We are only 11 days away from the start of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 season. While football is a team sport and all 48 players active on Sundays help a team win, certain players play more of a role. Every year, each NFL team has specific players who can make a significant difference on the outcome of each and every game. We typically call these players “x-factors” and here are mine (in no particular order) for the Steelers heading into the season:
5. Alex Highsmith
We know once T.J. Watt gets paid, he will be as advertised: a beast. Highsmith has pressure on him with Melvin Ingram III slightly behind him on the depth chart and he will need to perform at a high level. We have seen in the past how dominant Watt can be when he has a counterpart on the other side (Bud Dupree) and Highsmith will have to fill that role. Highsmith played well in the preseason and has the talent to have a breakout year. If the Steelers can get 20-25 sacks from Highsmith and Watt, this defense will be set for an incredible year.
4. Chris Wormley
I am not sure what Stephon Tuitt‘s status looks like, but it seems as if he may not play at the beginning of the season. Wormley is behind Tuitt on the depth chart currently and could see significant time on the defensive front. He will have tough shoes to fill if Tuitt is out for an extended period of time. Playing alongside Cameron Heyward, Watt, Highsmith and Tyson Alualu relieves some pressure off of his shoulders, but he will need to be a key piece to the defense having to replicate Tuitt’s success and performance.
3. Najee Harris
Harris is, individually, the most important part of the offense this year. A lot of pressure has been placed on the rookie running back, but he can handle it. He played on the national stage at Alabama and seems poised to be a star. Opening up the play action for Ben Roethlisberger could take the offense to a different dimension with the weapons at wide receiver and tight end. Harris won’t be limited to just the running game. We could see him with 50+ receptions by the end of the year and he could be just as much of a playmaker as Le’Veon Bell was while in Pittsburgh.
2. Pressley Harvin III
I have been high on Harvin III since the Steelers drafted him back in April. Field position and its importance is not talked about nearly as much as it should be in the NFL. With the number of dynamic offenses that the Steelers will encounter this year, it will be crucial to leave them with the longest fields possible to score. This is where Harvin comes in. Pinning teams within the 20, 10 and even five-yard lines could make a huge difference throughout the season. Quarterbacks like Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes, among others, will make short fields look easy. The rookie punter won the job over Jordan Berry and his play will be pivotal for the success of the Steelers in 2021.
1. The ENTIRE Offensive Line
Sure, Harris is the most important offensive piece individually, but not overall. This offense will go as far as this offensive line allows them to go. Right now, it seems as if rookie Dan Moore Jr. and Chuks Okorafor may get the nods to start at tackle with Zach Banner not at 100%. Right now, it seems as if J.C. Hassenauer may start Week 1 at center while Trai Turner and Kevin Dotson will be at guard. There will be shifting during the season here. Kendrick Green still has a chance to start in week one, but regardless will get an opportunity at some point and the Steelers will need to add depth before the season begins. It is imperative that this unit performs far better than last season. It was proven late last season that a dink and dunk offense did not work. Offensive Coordinator, Matt Canada will introduce a new offense. They will need to open up holes for the running game and protect Roethlisberger long enough to open up the play action. The fate of this offense lies entirely in the hands of the line.
Who are your X-factors for the Steelers this season? Let us know in the comments below!