The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the midst of their week seven bye week, which gives the squad a chance to reset and gives us a chance both reflect on the first six weeks and look forward at what's to come.
It's been a bit of a rollercoaster first month and a half for the Steel City, but it's given us some context behind what the team's strengths and weaknesses are, as of right now. We're going to focus on the Steelers' biggest areas of need for the future based on what we've seen so far this season but positional outlook moving forward.
This one really comes as no surprise, as we knew that this would likely be Ben Roethlisberger's last dance with the Pittsburgh Steelers after agreeing to return for 2021 on a 1-year, $14 million-dollar deal.
Roethlisberger's start to the season has been largely inconsistent, mainly due to the fact that his mobility at this point is clearly hindering him from playing like the player he was for the entirety of his career. When you combine that with his mechanical struggles, you must face reality that the end is near.
While the 18-year veteran has begun to play better over the past two weeks, it's clear that a changing of the guard is likely in order for 2022. Best case scenario is that the future Hall of Famer can continue to ramp up his play as he gets more comfortable with the rest of the new pieces on offense to finish his career on a high note.
After signing an extension prior to the 2021 NFL draft, Mason Rudolph is currently the lone signal-caller signed for next season. Dwyane Haskins is a restricted free agent that the Steelers might elect to keep around after they have shown a clear investment in his development. While Rudolph is probably the odds-on favorite to start week one of next season, it's hard to predict that he's more than a short-term stopgap at this current point in time.
There has been plenty of juice drama surrounding Aaron Rodgers and whether or not the Steelers would be interested in entering that sweepstake. The current class of draft-eligible quarterbacks certainly has talent, but it's sort of a mess to sort through right now due to the overall inconsistencies of the bunch. Whichever path they choose, this is a pivotal question that needs answering in the offseason and has significant ramifications on the future.
After contract negotiations between Joe Haden and the Steelers organization never seemed to truly materialize prior the season, one has to wonder whether he will return for next year. Haden, turning 33 next season, has been solid and has shown the ability to prevent big plays even if that results allowing some underneath throws when he's in off coverage.
Cam Sutton has done exactly what the Mike Tomlin envisioned that he would in his first season as a full-time player. Sutton is the Steelers' most versatile and best man-to-man cover guy at this juncture. James Pierre has been the most picked on of the bunch, allowing a pair of crucial deep ball touchdowns so far this season. While there are tools to work with as a press cover corner, Pierre's inexperience has shown through at times this season.
In today's NFL, your third cornerback is a starter seeing as the nickel package is everyone's base defense nowadays. Assuming Haden walks, they have a massive hole to fill at the position, one that will likely require a significant investment through the draft or in free agency.
The Steelers have been forced to play a lot more zone coverage this year compared to the previous two seasons, and personnel has certainly played a role in that decision. While this isn't a death sentence by any means, it's proven to be extremely difficult to be an elite-level defense if you don't have the cover guys to play man coverage against opposing NFL offenses. If the Steelers were able to obtain the services of a true number one corner that could take away number one receivers, it could potentially take this defense to greater heights. It's wise to expect the Steelers to infuse some high-level talent into this position in the offseason.
Dan Moore Jr. seems like a sure bet to maintain the left tackle job throughout his rookie season, barring injury. While he has undoubtedly outperformed expectations for a fourth round draft selection, the jury is still out on whether or not he will be the Steelers' blindside protector of the future.
Chukwuma Okorafor's fourth season as a pro has been a rollercoaster, but he's displayed more highs than lows of late, a rather encouraging sign. However, he's still yet to put together a significant, consistent stretch of productive play to date. To the surprise of many, the Steelers inked Zach Banner to a two-year deal last offseason, but he has yet to appear in a game following his rehab process from ACL surgery. Banner's deal for next season includes little guaranteed money and his future is murky, at best.
With Okorafor an impending free agent and Banner's future in doubt, there's a good chance that the Steelers will need a starting tackle for next season. Dan Moore Jr. could very well cement himself as an integral part of the offseason line with promising play the rest of the way. With that being said, it's not set in stone that Moore remains on the left side.
After selecting Najee Harris in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, it was clear that the Steelers want to transform into a much more effective running team, but the offensive line needs an infusion of top-end talent. Whether the Steelers elect to pursue a veteran or rookie quarterback is up in the air but what's certain is that they will want to provide that player with more dependable pass protection.
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