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Steelers 5 Most Important Players, Outside of Kenny Pickett

The Pittsburgh Steelers need rookies and some developing stars to shine in order to reach their potential in 2023.

It is no secret that a large part of the Pittsburgh Steelers' success in 2023 will hinge on whether or not Kenny Pickett takes the second-year leap. The preseason said that such a leap could be in store, and solving the post-Ben Roethlisberger quarterback problem in the first attempt would be quite the development for this organization.

However, we can't forget that there are 52 other football players on the roster. Just because Pickett's advancement is a huge piece of the puzzle doesn't mean that there aren't a handful of players that need to make an impact for the Steelers to return to the postseason.

All 53 men have to play a positive role in a football team. This holds just as true for the Steelers as it does for the rest of the league. 

Outside of Pickett, who are some guys that need to step up for Pittsburgh to succeed? In no particular order, here are those names.

Joey Porter Jr.

We aren't too far removed from an era in Steelers football where rookies didn't have to play immediately under Mike Tomlin. Times have changed. George Pickens, DeMarvin Leal, Connor Heyward, and Pickett all played in more than half of the teams' games last season. Calvin Austin arguably would've played a role for the team had he not been hurt.

There is a good chance that the 2023 Steelers' draftees are going to play just as much of a role. Porter, the Steelers' first of two second-round picks, maybe the most important in 2023.

Broderick Jones was the top pick, but the Steelers have depth on the offensive line. If he has to sit and really hone his craft to match his massive frame, that's okay. Keanu Benton and Nick Herbig look to be talented players, but they'll be rotational guys to start the season barring injuries. Darnell Washington is raw, but the Steelers have a fairly deep tight end room. He doesn't have to be good out of the gate.

Porter enters a cornerback room without an abundance of talent. There is no doubt Omar Khan, Mike Tomlin, and Co. took Porter Jr. thinking he could start against the 49ers in Week 1.

Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace are the top corners on the team. Porter starting day one and actually playing well would be a massive development. It would take pressure off the 33-year-old Peterson to carry the cornerback room. The Steelers need Porter to step up right out of the gate, and with them taking him at no. 32, they believe that such a thing is possible.

Diontae Johnson

Pickens seems primed to become a real star in the NFL. The shine on Pickens has seemingly rendered Johnson a forgotten part of the offense. Make no mistake, it would be a mistake for the opposing defense to forget about Johnson.

The former Toledo product is as shifty of a wide receiver as there is in the league with the ball in his hands. Surely, he's struggled at catching the ball over his first few seasons. He also tends to dance a bit too much sometimes instead of just getting up field. That doesn't mean the talent isn't there.

Johnson is always available to his squad. He's missed just one game in his first four seasons in Pittsburgh. The 27-year-old wideout has three 800+ yard seasons under his belt already, including 1,161 yards in 2021. Johnson didn't reach the end zone last season, but Pittsburgh's passing game was statistically horrid, and Johnson suffered because of it.

Pickens and Johnson could be one of the most underrated duos in the league right now. If Pickett takes the leap and he gets Johnson more involved, the Steelers will be much better for it. Here's to Johnson again proving why he is one of the most talented receivers in the league.

T.J. Watt

To say a former Defensive Player of the Year is important is silly. However, 2022 proved why Watt truly is the heart of the defense.

Watt played two-and-a-half quarters in the opener last season before the pec tear. Until his return in Week 10, the Steelers defense was a bottom-tier unit. From that point on, they went 7-2, and he collected just 4.5 sacks, but his pressure opposite of Alex Highsmith clearly turned the Steelers defense back into an elite unit.

An important piece to this season's puzzle is the depth at outside linebacker. If Highsmith or Watt need a blow, they won't be putting someone similar to my football ability on the field. Rookie Nick Herbig had himself one heck of a preseason. Markus Golden is a tenured player who is a solid addition to the outside linebacker room. They have capable players behind them.

This isn't to suggest that the Steelers can afford a longer-term injury to Watt. That has been proven to be a detriment to the team. Instead, it is more comforting that they don't need those guys to play 90% or more of the snaps to be successful. That will also contribute to more production if he can rest for a few snaps here and there.

Dan Moore Jr.

The shiny first-round pick is always the guy people want to see play. The dynamic between Moore and Jones is no different. It seems that Moore is going to get the opening day nod, but that doesn't mean Jones won't be getting his number called if Moore can't protect Pickett.

Moore has shown to be a shaky player. At times, he looks really good. Other times, he's getting called for holding and getting beat for quarterback hits and sacks. That won't allow him to hold the spot long-term.

In an ideal world, Moore plays well and actually holds off Jones for a bit. Jones can even play right tackle if injuries end up happening along the line. The Steelers have been giving Moore every opportunity to play well, and they'll continue to do so. If he grows in 2023, the Steelers will have one of the legitimate offensive lines in football.

Inside Linebacker

This spot goes out to the entirety of the middle linebacker unit. Cole Holcomb was the Steelers' big offseason addition at this position. He isn't a star but has proven to be a formidable option inside. Elandon Roberts also came to Pittsburgh during the offseason.

Mark Robinson shined in the preseason last year but didn't get much run until late in the season last year. Tomlin obviously - no pun intended - feels good about his talent to allow him to enter games late in the year, even though they didn't have much choice.

Pittsburgh signed Kwon Alexander a few days into training camp. Alexander is a former Pro Bowler in 2017 and has continued to be a solid player in the NFL. There is no guarantee he will return to his 2017 form, but the Steelers needed to do something to address the position.

Things have been a revolving door at the position since Ryan Shazier's unfortunate career-ending injury. There still doesn't seem to be a guy capable of locking the spot down for the next 5-10 years, but that doesn't mean that the rotation of these four can't be effective.

However, they say that if you have four inside linebackers, do you have any? Time will tell, but outside of cornerback, this is the biggest weakness on the roster. If two of these guys emerge, the Steelers defense could be a top-five unit in football.

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