Coaching isn’t the only problem with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022. Their lack of quality talent is biting them hard this year.
One of the easiest things football fans can do is blame the coaching staff for all of their shortcomings. When something doesn’t go right or a team performs particularly badly on one side of the ball or the other, it seems like every NFL fan is out to have their head coach or coordinator fired.
The Pittsburgh Steelers clearly have issues with their coaching staff — there’s no question about that. Offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, might be the worst in the league at his job, and the organization desperately needs to cut ties with him. He isn’t the only coach that should be questioned. However, it’s incredibly naive to believe that the Steelers don’t have a talent issue.
Let’s start with the good. The 2022 Steelers are a ‘stud and dud’ team by its truest definition. The problem is, they don’t have nearly enough studs. Pittsburgh relies heavily on the health and performance of players like T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Cameron Heyward. The problem is when one of these players misses time (i.e. T.J. Watt) the lack of talent elsewhere on the roster becomes even more noticeable.
Steelers are full of replacement-level players
Here comes the sad truth: the Pittsburgh Steelers are a team full of replacement-level players. Outside of their three aforementioned starters, there are just a handful of up-and-comers before below-average starters round out the rest of the depth chart.
Let’s give some credit to their young players who could potentially be cornerstones to this team. After Watt, Fitzpatrick, and Heyward, the next tier of young players includes guys like George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth, Diontae Johnson, Cam Sutton, and Alex Highsmith. You could also make the case that a few others belong in this group as well (like Terrell Edmunds or James Daniels). However, the roster doesn’t hold a lot of value anywhere else. Larry Ogunjobi is a quality journeyman who will likely play just one year in Pittsburgh, but the rest of the roster is really quite unspectacular.
Let’s go across the board. Starting with the quarterback position, Kenny Pickett obviously is a well-below-average starter at this point in time (though the hope, obviously is that he will become the franchise quarterback). As far as the rest of the offense goes, Najee Harris, Dan Moore, Kevin Dotson, Mason Cole, and Steven Sims (who may not be thrust into a bigger role) are all replacement-level players at this point in time.
On defense, the Steelers have a talent shortage as well. Malik Reed, Devin Bush, Montravius Adams, Levi Wallace, and Ahkello Witherspoon aren’t even close to average NFL starters right now, while players like Chris Wormley and Myles Jack are just okay in their roles.
This talent problem stems from several issues. For starters, the Steelers have had a high bust rate in the NFL Draft since the 2015 season, and they have really only had one draft class (2017) that is considered to be one of the better classes in the league over the past eight years.
Pittsburgh has also been questionable with how they have spent their money in free agency over the past several years. Instead of forking up good money for high-quality free agents, they have pieced their money out to average starters and even replacement-level players who filled an immediate hole (like Eric Ebron and Trai Turner).
Eventually, this team will figure it out and get back on track. That could start with a good draft in 2023 now that Pittsburgh is projected to have excellent draft capital. However, for the time being, the Steelers starting lineup is riddled with replacement-level players that they must try to upgrade in the coming years.