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Three Steelers Primed for Bounce Back Seasons

There are a handful of Pittsburgh Steelers in line for better production this season.

For one reason or another, there were a couple of Pittsburgh Steelers who underwhelmed a bit in 2022. With a new football calendar year upon us, these three players will be shooting for bounce-back seasons in 2023. 

If Pittsburgh plans to reach their championship aspirations this fall, having these key contributors play up to their potential will go a long way towards that goal.

DE Larry Ogunjobi

It’s been a wild couple of years for Larry Ogunjobi. A career year in Cincinnati was prematurely cut short due to a foot injury in 2021. That same foot injury would cause him to fail a physical, negating a gigantic contract agreement with the Chicago Bears before landing in Pittsburgh last season. Ogunjobi saw his numbers dip in his first season with the Steelers, with his pressure rate dropping from 9.7% to 7.0%, according to Sports Info Solutions, while his sack total decreased by 5.5.

Perhaps the best explanation of why his production decreased was simply that he was unfortunately dinged by injuries throughout the 2022 season. He dealt with and play through back, knee and toe injuries throughout, which surely limited his comfortability and effectiveness to some unknown degree. It reached the point where Ogunjobi was rarely practicing, either as a limited participant or simply not at all. Still, the 29-year-old showed enough flashes to impress the Steelers enough to where they felt confident handing him a three-year, $28.75 million dollar contract.

He’s looking to put this stretch of bad injury luck behind him, and he’s in a near-perfect situation to become a disruptive force up front. He possesses an enticing blend of both quickness and pure strength, with swim and rip moves to give pass blockers fits. Not only is he going to be right back in the starting lineup, but he’s going to be featured on passing downs alongside T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith and Cam Heyward. You can’t ask for a better scenario than that.

WR Diontae Johnson

After back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons and firmly entrenching himself as the Steelers' number one wideout, the 2022 season was a disappointing one for Diontae Johnson. The Toledo product accumulated his lowest receiving yardage since his rookie season and failed to reach the end zone a single time. At times, it felt like the football gods were being intentionally cruel, denying #18 from scoring time and time again. After signing an extension just a week into training camp last summer, both Johnson and the team envisioned a more productive stretch than the one they endured.

Adjusting to multiple new quarterbacks was a factor, and it didn’t help matters that exactly 50% of his deep targets last season were deemed uncatchable, per Sports Info Solutions. Having said that, consistency has been the main component preventing Johnson from ascending into the elite tier of his position group. Whether it’s the untimely concentration drops or the unbelievably frustrating amount of pre-snap penalties, Johnson gets in his own way too much for a player this uniquely talented. Simply put, the former third-round pick makes difficult things look effortless, and the more simple tasks look impossible at times.

Moving forward, Johnson is staring at a golden opportunity in his first full season with Kenny Pickett as the unquestioned starter. Even in a run-heavy offense, make no mistake about it - Johnson will get an ample share of targets. 

Quarterbacks love to throw to wide-open receivers, and Johnson is among the league's best at creating separation and beating both press and man coverage. Positive regression in the touchdown department should help lead to another strong season as the focal point of the passing game.

K Chris Boswell

The Steelers and Chris Boswell found themselves in a bit of a deja vu scenario last year. For whatever reason, Boswell seems to struggle the following season after signing a contract extension, which has now happened in the 2018 and 2022 seasons. Last season wasn’t quite as bad as his disastrous 2018 campaign, but it was far from what the organization has come to expect from their generally reliable kicker. Boswell only knocked in 20 of his 28 attempts, nailing only half of his attempts in the 40-49 yard range, according to Pro Football Reference.

Kickers are a tough evaluation because the sample size is always so small compared to position players, but the stakes are just as high, if not higher. Boswell is being compensated as a top-five kicker, and deservedly so. For much of his career thus far, he's certainly been right in the midst of that conversation. After all, Boswell has made a plethora of crucial kicks in the clutch, few bigger than the game-winner against the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2015 playoffs. Kickers randomly losing their mojo is a real thing, but Boswell has shown the resolve and mental fortitude to bounce back from bad games or even bad seasons. Expect that to continue in 2023. 

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