Steelers Players with Most to Prove in Preseason Game vs. Eagles

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistAugust 11, 2021

Steelers Players with Most to Prove in Preseason Game vs. Eagles

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    For the veterans on the Steelers roster, this is just the preseason; for those trying to earn a role or roster spot, it's proving season. 

    The pressure to perform in limited opportunities is what training camp is all about. With several roster spots and roles up for grabs in camp, these preseason games are pivotal auditions for a wide variety of players.

    While teams are open to giving players with potential a shot right now, some tough decisions are always made on the way to getting the roster down to 53. 

    The Steelers got their first taste of what some players can do in the Hall of Fame game matchup with the Dallas Cowboys but the preseason officially gets underway Thursday night against the in-state rival Philadelphia Eagles

    Here are three players who should be feeling the pressure to prove themselves. 

QB Dwayne Haskins

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    Dwayne Haskins carries the pedigree of a first-round pick, but it's important to remember the Steelers don't have much invested in him. 

    The 24-year-old is on a reserves/future contract with the team and is one of four quarterbacks on the training camp roster. He's competing against Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs for depth chart positioning as well. 

    Haskins has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. In 2020, he was last in the league in completion percentage over expected, per Next Gen Stats. He completed 7.1 percent fewer passes than expected, marking a startling lack of accuracy. For context, Carson Wentz posted the next worst figure at 4.1 percent. 

    Against the Cowboys, Haskins played it fairly safe. He posted an unremarkable eight-of-13 for 54 yards stat line, posting the lowest passer rating of the three quarterbacks who took snaps. 

    The Ohio State product can't continue to just live off of his draft pedigree and reputation. It has to start translating on the field. 

RB Najee Harris

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    Najee Harris was alright in his preseason debut. His first carry went for a first down and the coaching staff can't accuse him of not running hard, but you'd like to see him break some bigger runs before the regular season gets underway. 

    The 23-year-old's longest run of the night was just six yards. He posted just 22 yards on seven carries and had one catch for three yards.

    It's still only the preseason so there's no need to hit the panic button, but a few big plays against the Eagles defense would certainly build some buzz for the rookie. 

    Drafting a running back in the first round is always going to garner added attention in today's NFL. For Harris to be viewed as a good pick he's going to have to put up elite numbers. He has already acknowledged that and embraces the challenge. 

    "We were last in the run game, so I love the challenge of drafting a running back and people saying 'oh, don't draft a running back.' To overcome all of this and to prove people wrong, it's a blessing," he said on NFL Network. "It's an opportunity. That's how I see it. No pressure at all."

    A few big runs on Thursday would get the ball rolling on that opportunity. 

WR James Washington

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    Entering the final year of his rookie contract with the Steelers, James Washington faces an uphill battle to get on the field. 

    The Pittsburgh receiving corps is loaded, and the 25-year-old has to contend with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool for targets and reps. 

    Rather than battle it out, though, the receiver has requested a trade, per Adam Schefter of ESPN. 

    Washington had a career-high five receiving touchdowns last season. But he also saw his targets go from 80 in 2019 to 56 in 2020, and the path to getting that number to rise in 2021 probably involves an injury or two to other receivers. 

    This situation could play out in one of two ways: Either the Steelers say "too bad" to his request and he has to prove he deserves more opportunity, or a team believes he's worth floating a draft pick to Pittsburgh for and he gets his chance to reset. 

    Either way, a big performance against the Eagles is in his best interest.