Steelers' Position Battles to Watch Ahead of 2023 NFL Season

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IMay 29, 2023

Steelers' Position Battles to Watch Ahead of 2023 NFL Season

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    Steelers OT Dan Moore Jr.
    Steelers OT Dan Moore Jr.Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Steelers stand a good chance of returning to the postseason in 2023 after missing the playoffs last season. Pittsburgh did an excellent job of replacing departed players and even improving a few key areas through free agency and the draft.

    Patrick Peterson, Elandon Roberts, Isaac Seumalo, rookie tackle Broderick Jones and rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. should have a significant impact on Pittsburgh's level of play.

    However, continuity will also play a role. Kenny Pickett is entering his first full season as the starting quarterback, while central figures T.J. Watt, Diontae Johnson, Najee Harris, Cameron Heyward and Pat Freiermuth remain in place.

    Not every position is settled, however, and fans will want to follow along with some key position battles throughout the remainder of offseason workouts and training camp. We'll examine three of the most important competitions below.

Left Tackle

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    Steelers OT Broderick Jones
    Steelers OT Broderick JonesMichael Hickey/Getty Images

    Seumalo should immediately slot in at left guard after starting 17 games for the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles last season. However, Jones is going to have to earn the starting left tackle job over incumbent Dan Moore Jr.

    Though Pittsburgh traded up to select the Georgia product, Jones is not a polished prospect.

    "He needs considerable refinement in his use of hands, posture/hat placement and overall ability to stay attached to blocks, making him a potential impact player as a rookie with the physical traits to develop into a plus starter within his first contract," Brandon Thorn of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department wrote.

    Fans should hope to see Jones win the job in camp. He has a much higher ceiling than Moore, who was too often a liability last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Moore was responsible for 10 penalties and seven sacks allowed in 2022.

    That doesn't mean that Jones will be handed the gig, as Pittsburgh should start its best option in Week 1, regardless of draft status. The Steelers have a real chance to build on last year's 9-8 campaign and continue developing Pickett into a quality starter.

    Both goals will be made easier by adequate protection on Pickett's blind side and a boost to a run game that ranked only 25th in yards per carry last season.

No. 3 Wide Receiver

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    WR Calvin Austin III
    WR Calvin Austin IIIBrandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Solidifying the left tackle spot can be huge for Pickett's development. Finding a reliable third wideout to combine with Johnson and George Pickens could be just as important—though for different reasons.

    Having that dependable third option at receiver will allow offensive coordinator Matt Canada to open up the playbook for Pickett and foster his growth as a processor and decision-maker.

    The primary candidates for this role are 2022 fourth-round pick Calvin Austin III and offseason trade acquisition Allen Robinson II. Austin has the potential to add a new element to the offense with his elite speed (4.32-second 40-yard dash), but he missed his entire rookie campaign after undergoing Lisfranc surgery.

    Robinson is coming off a couple of down seasons but was a 1,250-yard receiver with the Chicago Bears in 2020. He is also a player the Steelers have liked for some time.

    "Coach [Mike] Tomlin got a great feel for him when he was coming out of college out of Penn State," general manager Omar Khan told ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio. "... He was a free agent last year. We had an interest in him and, you know, didn’t work out."

    Fans should expect either Robinson or Austin to emerge as Pittsburgh's third receiver, though other players could be in the mix too. Miles Boykin and Anthony Miller are both back, though Miller missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.


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    CB Joey Porter Jr.
    CB Joey Porter Jr. Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images

    The Steelers reloaded their cornerback room this offseason after ranking only 25th in yards allowed per pass attempt. With players such as Peterson, Porter and Chandon Sullivan joining the team this offseason, Pittsburgh could have new starters at both perimeter spots and at nickelback.

    However, returning players Levi Wallace, James Pierre and Duke Dawson—who was on the practice squad last season—will have opportunities to make their cases.

    Peterson, an eight-time Pro Bowler, has the edge in experience and should secure one of the perimeter spots. Porter is untested at the pro level but has all the tools needed to be an early impact starter.

    "Porter is the best cornerback in this draft class. He may not be as polished as some of the other top cornerbacks in previous classes, but with his length and physicality, he's comparable," Cory Giddings of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.

    Like Jones, though, Porter won't waltz directly into a starting job.

    This is a critical position battle for Pittsburgh because if the team can improve the consistency of its pass defense, it could be special on that side of the ball. The Steelers ranked eighth in yards per rush, 10th in points allowed and first in interceptions a year ago while recording 40 sacks even with Watt sidelined for seven games.