Today's game is an offensive-dominated league. While elite defenses can still help win championships, it's hard to do so without the aid of a terrific offense. Star offensive players have become as important as they have ever been in the game. It's why a tandem like Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce can be so lethal. The Pittsburgh Steelers obviously still have some catching up to do.
If you look around the league, there are a number of teams with an impressive mix of quarterbacks and skill players. The Cincinnati Bengals, for example, have a dominant trio of QB Joe Burrow, WR Ja'Marr Chase, and WR Tee Higgins. Meanwhile, the 49ers have All-Pros galore with RB Christian McCaffrey, WR Deebo Samuel, and TE George Kittle.
In comparison, the Steelers currently don't compete with the top teams in the league when it comes to offensive star power. Recently, Jared Dubin of CBS Sports wrote an article ranking the best offensive 'triplets' in 2023. The criteria for this was combining the best quarterback and running back with the best pass catcher on the team. Pittsburgh ranked just 22nd in this category. Here's what Dubin had to say:
"22. Pittsburgh Steelers (Avg: 21.9, High: 15, Low: 25)- Jared Dubin, CBS Sports
Last year: 25th
QB: Kenny Pickett RB: Najee Harris WR: Diontae Johnson
If there is any team from this group that is most likely to make a significant jump this year, it might be the Steelers. Second-year quarterbacks typically take a step forward if they are going to end up being any good, and Pickett has an improved offensive line in front of him as well as both Johnson and George Pickens, plus Allen Robinson, Pat Freiermuth, and Darnell Washington in his pass-catching corps. If he makes a leap, the Steelers can certainly jump into the top half of the league. "
The offensive players that Dubin chose to represent the Steelers were Kenny Pickett, Najee Harris, and Diontae Johnson. This 22nd-best ranking was still a step up from last year (25th), but this seems really low for a team with young offensive talent on the rise.
Dubin had the Broncos just ahead of the Steelers on the list with a trio of QB Russell Wilson, RB Javonte Williams, and WR Courtland Sutton. Pittsburgh narrowly topped the Packers' combination of QB Jordan Love, RB Aaron Jones, and WR Christian Watson.
CBS Sports didn't pick the right Steelers trio
You could certainly make a case that the combination of Pickett, Harris, and Johnson should be higher on the list of offensive 'triplets'. However, I would argue that CBS Sports didn't pick the right trio of players to represent the Pittsburgh Steelers on this list.
While he narrowly led the team in receiving yards, Diontae Johnson was incredibly inefficient last season -- earning just 882 yards on a whopping 147 targets and failing to catch a touchdown pass. This equated to a passer rating of just 58.8 when targeted.
George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth both would have been better options to represent the Steelers on this list. While neither player receives the volumes that Diontae does, they were remarkably more efficient and both players were just behind Johnson in receiving yards despite significantly less opportunity.
I also don't like that the criteria for this list require including a running back. Najee Harris will likely be a solid player in his third season in 2023 behind an improved offensive line, but he has largely been a non-factor so far.
If you could just take the three best or most important skill players, a list of Kenny Pickett, George Pickens, and Pat Freiermuth would be the correct trio, in my opinion. Replacing two inefficient players with two skill players who are dominant at the catch point would be a big improvement.
Regardless of what these NFL 'triplets' rankings have to say, we can take some comfort in knowing that the Pittsburgh Steelers have some young talent to work with on offense. By this time next year, we could certainly be looking at other names cracking this list. If trajectories continue, I would expect Pickens and Freiermuth to be better overall skill players than Johnson and Harris.