If the Steelers are going to have the successful season that many fans are hoping, they are going to need some breakout players in key areas to perform well. Both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Here are three Pittsburgh Steelers breakout stars to watch in the preseason.
Markus Wheaton, WR, Second Year
Emmanuel Sanders and Jericho Cotchery bolted for, so called, greener pastures during free agency, and to supplement those losses the Steelers brought in Lance Moore and Martavis Bryant. Not exactly what anyone was hoping for. The lack of replacement of the production that was lost form the outside means that the weight will fall to a player(s) already on the roster. Markus Wheaton is just the man for the job. He may not seem like it after his disappointing rookie year, but that wasn’t all due to his skillset. He missed mini-camps last year because he had to finish the year at Oregon State and once he was able to get fully assimilated with the offense he was constantly injured. Not just any injury, though, two separate broken fingers. Which is one of the toughest injuries for a receiver to return from. Wheaton will have a full offseason under his belt this year. and if he is able to stay healthy he could reach 60-70 catches, 700 yards, and 6 touchdowns. That would be enough to replace Sanders’ production from a year ago.
Ryan Shazier, ILB, Rookie
Shazier may only be a rookie this year, but he has as much natural talent as just about anyone on the Steelers defense. All reports from camp are raving about how he has looked thus far. If the defense wants to vault back into the top tier, they’re going to need him to be as good as advertised. It’s no secret that the defensive line this year is far from it’s old self, Cam Heyward is really the only guaranteed difference maker. That means the linebackers, specifically Timmons and Shazier, are going to have to be flying around the field to stop anything that gets by the d-line. Shazier will also need to be able to contribute to the pass rush since the outside linebackers are far from stellar this year. If Shazier is able to a solid contributor in those areas as well in pass defense then he should leave no doubts as to why he was picked in the first round. There’s no doubt that Dick LeBeau is already salivating over how many ways he will be able to use Shazier this season.
Cortez Allen, CB, Fourth Year
Cortez Allen is heading straight into his prime this year, so if he wants to shut up all the doubters he will need to turn out an impressive performance. Allen was supposed to be a breakout player last year, but injuries and subpar play muddled those visions. Hopefully Allen is able to stay fully healthy and play up to his ability this year. God knows the defense could use it. Right now it is a toss up between Allen and Ike Taylor as to who will cover the opposing team’s number one receiver next year. I don’t think anyone is comfortable with either one as a number one corner at this point, but if Allen is able to have a good preseason that could all change. He certainly has the talent and is in an almost ideal situation for a breakout season, not to mention he’s entering a contract season. If Allen wants to silence all of his critics once an for all he will need to prove his ability as at least a low end number one corner this offseason. It won’t hurt that the safety play should be much upgraded this season, so the cornerbacks won’t have to operate on islands for the whole game.
What do you think Steelers Nation? Do you think anyone else could be in for a breakout year? Will any of these guys disappoint?