Breaking down the Steelers biggest injury concerns this season
The Steelers have a lack of quality depth at certain positions and they cannot afford injuries there.
Upon writing this article, the Steelers are going to rely heavily on some players during the upcoming season. That could lead to disaster if those specific members of the team miss time with injury. Some positions are deeper than others, while there are significant drop offs between starters and depth guys as well.
The roster has not been finalized yet and there could always be some things that are changed. Perhaps bringing in a free agent after they are released right before the regular season might be best. Either way, an injury from any player that made this list could cause major differences in the result of a game.
Many know the players that mean the most to the black and gold heading into the schedule. Some players are more manageable if they are out than others. No one ever hopes that a player could get injured during a year, but it is something that clubs in the NFL have to deal with all the time.
Pat Freiermuth would be a significant loss for the Steelers offense
Pat Freiermuth has missed every training camp practice thus far as he deals with a hamstring injury. It is nagging him, and coaches have not felt the need to rush him back into the fold. The depth behind him has been performing well as they get the added snaps available upon his absence, but you can still see the drop off from a talent standpoint.
Losing this young star at tight end would cause a big piece of the Steelers offense to take a turn for the worst. Many expect Freiermuth to have a breakout year that would catapult him into a top ten status at his position across the NFL. Having Zach Gentry and Connor Heyward, or someone else take over for a long stint could change the offensive makeup.
T.J. Watt is the most important player on the Steelers roster
One thing that everyone can agree on when they look at this Steelers team is that T.J. Watt is their most important player. He has become one of the best, if not the best defensive player in the entire league. He has proven himself time and time again, while also adding a leadership role during his time with the team.
There is no player more important to this defense or even to the club. Those around him play better when he is on the field and create better results as well. The record that the team carries with and without Watt in the lineup is a staggering difference. He single handily changes games for the black and gold.
Another issue with this franchise player being out is the lack of depth behind him. Alex Highsmith is the other starter, but he is not a proven elite pass rusher that could take over for a couple of weeks. He is a nice complimentary piece that excels while Watt is still in the lineup.
Those behind them are currently sparse without much talent or quality starts on their resume. Genard Avery once seemed to be a promising young player in this league, but those days are long behind him. The depth behind that is almost laughable at this point and would not come close to the impact that Watt makes every week.
Neither of the starting tackles for the Steelers can afford to lose time
Some fans might roll their eyes at this one as many do not hold the starting tackles in the highest regard now. The Steelers cannot afford to lose these two starters because there is little to no depth behind them. If they would lose one, or both, that would put this offensive line into a panic state.
Dan Moore Jr. will be returning for his second year in the NFL as the club’s starting left tackle. He played well during the stretch run to conclude his rookie season. Chuks Okorafor will be returning as the right tackle after re-signing with the Steelers this past offseason.
Those two might not be expected to become the next great tackles to block the edges of the line, but they could grow some more. The depth behind them is scarce and that shows how much these coaches are relying on their health this year. The depth behind them to fill in, if there would be an injury, has little to no NFL experience.
Joe Haeg is the top backup on both sides for this team and that should worry fans. He had to fill in last season for some stints and that did not pan out too nicely. After that are a bunch of wondering free agents just holding onto hope to stick around that should not really have a shot to make this roster.
Cam Heyward is the irreplaceable piece on the Steelers defensive line
This one speaks for itself as Cam Heyward has become the heartbeat of this defense since it started its transition in the early 2010s. When the old guard started to hang up their cleats and walk off into the sunset, this veteran started to ignite his career in many ways. He became a dominant force on the field and created a leadership role for himself as well.
He has seen a bunch of different iterations of this defense during his time with the Steelers and this year presents its own challenges. Heyward is going to be the anchor for this defensive line that is coming off one of its worst performances in franchise history. They need to fix the woes in their run defense and this player will do all he can to accomplish that.
Not only would his level of play be missed, but also his leadership ability. He has become one of the best vocal leaders that the Steelers have ever had in the locker room. This is a young club that needs players like Heyward to keep them motivated and moving forward.
The depth behind him is decent, but none of them could come close to replacing this lineman’s talent. There are many different young players that are unproven and other veterans that are coming off injury. That will lead to other issues if Heyward cannot be there on the field to help those uncertainties become certain.
Najee Harris is the player that the Steelers cannot afford to lose for one snap
Running back is a dying position in today’s NFL, but that does not mean it does not carry importance with it. The Steelers are quickly learning that as they have failed to address the need at the position during the offseason. That failure has caused for the club to sit at their current state of constant worry.
Najee Harris was a big investment when the team selected him in the first-round last year. It had mixed results as the player did his best with what he was given. Running behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL did not help his cause during his rookie campaign.
Now he enters his second year with hopefully an easier day job as the line in front of him was revamped. The issue is that he will still take the same number of snaps as last year and that could potentially take a tool on his body. The depth behind him has barely changed and losing Harris for any amount of time would cause for any semblance of a rushing offense to halt for the Steelers.
Benny Snell Jr. cannot be the answer if Harris goes down with injury during the season. Anthony McFarland Jr. has not shown anything during his short career either and Jaylen Warren could have something, but he might not even make the roster. An outside free agent will have to be a consideration if Harris does get injured.
The Steelers always have some sort of injury concerns as the season moves on. They cannot afford to lose these players as it could make them completely fold without them.