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Five Bold Predictions for Steelers 2023 Season

The Pittsburgh Steelers have changes and success coming in 2023.

Football fans, rejoice. NFL football was played last week and will continue to be played every weekend through the beginning of February. While we haven't "officially" made it, we've kinda made it - and the Pittsburgh Steelers are next. 

There is a local buzz about the Steelers this season. Kenny Pickett grew over the final month and change last season. Pittsburgh essentially had two first-round draft choices back in April. They selected offensive lineman Broderick Jones and cornerback Joey Porter Jr. Both selections filled needs and could have a big impact on the Steelers' future.

There is plenty more to be excited about if you are a Steelers fan. That doesn't mean the AFC won't be a test.

Aaron Rodgers now plays football for the Jets. Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen still exist. Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, and Deshaun Watson all reside in Pittsburgh's own division. It certainly won't be easy, but Omar Khan seems to have better equipped the Steelers for a tough AFC playoff race.

Heading into a new season, everyone likes to make predictions that end up wrong 95% of the time. I am no different. So let's take a shot at a few bold predictions for the 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers season.

Diontae Johnson Leads Team in Receiving Touchdowns

It is no secret that Johnson had a miserable season for Pittsburgh in 2022. Inconsistencies plagued him, and he never found the end zone, save for a two-point conversion late in the season. Johnson played in all 17 games last season and made 86 catches for 882 yards. In most cases, that is a successful season for a wideout. The lack of scores ended up really hurting his stock.

Heading into year five, Johnson has only missed one game. That is a big deal because he's been available for the entirety of his young career. At 27 years old, it isn't like Johnson is on the back side of his career and can't turn things around.

I don't think it is unthinkable for Johnson to flirt with 1,000 yards this season. In a "down" year, he finished 18 yards short of 900. It seems like George Pickens might be on the way to becoming a star, but that would just open things up for Johnson.

Once Ben Roethlisberger's preferred target, Johnson never posted less than five touchdowns in a season. If Pickett takes that next step and Johnson can focus on negating drops and getting more red zone targets, there's no reason to think he won't get his fair share of touchdown catches.

T.J. Watt Wins Defensive Player of The Year

If you take a look back at my 2022 predictions, I'm not very good at this. Maybe I'm even a jinx. But we're going to predict this for a second year in a row to try and will it into existence - T.J. Watt is going to win DPOY.

Watt is the quintessential example of winning for the Steelers. They simply don't lose much when he plays, and they simply don't win much when he doesn't. He's a difference-maker for the entire defense.

If he gets home to the quarterback, he's one of the best at forcing a fumble. If he gets extra attention on his side, you're allowing Alex Highsmith to have a one-on-one matchup that he typically is going to win. If they both get pressure, the potential to force a hurried throw that results in a turnover goes up.

I said last season he would break the sacks record. I'm going to be a bit more conservative and settle for a DPOY. He'll get his fair share of sacks and QB strips and whatnot. However, he'll have to fend off remarks about how he isn't better than Myles Garrett and Micah Parsons.

My money is on Watt. Of course, he has to stay healthy, something he admittedly has struggled to do. Hopefully, my prediction doesn't lead to a Week 1 injury to Watt again this season.

Keeanu Benton Will Have Biggest Impact Amongst Rookies

Omar Khan's first draft as the Steelers' General Manager was considered a pretty good one by most outlets. I tend to have that same opinion. While Jones and Porter Jr. were taken higher in the draft, I am going to predict Benton to have the biggest impact of the Steelers' class.

Benton went 49th overall to Pittsburgh via Wisconsin. He is a big-bodied human, but he can move very well for his size and will be a big part of a defensive front that already boasts the likes of Watt, Highsmith, Cameron Heyward, and Larry Ogunjobi. Benton's skill set should translate perfectly to what the Steelers want to do upfront.

Jones and Porter Jr. will get their playing time. Darnell Washington is a bit of a project, but he's also a massive receiving target that shouldn't take too much seasoning. Cory Trice Jr. will miss the season with an injury, and Spencer Anderson might not factor much into the 2023 Steelers' plans.

Therefore, I am going to pin Benton as the Steelers' Rookie of the Year with a prediction that he'll tally 5.5 sacks across his rookie season to make the Steelers' defense that much more dynamic.

Running Back By Committee Becomes Most Effective Approach

Not too long ago, the Steelers spent a first-round draft pick on Najee Harris to be a bell-cow back. As we've seen over the past few months, running backs are becoming less and less valued by teams. Harris had been very vocal about the topic recently as well. Unfortunately, he may soon fall prey to that line of thinking.

For now, Harris will be the main guy in the Steelers' backfield. While he's got loads of talent, his production hasn't been up to par with that. He's averaged 3.9 yards/carry across his first 34 career games. That isn't great production for his draft slot.

Luckily the Steelers' backup running back, Jaylen Warren, is a pretty solid ball player himself. He isn't likely to become a featured back in Pittsburgh, but he certainly will push Harris for playing time if Harris struggles out of the gate.

Warren is a great pass-blocker who has shown an ability to run hard downhill and through would-be tacklers despite his 5'8" frame. His 4.9 yards/carry to go along with 28 receptions out of the backfield last season, make for one intriguing option as a tandem guy with Harris.

For the Steelers to be most successful, instead of running the wheels off of Harris, they should use the running-back-by-committee approach to ensure they're getting the most out of that position.

Steelers Nab Surprising Wild Card Spot

At 8.5 wins at most sportsbooks, it seems Vegas expects the Steelers to add another winning season to Mike Tomlin's resume. However, most of the public seems to be doubting the Steelers' ability to get through the AFC gauntlet. The single most important factor in all of that will likely be whether Pickett takes the year-two jump.

It seems he is poised to do that, but only time will tell. If he does, I foresee the Steelers making the playoffs for the first time since 2021. They haven't won a playoff game since 2016, when they made the AFC Championship Game. Maybe they finally break that this season. Maybe they don't.

The biggest statement they could make this year would be to outlast the loaded AFC and sneak past Baltimore and Cleveland in the division to grab one of those seven playoff spots. Give Pickett some playoff experience in year two with the hope that they can really start to make noise in 2024 and beyond.

I'm going to say Pittsburgh enters the bye 4-1. After a disappointing road loss to the Houston Texans, they will avenge that a week later with a home victory over Baltimore heading into the bye.

Pittsburgh will slide a bit over the final ten games of the season, going 6-4 to ultimately finish 11-5 but make the playoffs anyway. 11-5 gets them the sixth seed, and they'll play the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional Round up in Buffalo. I'll let your mind ponder that, and you can make your own predictions from there.

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