Last week, we looked into which Pittsburgh Steelers rookies need to step up right away. This week, we will take a look at which returning players we need to see the biggest jump from in order to become difference makers on the team. As we know, football is the ultimate team sport and all the revolving pieces need to click in order to see success on the field. These are the top guys that need to make a jump from last season to help the black and gold win in 2021 (in no particular order):
Highsmith performed well after Bud Dupree went down with an ACL tear in Week 12. We have a small sample size with Highsmith, but an escalation in his performance will lead to a much easier path to success on the other side for TJ Watt. Two sacks and an interception in 2020 flashed what could be from Highsmith. If the Steelers can have him wreak just a little bit of havoc on the strong side, it is absolutely a win. Highsmith’s role has to be centered around to make Watt’s life easier. Of course, any Steeler fan wants Highsmith to be as productive as Dupree, but this will be his first season heading in as the starter. Baby steps… but a leap in his play will benefit the Steelers tremendously.
Diontae Johnson… the Punter Returner
Will I accept Johnson having his best year as a pro as a wide receiver? Absolutely. But, my focus here is on special teams. Johnson can be a game changer flipping field position for the Steelers. There are some strong and dominant offenses in the AFC. The Steelers can match up with them, but flipping field position and a couple punt returns ending in a touchdown could flip the script in some games for the Steelers. Additionally, I hope we see Johnson fix his dropping issue as he led the league with 16 last season. All around improvement from Johnson will be great for the Steelers.
Layne’s offseason has already been an adventure — not exactly what Steelers fans needed to see from him after losing Mike Hilton to free agency and releasing Steven Nelson. Layne is going to see a significant amount of time in the Steelers secondary and mediocrity cannot be displayed on Layne’s end. He will see a huge jump in snap count and could win a starting job to replace Nelson allowing Cameron Sutton to play in the slot. Layne’s shenanigans in the offseason are behind him as he reached a plea deal. Now, it is time for him to get to work and get ready to be a difference maker for the Steelers secondary.
The Entire Offensive Line
This is pretty simple. Kendrick Green is new to the group, but the Steelers need better play from everyone else, including Pro Bowl offensive guard, David DeCastro. All around, the Steelers have a top notch workhorse in Najee Harris. This offensive line needs to step up and open up holes for him to burst through and get to the second level. It is statistically proven the Steelers win games when the run the ball consistently and Ben Roethlisberger throws the ball less than 40 times. This needs to be a focal point and it starts with the offensive line changing the dynamic of the Steelers running game.
Agree or disagree? Who do yinz think needs to make the biggest leap from 2020 to 2021? Leave a comment below!