Roster Holes Steelers Must Fill Before Training Camp
The Pittsburgh Steelers head into 2022 training camp with one glaring question mark, and it's at quarterback.
Ben Roethlisberger retired shortly after last season came to a close in the wild-card round. This year, Pittsburgh will lean on Mason Rudolph, Mitch Trubisky or rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett in Week 1.
The good news is that Pittsburgh knows its options at quarterback. The position is unsettled, but the Steelers don't have to go out and find another signal-caller to settle it. They have an experienced starter in Trubisky, a familiar face in Rudolph and the future in Pickett.
Some other positions, though, could benefit from external aid in the coming weeks. The Steelers have $13.8 million in cap space with which to work. Where might they consider spending that money? Let's take a look.
The Steelers offensive line was serviceable at best in 2021. The unit allowed 38 sacks and blocked for one of the league's most underwhelming rushing attacks—ranked 29th in both yards and yards per attempt.
Pittsburgh could use additional help on the edges. Left tackle Dan Moore Jr. was just sort of OK, being responsible for five penalties and seven sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus.
Right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor held up better in pass protection but was mistake-prone. He was responsible for two sacks allowed and 11 penalties, according to Pro Football Focus.
Yet, Pittsburgh didn't address the tackle spots in early free agency, instead bringing in guard James Daniels and center Mason Cole. Now would be a great time to add some veteran competition, or at the very least, a quality swing tackle who could help provide insurance on the edge.
While there aren't a ton of big names left on the open market, experienced starters like Bryan Bulaga and Eric Fisher are out there. Duane Brown is available too, though he was recently arrested on a misdemeanor firearms charge and could potentially face league discipline under the personal conduct policy.
Brown made the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement in 2021.
Backup Running Back
The Steelers have a budding star in second-year running back and Pro Bowler Najee Harris. The Alabama product rushed for 1,200 yards as a rookie and 467 receiving yards and 10 combined touchdowns.
Harris was the epitome of a work horse running back last season, but Pittsburgh is hoping to lighten his load in 2022.
"I will not be on the field, I guess, [as much]," Harris said, per Chris Adamski of TribLive.
It would behoove the Steelers to strengthen their backfield before camp. Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland Jr. are back, but neither was impressive in 2021. Snell averaged just 2.7 yards per carry, while McFarland carried three times for three yards and caught a single pass.
It would make a whole lot of sense for Pittsburgh to add more depth behind Harris in 2022.
A quality receiving back like Jalen Richard would make a lot of sense for the Steelers, and there are other intriguing ball-carriers left in the free-agent pool. A physical inside runner like Carlos Hyde or Latavius Murray would also make sense if the Steelers are looking to not run Harris into the ground.
The Steelers should also keep a close eye on potential cap casualties in case another quality back becomes available on cutdown day.
The Steelers have arguably the league's best pass-rushing linebacker in reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt. Pittsburgh's collection of run-stopping off-ball linebackers, however, is far less impressive.
Last season, the Steelers ranked dead-last in both rushing yards allowed and yards per carry surrendered. Pittsburgh did get some help in the form of linebacker Myles Jack, but Jack hasn't always been the most consistent player.
In 2021, Jack allowed an opposing passer rating of 108.3 in coverage, according to Pro Football Reference. Over the past four seasons, he's been credited with 36 missed tackles.
Perhaps the Steelers will get a boost from new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. Still, it would be smart to continue reloading at the second level.
Some solid linebackers are still lingering on the open market, including Dont'a Hightower, K.J. Wright, Anthony Hitchens and Malcolm Smith.
Adding another veteran before the start of camp would help give the Steelers options when it comes to their run defense. This should be a priority, because if Pittsburgh doesn't improve against the run, opponents will be able to bully them on the ground as they did a season ago. This will help negate Pittsburgh's biggest defensive strength, the pass rush.
Cap information via Spotrac.