. — Signed with Cowboys (1 year)
    10. Eric Ebron, TE, Steelers. Age: 29.
    11. Zach Banner, OT, Steelers. Age: 28.
    12. Ray-Ray McCloud, WR, Steelers. Age: 25. — Signed with 49ers (2 years)
    13. Montravius Adams, DE/DT, Steelers. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Steelers (2 years)
    14. B.J. Finney, C/G, Steelers. Age: 30. — Announced retirement
    15. Kalen Ballage, RB, Steelers. Age: 26.
    16. Joshua Dobbs, QB, Steelers. Age: 27.
    17. Rashaad Coward, G, Steelers. Age: 27.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

    2024 NFL Mock Draft - April 16

    NFL Power Rankings - Feb. 22

    Fantasy Football Rankings - Feb. 19

    NFL Picks - Feb. 12