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The Steelers gave fans a taste of old-school football with a late-season run. How will this young team look in 2023?
In 2022, the Pittsburgh Steelers finished 9-8, 3rd in the AFC North, just missing the playoffs after going 7-2 in the second half and winning 4 straight to end the season.
Losses to quality opponents including Buffalo and Philadelphia, narrow drops to the Patriots and Jets, and single-score losses against Baltimore and Cincinnati stymied the team’s 2022 hopes. Win either of those division games and the Steelers would have made the playoffs.
With a busy free agency looming, a middling salary cap, and four picks in the first three rounds of the upcoming NFL draft, how will the Steelers look in 2023? Here’s a quick primer.
Pittsburgh’s offense ranked 23rd overall at 323 YPG, 24th in passing, and 16th in rushing. A strong core of youth, including QB Kenny Pickett, RB combo Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, WR George Pickens, and Pat TE Freiermuth will lead this unit onto the field in 2023.
One under-the-radar stat where the Steelers offense excelled was in year-over-year growth in Time of Possession (52% in 2022 vs 49% in 2021). That’s tied with the Giants for the fastest ToP growth rate in the NFL and translates to about an additional 4 plays per game at .28 points per play in 2022.
Continued growth in ToP and points per play as this offense becomes more efficient will lead to greater success on the scoreboard, especially in tight games, which is exactly the sort of contest the Steelers D can keep them in.
The Steelers D struggled Away early but found an identity late in the season with a series of road wins. Truth be told, this unit is the main reason the Steelers were able to go 7-2 after their bye week.
Ranked 13th overall at 330 YPG, Pitt’s defense greatly improved over 2021 (367 YPG), and played lights out in the last four weeks of 2022 (4-0), at just 250 yards and 13 points allowed per game against the Colts, Falcons, Panthers, and division foe Ravens in Week 17 to keep their playoff hopes alive
S Minkah Fitzpatrick (96 tackles, 6 INTs) is the heart of the secondary, while DL Cameron Heyward (74 tackles, 10.5 sacks) and LB Alex Highsmith (63 tackles, 14.5 sacks) provide pressure up front. TJ Watt missed significant time with injuries in 2022 but played well in December and January (20 tackles, 4 sacks, 4.5 TFL).
The Steelers finished #10 in kicking points per game with no winter drop-off Home or Away, and #18 in net yards per punt but, like field goals, that part of the kicking game improved in the last quarter of the season. PIT was very good against punt returners (#3 overall), and #9 overall vs. kick returners.
On the other side of the ST ball, Stevens Sims, at #30 overall, was the Steelers’ highest-ranked punt returner. He also finished #22 overall in average yards per kickoff return. These are underwhelming numbers. Look for the Steelers to make a move to acquire new KR/PR talent in free agency or through the draft.
The Steelers are under the 2023 salary cap by ~$13 million as of early January (18th most cap space in the NFL). That situation could be improved by cutting LB Myles Jack and QB Mitch Trubisky, who are both scheduled to earn $8 million in 2023.
Key targets for resigning include LB Devin Bush ($6 million in 2022) and rising star CB Cameron Sutton ($5.2 million in 2022). On offense, finding a new LT is a priority. What talent they can’t retain, sign as FAs, or trade for, the Steelers will look for in the draft.
The Steelers have four picks in the first three rounds, at numbers 17, 32, 49, and 80. The #32 is really a de facto first-rounder acquired from the Bears in the trade for Chase Claypool. Certainly, the Steelers could package #17 and #32 to try and move up, but it’s tough to identify the player on the board that motivates them to do so.
If they can’t find an LT in free agency, Broderick Jones (Georgia), and Anton Harrison (Oklahoma) may be good options at #17. Another area the Steelers may well look to bolster is in the defensive secondary, which is a pretty deep class in ‘23, with a number of promising options at CB and Safety projecting beyond round one.
Pittsburgh can comfortably sit back in the 2023 draft with their QB, WR, RB, S, and Edge rusher of the future already on the roster, and take the OT, DB, or other best player available that falls to them with the confidence that they will be able to add one or two starters at key positions via the draft.
More offseason evaluations: How will the Lions look in 2023?