6 Steelers with the most to prove in 2024

These six Steelers players have a lot to prove if they want to be part of the plan in Pittsburgh beyond 2024.
Pittsburgh Steelers v Indianapolis Colts
Pittsburgh Steelers v Indianapolis Colts / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Steelers are aiming for more success in 2024. After a six-year drought without a playoff win, team president Art Rooney II is getting impatient and expectations are high. Fortunately, Omar Khan was able to load up on talent in the NFL Draft and free agency during the 2024 offseason.

While new additions aim to help the Steelers reach their goals this year, returning players must prove their worth to the coaching staff and front office if they want to stick around as part of the solution in the future. Here are six Steelers players with the most to prove in 2024.

WR Calvin Austin III

Though the Steelers signed numerous slot receivers and selected slot receiver, Roman Wilson, in the third round of the 2024 NFL Draft, Calvin Austin III can be thankful they didn't make an even bigger splash to burry knock him off the roster.

After spending his rookie season on IR, Austin was at the mercy of Matt Canada's playcalling and spotty QB play. This helped him earn just 17 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown in 17 games last season. Fortunately for Austin, his ability as a punt returner should have him sticking around in 2024.

Now entering Year 3 and with the Steelers looking for help at the wide receiver position, Austin has a chance to carve out a role. If he can't do it this year, he could be on his way out of Pittsburgh by 2025.

TE Pat Freiermuth

After a promising two seasons to open his NFL career, Pat Freiermuth dealt with numerous injuries and took a step back in 2023. His production hit rock bottom and he was a complete non-factor for Pittsburgh when on the field last season.

Freiermuth is hoping to put his down year behind him as he enters a contract year and is looking for a big payday. This might not come unless he can regain relevancy in Pittsburgh's offense. Arthur Smith is going to ask his tight ends to block, so this is an area where Freiermuth must improve. He needs a big season in 2024 if the Steelers are to consider giving him a lofty contract extension.

OG James Daniels

Two years ago, James Daniels was the best offensive lineman on this team. Now there's a chance he could be the weakest link on Pittsburgh's starting group of five on the offensive line. After selecting Zach Frazier and Troy Fautanu early in the 2024 NFL Draft, the O-line will be improved, but Daniels needs to improve his play if he wants to warrant a contract extension.

The pressure is on the veteran as he enters the final year of his contract, and the team will have veteran guard Nate Herbig and rookie OG Mason McCormick chomping at the bit for a chance to see the field with the offense in 2024. Daniels is still young and could be part of the future plan in Pittsburgh, but he needs to have a great season this year.

TE Darnell Washington

Hopes were high for Darnell Washington coming out of Georgia in the 2023 NFL Draft, and fans were shocked to see him slip toward the end of the third round. Unfortunately, Washington had a rough rookie season, as he struggled with his assignments as a blocker and did almost nothing to help in the passing game.

Washington has unmatched size with quality athletic traits and he's still very young. However, he has a lot to prove in a crowded tight-end room. The polarizing player needs to find a way to mesh with Arthur Smith's offense if he wants to be the future of the tight-end position in Pittsburgh.

CB Cory Trice Jr.

It's hard to have high expectations for a player who has never played a snap for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cory Trice Jr. was a seventh-round pick in 2023 and isn't even guaranteed to make the roster in 2024. But if he does, he will have to prove himself in a hurry.

Because the Steelers made few improvements at the cornerback position in 2024, Trice could carve out a role with the team this season. But this could be the only chance he gets. If he doesn't make a big impact, Pittsburgh could spend one of their top draft picks on a cornerback in 2025 or sign a veteran in free agency. This could bury Trice on the depth chart or force him off the roster entirely.

RB Najee Harris

Normally, I wouldn't say that a running back with three straight 1,000-yard seasons to open his career needs to prove himself. However, Najee Harris is looking for a contract extension while playing next to one of the most efficient running backs in the league over the past two seasons, Jaylen Warren. On top of that, the Steelers did not pick up his fifth-year option at just $6.79 million for the 2025 season.

Both Harris and Warren will soon need new contracts, but Warren may have the upper hand due to his explosiveness, youth, and smaller workload early in his career. Najee is going to get paid by some team in 2025, but if he wants that to be the Steelers, he may need to prove that he can be as efficient as Warren on a per-carry basis.