Why the Steelers are the NFL’s most underrated team in 2023

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens
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Despite national pessimism, Pittsburgh is a lot closer to contending than many would believe.

Going into the 2023 offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers were left with great excitement and legitimate skepticism. They had just rattled off seven wins out of their last nine games under Kenny Pickett, albeit embattled offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s philosophical approach. They missed the playoffs by only a field goal kicked by the Miami Dolphins over the New York Jets late in the 4th quarter, yet made significant strides towards the finish line.

A few months have passed, and it’s probably safe to say that there is far more optimism surrounding the team than previously. This was a crucial first offseason for rookie general manager Omar Khan. It was a make-or-break time to improve the roster and depth chart by week 1.

Surely enough, the “Khan Artist” broke the bank when it came to the number of transactions well-liked by fans made thus far. GM of the Year awards aren’t handed out in May, but there’s a lot to like about how the team is being assembled for the long run.

On paper, we’re looking at an indefinitely improved roster. It’s hard not to believe they’re better than the nine-win team from last year. The trenches were made a priority by Khan and Assistant general manager Andy Wiedl, and they weren’t messing around in the process.

Broderick Jones, Isaac Seumalo, and Nate Herbig complete a massive overhaul of the offensive line with James Daniels, Mason Cole, and Chukwuma Okorafor already in the fold. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren will be running with much more ease.

Defensively, helping out Cameron Heyward in his latter years was not to be overlooked. Keanu Benton, Armon Watts, Breiden Fehoko, and the emergence of DeMarvin Leal all will make contributions to a stronger defensive line.

Skill position players aren’t to be forgotten either. 2nd-year quarterback Kenny Pickett will have more weapons at his disposal in the fall. Allen Robinson and Darnell Washington help form a formidable receiver corps alongside George Pickens, Diontae Johnson, Pat Freiermuth, and Calvin Austin III. The more options for your franchise guy, the better he’ll be set up for success.

The Linebacker and secondary situations were a bit bleak after an eventful season defined by inconsistencies and flaws. Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, Tanner Muse, and Markus Golden will undoubtedly provide better depth up front. Mark Robinson is another name to watch who might break out in 2023.

Joey Porter Jr is a household name for his relation to Joey Porter Sr, former Steeler great. But that’s not the only thing he will bring to a secondary in dire need of reinforcements. Patrick Peterson, Keanu Neal, Chandon Sullivan, and Corey Trice all are notable yet impactful additions. MInkah Fitzpatrick, Damonte Kazee, and Levi Wallace currently reside in very valuable roles.

Coaching staff changes are commonplace in the NFL, but for the Steelers, they should not be forgotten at all and perhaps might bode well for them under Mike Tomlin. Offensive Assistant Coach Glenn Thomas, Assistant Quarterbacks Coach David Corley, Inside Linebackers Coach Aaron Curry, Assistant Defensive Backs Coach Gerald Alexander, and Defensive Quality Control Coach Jason Brooks were the newest hires to a staff known to be below the average size. The new coaches should make a difference in aiding Tomlin back to the postseason.

Overall, there’s little reason to think this roster will not improve upon their 2022 win total heading into the 2023 regular season in September. The biggest factors that will define the next season will be 3 names; Kenny Pickett (can he take the next step forward?), Matt Canada (will Canada do better in play calling?), and Mike Tomlin (can Tomlin coach Steelers to a better start?). All that aside, the hype will continue to build as we inch closer to Training Camp and Preseason.

Kenny Pickett isn’t the only rookie that struggled to win by throwing the ball

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Will he take a big step up in his second year?

The Pittsburgh Steelers were 1 and 4 when Kenny Pickett threw the ball more than 30 times. The game they won was the lowest scoring victory of the season, a 13-10 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders. When Pickett threw 30 times or less the Steelers were undefeated with a 6-0 record. (only counting games Pickett started and threw at least two passes)

You can look at that information several ways, from an argument that the Steelers didn’t need Kenny Pickett to win games, that Kenny Pickett couldn’t deliver when the Steelers needed him, even the very basic fact that teams throw more when trailing and throw less when winning is a factor here. So what can we take away from Pickett’s 1-4 record when throwing the ball more?

To get a good idea of whether it is concerning or not, let’s take a look at other young quarterbacks since 2010 and how their teams fared when throwing the ball more than 30 times in a game.

Since 2010, 114 quarterbacks have thrown more than thirty passes in a game in the first two seasons of their NFL career. Thirty-seven of those quarterbacks failed to win even one of those games, 32% of the quarterbacks lost every game they threw 31+ times. Eighteen of those 37, and 25 of the 114 only had one game with more than thirty throws. If we cut the list to just the quarterbacks with 5+ games of more than thirty passes, the list shrinks to just under half the size, with 65 players qualifying. Kenny Pickett is one of the worst in the group with his 1-4 record, but again, the list contains first and second year games, and there’s a reason for that, that we will get to shortly.

Here’s the best records from our list of quarterbacks:

John Skelton: 5-2
Patrick Mahomes: 9-4
Andrew Luck: 16-8
Lamar Jackson: 3-2
Mason Rudolph: 3-2
Andy Dalton: 10-9
Carson Wentz: 11-10

Four good starting quarterbacks who threw a lot early in their careers, Lamar Jackson who was much more of a runner than passer in the Ravens offense, and two guys that started with strong records but couldn’t hold a starting job. Those are the only ones to throw more than thirty times in at least 5 games their first two seasons and have a winning record. Seven out of the 65 who qualified. In fact, of the 65 who qualified, almost one half (32 of them) won 25% or less of these games.

But lets look deeper into it, here’s those same players records from just their rookie season:

John Skelton: 1-1 (the win a blowout with 6 forced turnovers and over 200 yards rushing)
Patrick Mahomes: 1-0
Andrew Luck: 8-4
Lamar Jackson: 0-0
Mason Rudolph: 0-0
Andy Dalton: 6-4
Carson Wentz: 5-8

Andrew Luck was a unicorn, a rare prospect that was incredibly talented and NFL ready from Week 1 of his rookie season. Andy Dalton was NFL ready with a much lower ceiling, his record actually was worse his second season. Most didn’t throw much in their first season. Carson Wentz embodies the more common situation for good young quarterbacks, going from a losing record his first season to a winning record in his second season.

Here’s some of the other more famous quarterbacks in the NFL right now and their rookie and second year record when throwing the ball more than 30 times.

Justin Hebert: 5-8 (R), 10-8 (2)
Trevor Lawrence: 2-10 (R), 7-6 (2)
Josh Allen: 0-5 (R), 4-3 (2)
Joe Burrow: 2-6-1 (R), 4-5 (2)
Derek Carr: 2-11 (R), 6-7 (2)
Ryan Tannehill: 0-7 (R), 7-7 (2)
Baker Mayfield: 3-7 (R), 4-8 (2)
Andy Dalton: 6-4 (R), 5-5 (2)
Dak Prescott: 5-2 (R), 2-5 (2)

Most good quarterbacks make a substantial leap in win/loss record when relied on to throw the ball more in their second season. This data tells us that we can’t judge too much by Kenny Pickett’s rookie season record when throwing the ball more than thirty times, but that if that record doesn’t improve a good bit in his second season, then he likely isn’t going to be the long term answer for the Steelers at quarterback. It would be great for him to take a Joe Burrow or Derek Carr step forward, but we don’t want to see him in the same category as Baker Mayfield, a quarterback just good enough to hold the job but not good enough to lead your team to greatness.

Steelers OTAs Recap, Day 6: Cory Trice Jr. already turning heads

NFL: Combine
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers were back at practice, and it’s time to take a look at what went down.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field for Organized Team Activities (OTAs) Wednesday, and for those who haven’t been paying attention this isn’t breaking news. The Steelers have been participating in OTAs for the last few months, but Phase 3, which just started, gets the most news.

In case you don’t know, Phase 1 of OTAs is essentially just workouts with the strength and conditioning staff, Phase 2 is more position specific training/drills and Phase 3 is the most football-like of all OTAs. It is Phase 3 which is where teams can do 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. No contact, no pads, but plenty of news to go around. Before going any further, it is important to note these workouts are 100% voluntary.

There was plenty of news on Day 6 which wasn’t just the aforementioned topics, and in this article I will dive into those, as well as share some video fans might enjoy checking out!

Let’s get to the news…

While most fans of the Steelers are looking forward to hearing about Joey Porter Jr. turning heads, it has actually been the other cornerback the team drafted in the 2023 NFL Draft which has been making an impact at OTAs.

That’s right, Cory Trice Jr. out of Purdue as a 7th Round pick has been the rookie making the most “splash”. On Thursday, to wrap up Week 2 of OTAs, Trice was all over the field making plays in the form of pass break ups and even an interception.

While this might not be the rookie cornerback most people were expecting to make plays, at least there are some plays being made regardless.

Now it’s time to check out what else took place during OTAs…

Interesting Take from Dan Moore Jr.

Some say it is like driving on the other side of the road, maybe this analogy is better?




The Steelers have actually been rebuilding since 2019

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports

Some experts think the Steelers have another three years before they’re ready to compete. But Pittsburgh has been rebuilding since 2019. That would be a seven-year rebuild. The NFL doesn’t have seven-year rebuilds.

The Steelers spent most of the 2010s trying to recapture the magic of their second Super Bowl era that started in 2004, Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season, and pretty much ended the night Tim Tebow beat them in a wildcard playoff game following the 2011 campaign.

Despite some real salary-cap hell, the departure of many Super Bowl heroes, and a major roster turnover, Pittsburgh surprisingly managed to build itself back into a decent contender again by the end of the 2014 season.

It helped to have Roethlisberger and his prime years still on the horizon. It also didn’t hurt that Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell became arguably the best receiver/running back duo (if there is such a thing) in the NFL. Both were, at times, the best players at their respective positions (Brown would actually go on a historic run of greatness). Throw in an offensive line that went from a real weakness to one of the stronger units in the NFL, and the offense would be the engine that powered Pittsburgh in the mid-to-late 2010s.

Unfortunately, despite some pretty exciting years, the Steelers, under the leadership of the Killer B’s-led offense, never got back to a Super Bowl.

In my opinion, the Killer B era officially jumped the shark late in the 2018 campaign when Pittsburgh blew a 2.5-game lead in the AFC North and missed the playoffs with a 9-6-1 record.

Things would never be the same after that.

Bell, who held out all of 2018, and Brown, who forced himself to be traded, were both gone by 2019. Roethlisberger suffered a serious elbow injury in Week 2 of that year and would miss the remainder of the season.

If the rebuilding of your Pittsburgh Steelers wasn’t underway prior to Roethlisberger’s injury, it certainly began during it.

Yes, the Steelers, with the help of a shocking early-season trade that saw them acquire safety Minkah Fitzpatrick for a first-round pick, remained in the playoff race until the final week thanks to a stout defense, but your eyes told you who that 2019 team was: One in transition.

Your eyes told you the same thing in 2020, even with a returning Roethlisberger, who somehow led the Steelers to an 11-0 start.

And there was no question Pittsburgh was in rebuild mode in 2021, maybe not fully—Roethlisberger was still around and surprisingly got the team into the playoffs—but damn near.

Last year was the Steelers’ first campaign without Roethlisberger as the face of the franchise in nearly two decades. Maybe that’s why it felt like the rebuilding had just begun.

Kenny Pickett, the rookie quarterback, struggled. The offensive line struggled. The offense was an even bigger joke than it had been the previous three seasons. Even the defense was just sort of okay without T.J. Watt for a significant portion of the 2022 campaign.

Maybe this is why the sentiment among so many—mainly, the national and local media experts—is that the Steelers are still two or three years away from truly being able to compete.

Two or three years? Rebuilds aren’t supposed to take over half a decade to be completed in the National Football League.

Pickett will be closing in on 30 in three years. Same with Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth.

Watt will be 31. Cam Heyward, Mr. Steeler, will probably be retired by then. Fitzpatrick will be 29.

The Steelers have been rebuilding and revamping their offensive line since the 2021 offseason. You mean to tell me they have a few more springs and summers to go before it’s finally done?

I’m not some overly-optimistic, pie-in-the-sky Steelers supporter who is proclaiming that the team is ready to win a Super Bowl now. I’m just saying there is no way it should take another three years to be a contender.

Yes, the AFC is loaded with quality quarterbacks, but that still doesn’t have much to do with the Steelers and their rebuild.

Obviously, Pickett would be the second-best quarterback when facing a team with an elite passer in 2023. However, if Pickett really does have the talent to be a franchise quarterback, NFL history tells me it won’t take him until 2026 to realize that potential.

I will say this in conclusion:

Roads and highways often take close to a decade to rebuild—Route 28, anyone?—but not NFL teams.

I might be in agreement with the experts, if not for the fact that Pittsburgh, who started 2-6 in 2022, finished with a 9-8 record.

Young teams that are on the rise often finish strong after challenging starts. Young teams who finish strong usually carry that momentum over to the following year.

A young team that finishes strong is often one that is pretty much done with its rebuild.

A young team that finishes strong is often one that is just about ready to compete with the big boys.

If it does take the Steelers another three years to be in position to win playoff games against the likes of Kansas City, Buffalo and Cincinnati, Mike Tomlin really should be fired.

But I don’t believe it’s going to take another three years for that to be a reality.

The NFL just isn’t built for seven-year rebuilds.

Explaining how the NFL works, Part 7: Dead money

Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Let’s examine the process of some of the inner workings in the NFL and how teams manage the situations.

Whether it’s when the NFL is in the full swing of its regular season or if it’s during the downtime of the early summer, there still is constant news and happenings with the league that has made itself relevant 365 days a year. When various things are discussed, sometimes there are terminologies and procedures where fans might have a general understanding of things. Even the most die-hard fans may have certain areas they don’t understand exactly what various things mean and wish to have a better understanding.

Over the next few weeks, I will take some time to do my best in thoroughly explaining some of the various inner workings of things in the NFL. These are not on-field items but more from an administrative standpoint. Whether it be understanding the waiver wire, the Reserve/Injured List, or the breakdown of the practice squad, we’ll take a look at some of the various terms that are thrown around and utilized in descriptions of things in the NFL but may not be fully understood.

Next up is the topic of dead money, which is even more important on today’s date.

Dead Money

The term dead money, which is used when looking at an NFL contract, is the amount of money which still needs to be accounted for on the salary cap after the player’s contract is no longer in effect. While it would be easier to say it is when “the player is no longer on the team,” that is not always the case which will be explained shortly. Dead money does not mean that the team still owes the player any part of their base salary or other bonuses, it is simply money the player has already been paid but has not been accounted for on the salary cap.

A good example to show the concept of dead money is where the Steelers recently released cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Last season the Steelers signed Witherspoon to a two-year deal worth $8 million. The structure of the deal paid Witherspoon $1.035 million in a base salary for 2022, a $2.965 million signing bonus, and a $4 million base salary for 2023. After looking how bonuses worked yesterday, Witherspoon signing bonus was split up to count $1,482,500 each of the two seasons. This kept Witherspoon’s cap number down to $2,517,500 last year and would have been $5,482,500 in 2023. When Witherspoon was released, the $4 million base salary went to cap savings but the additional $1,482,500 that was to go on this year’s salary cap and had already been paid to Witherspoon still counts on the salary cap for 2023 under the category of dead money.

Dead money but still on the team?

So how can a player have a dead money charge and still be on the team? This happens when a player has one contract terminated and then has another begin. The best example of this comes from Anthony McFarland Jr. Because he did not make the Steelers 53-man roster in 2022, he had a dead money hit for his remaining signing bonus. The fact that McFarland was signed back onto the practice squad, or even if he had been signed the 53-man roster at another point, it doesn’t change his dead money hit from the end of his rookie contract which was terminated when he did not make the team.

Void Years

Sometimes teams add void years onto a contract in order to spread out the salary cap hit of the initial signing bonus. A void year is simply fake years on a contract just to spread out the signing bonus but the player does not have a base salary for those years and are set to become a free agent once the contract voids. If a player has void years in their contract and they are not re-signed before the contract voids, all of the remaining money from any of the void years gets transferred into dead money for the next season.

A good example of this is Cameron Sutton. With 2021 being the only year the Steelers have ever used void years because of the salary cap going down, Sutton signed a contract for two years that also had three void years at the end. With a $3.5 million signing bonus, the Steelers saved $1.05 million on the salary cap for 2021 by having the void years at the end of the contract (the prorated bonus was $700k per year with the void years vs. $1.75 million if the contract only had two years). But when Sutton‘s contract voided in February, the remaining $700k from each of the three void years all was transferred as dead money into the Steelers 2023 salary cap and Sutton cost the Steelers $2.1 million this season. Even if Sutton would have re-signed with the Steelers during free agency, this dead money value still would have been there.

June 1

A very important date in the NFL calendar when it comes to dealing with dead money is June 1. If a player is cut or traded after June 1, the remaining dead money can be spread over two seasons instead of one as long as that player‘s contract was set to go this distance or beyond. If the player has multiple years left on their contract, only their prorated bonus for that season will count in the first year and all the remaining prorated bonuses added together would count for the next year. For example, if a player had three years left on their contract with $2 million in prorated bonus each season, they would count $2 million for the upcoming season in dead money and $4 million the following season in dead money if they were released after June 1.

One example of this comes from Stephon Tuitt’s retirement last year which occurred on June 1. By waiting until this date, the remaining dead money for Tuitt was able to be spread out across the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

Using the earlier example of Anthony McFarland, this is why he still has a dead money hit with the Steelers for 2023. Because he was released at the end of August before being signed to the practice squad, his dead money hit was spread out over 2022 in 2023. This is why he still has a $180k dead money hit for the season.

When June 1 isn’t June 1

But what if a team plans on releasing a player but wants to wait until June 1 in order to have the cap savings? Rather than hold that player hostage, teams are allowed to release as many as two players who they designate as a June 1 release although they release them much sooner. This allows the player to sign with any team once free agency begins, and the team can spread out the dead money into the following year (as long as their contract was to go beyond the upcoming season). The only other requirement that comes with this is that a player’s entire salary cap hit must stay with the team until June 1. So if a player has a large base salary, that stays on the team’s salary cap until the release is made official the start of June.

It should also be noted that neither trades nor retirements can be designated as a June 1 transaction. In order to have those benefits, they cannot be officially processed until that time.

Early Retirement

If a player signed a large contract with an extensive signing bonus for many years but then decides to step away from the game early, the only way a team can get around the dead money charge is too try to recoup some of the player’s signing bonus. In order for this to happen, the team and the player have to enter into arbitration. While this is possible, it is not something that comes into play very often, especially with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In case you missed other parts of the series, they can be seen here:

Darnell Washington knows what kind of mismatch he can be in the Steelers offense

Syndication: Online Athens

The Pittsburgh Steelers 3rd Round draft pick knows how dynamic he can be with his skill set.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were fortunate Darnell Washington was still available when in Round 3 of the 2023 NFL Draft. They were even more fortunate when you consider how the team traded their original 3rd Round pick to the Carolina Panthers to move back and obtain a pick in the 4th Round, and Washington was still there.

Most people had a late first round/second round grade on the former University of Georgia tight end, and there is a reason why. With his size and athleticism he can be a nightmare for defensive coordinators.

And Washington knows the kind of mismatch he can be when he puts it all together.

“When I put it all together, I can be a mismatch,” said Washington. “I can be anywhere on the field, whether that’s running routes or if that’s blocking. I need to put it all together. Once I do that, I will be a complete tight end. I am not complete yet. It takes time. Being with Coach Alfredo (Roberts) and working on our game will make it happen.

“I enjoy blocking. I enjoy every aspect of the game. Blocking, running routes, I have done it all. Back in my day, I used to play left tackle and I blocked a whole season. I have played receiver. I have played running back. I have done it all on the field. I enjoy every aspect of the game.

“It means the world to get the opportunity to be at this level now. I am just trying to prove everybody that passed on me wrong and that is what I plan on doing.”

Speaking of blocking, Washington knows what it takes to be successful. Where that all stems from is the mindset to not just be a good blocker, but a willing blocker. Someone who will put their nose in those dirty areas for the betterment of the offense.

“It comes from the mindset,” said Washington. “At tight end, we aren’t just catching balls and scoring touchdowns. We also have to block. If you can’t block, you can’t play in the league for a long time.”

While Washington knows how dominant he can be, he also realizes he is far from a finished product.

“There are lots of things I still need to learn,” said Washington. “I have learned a lot. I played at Georgia, so I thought I would come here and know a lot of things. I still have tons of things to learn, little details, routes, how to sell it. Little things can lead to big things.”

What Washington should be ultimately happy about is the tight end room he has been drafted into. A group of guys like Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry and Connor Heyward who have a great working relationship and are willing to help each other succeed. Who has been a help to him? Everyone.

“I have Pat (Freiermuth) to lean on, Zach (Gentry) to lean on and even Connor (Heyward), he has one more year in than me,” said Washington. “So, for sure my position group. No one specific. A little of everyone. Even the offensive linemen. Everybody.”

If the Steelers can utilized Washington the way he described, as a mismatch, it will make their offense even more dynamic. For a unit which struggled with being labeled as dynamic in 2022, Matt Canada’s group can use all they help they can get.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the 2023 NFL offseason.

2023 NFL Draft: Grading the AFC North after one month has passed

NFL: NFL Draft
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After a month to analyze the AFC North draft classes, the results are in…

The 2023 NFL Draft is officially one month in the past, and after several weeks of analyzing and grading each division on our FFSN draft-grading series, it is time to hone in on the AFC North and determine where the Steelers rank compared to their division rivals.

The Browns were not busy early in the draft, as their draft capital was limited due to the Deshaun Watson trade. They got the ball rolling in the third round with the selections of wide receiver Cedric Tillman and nose tackle Siaki Ika. The other three teams in the division were slated to pick in the second half of Round 1, although the Steelers moved up from Pick 17 to Pick 14 to select offensive tackle Broderick Jones.

Today’s format will go team-by-team and include the following information:

  • Best selection
  • Worst selection
  • Best value pick
  • Overall Grade
  • Author’s analysis

With all the formalities out of the way, let’s dive in!

Baltimore Ravens

Best Selection: Andrew Vorhees (Round 7, Pick 229)
Worst Selection: Tavius Robinson (Round 4, Pick 124)
Best Value Pick: Trenton Simpson (Round 3, Pick 86)
Overall Grade: B+

The Ravens are consistent in sticking to their board and drafting the best player available, regardless of need, and it was no different this season. While I do not consider Zay Flowers a great fit for a passing game led by Lamar Jackson, he was my WR2 in this draft and one of the top remaining players on board. What made this draft a success, however, was seventh-round selection Andrew Vorhees, a guard from USC who suffered an ACL tear during the pre-draft process. Before the injury, Vorhees was a consensus Day 2 pick and a plug-and-play starter at left guard. I still believe Vorhees is a starting-caliber guard, and even though he may not be available until Year 2, I consider him to be one of the best value picks in this draft.

Cincinnati Bengals

Best Pick: DJ Turner (Round 2, Pick 60)
Worst Pick: Myles Murphy (Round 1 Pick 28)
Best Value Pick: Chase Brown (Round 5, Pick 163)
Overall Grade: B

I did not necessarily hate the Myles Murphy selection, but they had an opportunity to cash in at tight end with a Sam LaPorta or Michael Mayer, but they failed to do so. It never hurts to have an abundance of pass rushers, but EDGE was not considered to be a top team need. Perhaps my personal favorite selection, however, was Chase Brown in Round 5. This guy can do it all, from running in space, to running in between the tackles, to catching the ball, to assisting in pass protection. If Mixon ends up missing any time with an injury, I do not see Brown looking back. He deserves a shot to be Mixon’s heir as the workhorse back in Cincy.

Cleveland Browns

Best Pick: Dorian Thompson-Robinson (Round 5, Pick 140)
Worst Pick: Cameron Mitchell (Round 5, Pick 142)
Best Value Pick: Luke Wypler (Round 6, Pick 190)
Overall Grade: B+

I did not necessarily love any one selection for the Browns, but I think they got some good football players nonetheless. I chose Thompson-Robinson as my favorite pick for the Browns because of the schematic fit and similar play style to Deshaun Watson. Watson is the perfect quarterback for DTR to learn under, and Cleveland’s current offensive structure is the perfect system for him to succeed. If healthy, I could also see sixth-round pick Luke Wypler fighting for a starting spot in the near future.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Best Selection: Joey Porter, Jr.
Worst Selection: Spencer Anderson
Best Value Pick: Cory Trice
Overall Grade: A

As a Steelers fan, this is the first time I have loved almost every aspect of a draft. The team drafted my highest-rated left tackle, a top-five player on my board at the top of Round 2, and my second-ranked tight end at the back end of Round 3. I was really wanting Mazi Smith to fall further than he did, as he would have been a much better fit in Pittsburgh than Benton. However, I trust Karl Dunbar to get the most out of the talented Benton, and it still fills a major need along the defensive line. Cory Trice was also an incredible selection, as he provides starter potential as either a boundary corner or high safety.

How do the AFC North draft classes stack up in your eyes? Be sure to share your thoughts by voting on the poll and commenting down below!

Steelers Vertex: Is Levi Wallace prepared to hold off the rest of the young cornerbacks?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Atlanta Falcons
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With the inside track to the starting job in Week 1, what level of play does Wallace bring tat others will have to surpass?

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 league year is well underway. With the 2023 NFL draft now behind us, there are still questions to be answered going forward. With Joey Porter Jr. taken as the 32nd overall pick, he will be looking to crack the starting lineup as soon as possible. But with Levi Wallace the front runner to start across from Patrick Peterson, what does he bring to the defense that Porter will have to attempt to unseed. This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex– a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

In his first season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Levi Wallace appeared in 15 games where he had nine starts. Wallace pulled in four interceptions with the Steelers in 2022 which was a career high. Wallace also had a career high in passes defensed with 13 and also added 48 tackles. When it comes to the advanced stats, Wallace was targeted 77 times with 41 completions for 650 yards and three touchdowns according to Pro Football Reference.

When breaking his stats down more by individual games, Wallace was one of many Steelers defenders that had a much stronger second half of the season. Missing two games in the first half of the season in Week 6 and Week 8. Wallace gave up his most yards in 2022 in the Steelers loss to the Buffalo Bills as he was credited with 109 yards on four completions and a touchdown. But as the season went on, Wallace appeared to find his own with the Steelers. In fact, over the Steelers final three games Wallace only gave up three completions on eight targets for 42 yards and one of his interceptions.

But how did all this look on film?

The Film Line:

Levi Wallace’s start to the 2022 season started with learning a new defense and then adding a knee injury and concussion in the first half of the season. When he was on the field, he looked a bit tentative and slow.

Steelers vs. Bills, 1st quarter, 14:09

Levi Wallace (#29) is the cornerback to the bottom of the screen.

Wallace gives a bit too much ground here to Gabriel Davis, and when Tre Norwood takes a bad angle to help they are both out of the play as the Bills take control less than a minute into the game.

But Wallace still showed his strengths even as he struggled and gave up yards.

Steelers vs. Bills, 2nd quarter, 11:32

Levi Wallace (#29) is the cornerback to the bottom of the screen.

Wallace is very good in trail coverage and he shows that here. He stays physically involved in the route, reading the eyes of the receiver so he can turn and find the ball for his first interception as a Steeler.

Wallace played at least half the game in only 4 of the first 8 games, and yet had some of the worst coverage numbers on the team. His play was good at times and awful other times. That turned around after the bye week, and in my opinion, it all started in the 4th quarter of the Steelers Week 10 matchup with the New Orleans Saints.

Steelers vs. Saints, 4th quarter, 12:22

Levi Wallace (#29) is the cornerback.

This interception for Damontae Kazee was created by a subtle pull on the receiver’s arm that went unnoticed by the referees. Wallace got away with one here, and when the Saints got the ball back, they were looking to attack his side of the field.

Andy Dalton’s first pass of the drive was completed against Wallace, but held short of the first down by a nice tackle.

Steelers vs. Saints, 4th quarter, 8:13

Levi Wallace (#29) is the cornerback to the top of the screen.

Dalton is looking to attack the gap between Terrell Edmunds (jumping to tip the pass) and Minkah Fitzpatrick, but Levi Wallace reads the play and comes across to break up the pass. Wallace is a very good zone corner and shows it here in a cover-3 look, reading the play and getting to the ball in time. A stuffed run on third down would end this drive for the Saints.

The next drive would be the Saints last, starting off with a sack, a pass to Alvin Kamara that Levi Wallace tackled to bring up third and 9, and this play:

Steelers vs. Saints, 4th quarter, 4:30

Levi Wallace (#29) is the cornerback to the top of the screen.

Again in trail coverage, Wallace again stays physically involved in the route, turns with the receiver and finds the ball to turn the ball back over to the offense, and the Steelers would run the clock out.

The final 8 offensive plays of the game for the Saints showed they had targeted Wallace as the weak link in the Steelers coverage, and they went after him a number of times. Here’s the results:

1. Wallace gets away with holding WR arm, Kazee INT.
2. Complete pass held to 9 yard gain by Wallace tackle.
3. Wallace reads play to break up pass
4. Stuffed run on 3rd and 1.
5. Stuffed QB sneak on 4th down.
6. Sack
7. Pass to Kamara cut off well short of first down by Wallace
8. Interception by Wallace.

Levi Wallace seemed to gain confidence from this sequence, and from that point in the season on, he was a much more effective corner.

Steelers vs. Bengals, 2nd quarter, 0:35

Levi Wallace (#29) is the cornerback to the bottom of the screen.

Wallace does a pretty good Joe Haden impression here, jumping the underneath route for a big turnover. The Bengals were looking to score to break the tie at the end of the half, but this play put the Steelers in position to play for a field goal and take the lead.

Steelers vs. Bengals, 3rd quarter, 12:50

Levi Wallace (#29) is the cornerback to the top of the screen.

Here Wallace shows again he can play tight coverage and make plays on the ball. The Bengals went after Wallace in this game, and he responded with one of his best games of the season, allowing less than a 50% completion percentage and a 40.5 passer rating when targeted by Joe Burrow. He also was instrumental in setting the Steelers up to win this game, as these two plays saw the Steelers leading the Bengals and in possession of the ball with 27 minutes left to play. The Steelers offense would fall flat and the Bengals would dominate the end of the game, but Wallace turned in a great performance and teams took notice. While Wallace had been targeted an average of 7 times a game from Weeks 5-13, he was only targeted an average of 3 times a game over the last 5 Weeks.

Steelers vs. Browns, 2nd quarter, 1:24

Levi Wallace (#29) is the cornerback to the top of the screen.

Wallace’s last interception of the season came in the finale against the Browns when he again was in a deep third coverage and read the play to come and make a play in the gap in front of Minkah Fitzpatrick. This was a key moment in the game, as the Steelers had just tied the game and would take the lead and control of the game after this turnover.

The Point:

The strengths of Levi Wallace are pretty clear. He is really strong in cover-2 and cover-3 assignments and does well playing tight trail coverage in man. The Steelers defensive additions of Keanu Neal, Patrick Peterson, Joey Porter Jr., and even Cory Trice point to the Steelers looking to play more press man along with the Cover-3/Tampa-2 they have been using and modifying since Teryl Austin and Minkah Fitzpatrick joined the team in 2019.

The ideal situation for the Steelers is to have Joey Porter Jr. seize the #1 cornerback job sooner than later, but realistically Porter Jr. will have rookie struggles and the presence of Levi Wallace gives the Steelers a sound cornerback that fits what their roster is built to run on defense. Wallace is more than capable of holding down the #2 corner spot across from Patrick Peterson as long as he’s healthy.

Steelers OTAs Recap, Day 5: Let the battle at right tackle begin

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers were back at practice, and it’s time to take a look at what went down.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field for Organized Team Activities (OTAs) Wednesday, and for those who haven’t been paying attention this isn’t breaking news. The Steelers have been participating in OTAs for the last few months, but Phase 3, which just started, gets the most news.

In case you don’t know, Phase 1 of OTAs is essentially just workouts with the strength and conditioning staff, Phase 2 is more position specific training/drills and Phase 3 is the most football-like of all OTAs. It is Phase 3 which is where teams can do 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. No contact, no pads, but plenty of news to go around. Before going any further, it is important to note these workouts are 100% voluntary.

There was plenty of news on Day 5 which wasn’t just the aforementioned topics, and in this article I will dive into those, as well as share some video fans might enjoy checking out!

Let’s get to the news…

As OTAs stretch on, there seems to be less and less coverage of the workouts as fans claim there is no news coming out of workouts which are nothing more than “football in shorts”.

While there may be something to this sentiment, it doesn’t mean there is nothing which can be gleaned from these workouts. Performance absolutely can’t be gauged considering there is no physical tackling going on, but at the same time, there are certain things which are worth noting.

One of those things has been where the Steelers have been putting Dan Moore Jr. in the early stages of the offseason. After drafting Broderick Jones in the 1st Round of the 2023 NFL Draft, the team has been moving Moore to right tackle more.

This per Mike Nicastro:

It should be noted Moore isn’t playing specifically at right tackle, but is rotating to that side. However, Moore seems to have seen the writing on the wall and started to get a head-start on the move from left to right before the draft took place.

Now, it seems Chuks Okorafor could be in another position battle throughout training camp. The last time Okorafor found himself in this spot was when he and Zach Banner battled it out for the starting right tackle position. Banner won that job, but only lasted roughly one game before tearing his ACL, an injury which has kept him out of the league ever since.

Putting Moore on both sides of the line makes a ton of sense for the Steelers. Not only does it create competition with Moore and Okorafor, but it also gives Moore the experience necessary if he is the team’s swing tackle heading into the regular season. Some might call that a win-win, but Moore might just say it’s a chance for him to prove his worth over the incumbent Okorafor.




Fantasy Football: Dynasty rookies in high upside situations

NFL: NFL Draft
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Which rookies landed in the perfect place to make a big impact?

Dynasty Rookie draft season is in full swing and managers are not only looking to stock their rosters with talent for the future, but also to land early impact playmakers for 2023.

The 2023 class is top heavy, with the talent level dropping off fairly quickly, and many Rookies stuck in less than ideal situations for immediate production. However, there are some new players who have landed in good spots and are ready to provide useful fantasy numbers quickly.

To preface, I recognize players like Bijan Robinson and Bryce Young were drafted to be the unquestioned starters at their respective positions. For the purposes of this article, those players and others in similar high profile situations will not be included. With that in mind, here are my Top 6 Dynasty Rookies in high upside situations for 2023.

QB Anthony Richardson
Indianapolis Colts

Anyone still thinking that Anthony Richardson needs time to develop before getting thrown into the starting job in Indy is going to be disappointed. That may have been the prevailing thought in the lead-up to the Draft, but as soon as he became a Colt, that idea goes out the window. Richardson will be the Colts day 1 starter.

Team owner Jim Irsay didn’t spend the 4th overall pick on Richardson to watch Gardner Minshew and his zero-upside skill set take the field all season. This is Richardson’s team right now, and his rushing upside along with what should be a Colts’ offense on the rebound under new HC Shane Steichen puts him in a great position to succeed early.

RB Kendre Miller
New Orleans Saints

A possible looming suspension for Alvin Kamara could bump Miller into a big early season role along with short yardage specialist Jamaal Williams, and Miller’s explosive tendencies and experience give him a leg up in the RB1 competition during that time. If he proves successful, he likely will have earned a decent role later in the season even once Kamara is back. The former TCU RB will be tough to leave on the Taxi Squad heading into 2023.

WR Jonathan Mingo
Carolina Panthers

Yes, he’ll have a fellow Rookie at Quarterback tossing him the pigskin from Day 1, and yes, he’s unrefined and needs coaching to maximize his abundant physical abilities, but Jonathan Mingo is in excellent position to be fantasy relevant from the get-go. With Adam Theilen and DJ Chark as his main competition for targets, Mingo’s elite size/athleticism should allow him to stand out and earn Bryce Young’s trust early in the season. He has low-end WR2 upside as a fantasy asset in 2023.

WR Rashee Rice
Kansas City Chiefs

Two words explain why Rashee Rice is in a high-upside situation: Patrick Mahomes. When Mahomes is your QB, you have an opportunity to be fantasy relevant right away. For Rice, talent has a lot to do with this as well, since he displays good route running ability and a solid all-round skillset that Mahomes can take advantage of anywhere on the field.

It’s a crowded receiver room in KC, but nobody has a hard claim on any role. If Rice shows out in camp and preseason, he could earn a lot of targets in the league’s best offense.

TE Sam LaPorta
Detroit Lions

The Lions were one of 2022’s biggest surprises on offense, with Jared Goff and company finishing as the NFL’s fifth best team in offensive DVOA according to Football Outsiders. LaPorta drops into a well-oiled machine with an impressive skillset and great opportunity to be fantasy relevant in what is perennially the shallowest position group in Fantasy.

LaPorta won’t face a ton of competition for passing game work, and the Lions obviously targeted him specifically, making him the 2nd TE to be selected in the entire Draft. If OC Ben Johnson’s unit can pick up where they left off in 2022, LaPorta could have a big time season for owners.

RB Devon Achane
Miami Dolphins

The fastest offensive player in the 2023 NFL Draft, Devon Achane joins the system that is built to utilize his track speed best, and you can bet Head Coach Makie McDaniel will have a package ready for Achane early in the season. Combine that with the injury histories of his backfield mates, Jeff Wilson Jr. and Raheem Mostert, and Achane could find himself “running” the show for the Dolphins a lot in 2023. With that home run hitting ability, Achane has huge situational and physical upside.

For the Dynasty League lovers out there, finding Rookies that can help you NOW can be difficult. Hopefully this list gives you some players to target to help provide immediate depth and upside for your 2023 championship bids. Anyone I’m missing? Let me know in the comments below. Happy drafting!