Steelers stock report: Nick Herbig, Calvin Austin flying high after preseason debuts

  • Young Steelers stole the show in the preseason opener
  • Pickett was hardly the only player turning heads
Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

I have to keep reminding myself that it's only the preseason, but what we saw from the Pittsburgh Steelers in their opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was everything we could have asked for. Kenny Pickett marched his offense down the field on his very first possession of the game and capped things off with a 33-yard touchdown pass to George Pickens.

This was no doubt the highlight moment of the game. Knowing that the franchise hinges upon the development of Pickett, fans were hoping to see him come firing out of the gate. That's exactly what we saw.

But Pickett was hardly the only star performer in this contest. In addition to his nearly flawless first drive before exiting the game, many other young Steelers players stepped up to the plate. It was a beautiful performance overall, for a preseason game, and after watching the game through a second time, there were only a handful of players who disappointed me. Here's my Pittsburgh Steelers stock report entering Week 2 of the preseason.

Steelers stock report entering Week 2 of preseason:

Kenny Pickett may have stolen the show with his remarkable touchdown drives, but there were several other Steelers performances that rivaled his. In fact, Nick Herbig might have been the most impressive player in a Steelers uniform against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first week of the preseason.

The rookie pass rusher was credited for 1.5 sacks in just 13 total defensive snaps, per ESPN, but he was constantly in the backfield disrupting the play. Herbig also made his presence felt against the run. It's early, but he's already looking like a player who deserved to be drafted much higher than the fourth round. He gets my game ball for the victory against the Buccaneers.

On the offensive side of the ball, it was Calvin Austin III turning heads. Though he is entering his second NFL season, this contest was Austin's preseason debut, as he did not suit up at all last summer (or during the regular season) due to a foot injury. Austin exploded for nearly 100 scrimmage yards against the Buccaneers on 27 offensive snaps -- including an impressive 67-yard touchdown reception.

Connor Heyward had a much quieter performance, but the Steelers versatile chess piece just seems to be good at everything he does. Heyward showed his position flexibility catching both targets for 34 yards and taking his lone carry for 5 yards. By the end of the game, he had the highest overall grade on the team of 93.7, according to Pro Football Focus.

Other standout performers included George Pickens, Anthony McFarland, Trenton Thompson, Keeanu Benton, Armon Watts, and Elijah Riley. Benton was wreaking havoc along the defensive line before exiting the contest with an ankle injury. It was nice to see Riley making plays in the secondary and carry his strong performance at training camp onto the NFL stage.

On the flip side of things, there were a few players who didn't perform very well in Pittsburgh's preseason opener. Tanner Morgan did very little to impress despite earning 21 snaps at quarterback. He earned the second-lowest PFF grade on the team of just 28.5. The other Tanner -- Tanner Muse -- played just 8 defensive snaps on defense but graded out even lower.

Edge defenders Quincy Roche and David Perales combined for a whopping 89 defensive snaps but made very little impact (which is the opposite of what Herbig provided). Cornerback Chandon Sullivan didn't have a great performance in the secondary either.

As much as fans have been excited about Kendrick Green's potential usage at fullback, he was not impressive at center against the Buccaneers. Green showed why he was demoted as he struggled to anchor and missed a few blocks in the running game. He was also called for a penalty.

Overall, this was a fantastic team performance for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 2023 preseason opener. It was encouraging to see most of their young players and draft picks make a big impact -- some in their NFL debuts. Let's hope they carry this momentum into their home game against the Bills.