Skip to main content

5 Steelers Breakout Candidates, 3 Who Just Missed the List

The Pittsburgh Steelers need up-and-coming stars, and have five - maybe eight - who could make that jump this season.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have questions that need answering, and with a roster full of soon-to-be starters, it could be a season full of breakout stars. 

Beyond those that many expect, there are names on the Steelers' roster that present major potential in 2021. These five players are top of the list of those who can go from zero to hero this season, and three on the outside who can find themselves have game-changing impact. 

Starting with... 

Ray-Ray McCloud, Wide Receiver

If Matt Canada's offense is half as fancy as we expect, McCloud is coming out of the gates running in 2021. The fifth wide receiver in this set of stars could be a secret weapon in ways teams won't expect.

When McCloud got the opportunities last season, he made the most of them - mostly on the ground. He'll likely be the first wideout in line for end-arounds and "trick" plays out of the wildcat.

Maybe McCloud doesn't walk out of 2021 a Pro Bowler, but he'll have a name in the city of Pittsburgh.

Alex Highsmith, Outside Linebacker

Replacing Bud Dupree is impossible, right? No. Highsmith has everything working in his favor this season.

T.J. Watt will have all eyes on him until teams realize Highsmith is someone they need to focus on. Until then, he'll have minimum coverage while Watt is facing double-team after double-team.

Mike Tomlin loves the second-year jump. Highsmith came into minicamp in great shape and took every individual rep with Watt. Replacing Dupree might not be easy, but it's certainly possible.

Najee Harris, Running Back

Yes, rookies can have a breakout year. Harris is already expected by some to be the Steelers' MVP this season, and maybe he will be. But if he's the top running back in the rookie class, he'll be enough to turn this offense's run game around.

Harris could easily be a 1,000-yard rusher in his first NFL season. That's before anything he does as a receiver. And again, Canada's offense could have plenty of ways to get his rookie running back involved.

The comparisons have been made between Harris and Le'Veon Bell. Well, Bell spent three years in Pittsburgh as a Pro Bowler. If Harris earns his place representing the AFC this season, it sounds like a breakout year.

Kevin Dotson, Guard

First off, unless we all missed something from the sideline, Dotson isn't out of shape. At least he doesn't look it.

Since a report emerged of the second-year guard being a little behind in his physique, Dotson has done everything he could to show the fans he's fine. If the rest of the offensive line is as out of shape as Dotson, Ben Roethlisberger is going to have a lot of time in the pocket.

Dotson is the leader of this starting five, now, and year two could be dangerous - for defenders.

Eric Ebron, Tight End

Ebron is past the NFL breakout stage. He's been a Pro Bowler, has seen his share of snaps and is a proven starter in this league. But with the Steelers, year two is going to be his best.

"It gets me very excited," Ebron said on Canada's offense. "I think I'll be featured a lot more. The tight end position, period, I feel like will be featured a lot more."

Tight ends should see an increased role in a new offense, and with Pat Freiermuth taking some attention away, Ebron is in for a better year than his 558-yard debut with the Steelers.

Read More

Just Missed the List

Cam Sutton, Cornerback

Look, Sutton could have the best year of any cornerback in Pittsburgh, but really, that's somewhat expected. In four years with the Steelers, Sutton has been nothing short of impressive. That'll continue now that he's a starter.

Sutton's expectations should be high to begin with. On top of that, it's hard to say anything is guaranteed until the cornerback rotation is worked out. So, for the time being, Sutton just misses the list.

Robert Spillane, Inside Linebacker

Spillane could take over the starting role and work well alongside the Twitter-frenzied Devin Bush. He could also fall short of what many expect from their starting inside linebacker, and until we see what Spillane can do with pads on in his second "serious" year in Pittsburgh, we're not putting our money on him.

Spillane played well last year, don't get it wrong. For right now, it just doesn't feel right to name him a breakout player.

Chase Claypool, Wide Receiver

A lot of you probably won't agree that Claypool is on the outside looking in, but there's so much talent to go around in this receiving core, and the offense is focused on fixing the run game. He'll have a big year, but it could range anywhere from a 1,000-yard season to 700 yards and a key piece to an impressive puzzle.

Noah Strackbein is a Publisher with AllSteelers. Follow Noah on Twitter @NoahStrack, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.

You May Also Like:

Steelers Facing Make-or-Break Season

First Look at Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth Rookie Cards

Steelers Lineman Facing More Domestic Assault Charges

Steelers Could Lose Draft Pick Over David DeCastro Injury

5 Free Agents Still on the Table for Steelers

More TikTok Headlines Surround Steelers

Steelers Sign Kicker, Release D-Lineman

Which Steeler Needs Biggest Year 2 Jump?

Troy Polamalu's Kids are Yinzers

Steelers Boost O-Line in Latest Mock Draft