Earlier this offseason, I wrote about some position battles to watch for that could be influenced by the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 Draft. Now that it has come and gone, some of those position battles remain, some more specific, and some have changed dynamically.
The Steelers addressed their needs: a bell-cow running back, new offensive linemen, tight end, and even addressed some defensive pieces late in the draft and UDFA period. In my previous brief look, I zeroed in on three areas in general: inside linebacker, cornerback, and offensive line. Since then, the Steelers have made some depth signings, re-signings (yay Vince Williams!!!), and draft selections. We will take another brief look at the top three positions to keep a close eye on as mandatory mini and training camps approach!
This is probably the most intriguing spot. With Cameron Sutton penciled in on the outside—an area he expects to play more steadily in—the big question is who will be the nickel (and even dime) man? The Steelers drafted Tre Norwood, retained Antoine Brooks, and signed Shakur Brown as an Undrafted Free Agent.
Brooks got his feet wet *a little* bit last year—being used in the slot a few times and as a box safety. Tre Norwood and Shakur Brown both are versatile pieces—Norwood with slot and safety experience, Brown with the inside, outside experience. I personally would like to see Shakur Brown win this competition. His scouting report describes him as a guy who plays like an angry hornet; his play on the field confirms this. Nonetheless, these three will have plenty of opportunities to win this battle.
This position remains one of the intriguing aspects I’m watching—and it is still in sub-packages as well. Not only did the Steelers bring back Vince Williams for one more year, but Robert Spillane and Marcus Allen were also retained, and the Steelers drafted Buddy Johnson—an athletic, hard-hitting linebacker out of Texas A&M.
All of the guys mentioned will certainly be battling for playing time alongside the only lock at ILB: Devin Bush. While I expect Williams or Spillane to start in base packages, the sub-packages will be open for depth charting!
Wide receiver pecking order
This may surprise some, but it shouldn’t. The offensive line has an idea of who will be starting where. Running back, quarterback, and tight end have limited significant competitions… but the Steelers have 3 to 4 starter capable receivers at worst. I don’t think there will even be a consistent weapon through all 16 games—Matt Canada likes to use all of his resources at his disposal.
The question will be, who will separate themselves into “the guy.” I know we all want to say it’s JuJu Smith-Schuster, but he’s here on a one-year deal and figures to be getting his money in the slot in this offense. James Washington is a good option on the field as well—he’s consistent and has shown to be reliable. For me, it will come down to Chase Claypool or Diontae Johnson as “the guy.” Despite his drops, Johnson is continuing his rise and Claypool will also continue to rise in production. Time will tell what the offense cooks up and the pecking order for these 4 guys.
What are your top three battles to watch in camp?