As the NFL offseason is underway and teams around the league are finalizing their rosters, the Pittsburgh Steelers hope to improve next year. After playing as one of the best teams in the league throughout the regular season, the Steelers were bounced out in the first round of the playoffs. A disappointing end to a solid year.
Now, the franchise hopes the adjustments made to the roster will be enough to make a deep playoff run. The Steelers were one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL last year, so the front office fixed that by selecting Najee Harris with their first-round pick. Pittsburgh should be competitive, but they’ll need some players to step up, especially on the defense where the Steelers lost a handful of athletes to free agency.
Luckily for the Steelers, it seems they have a couple of gems brewing on the defensive side of the ball. They’ll need them to elevate their game to new heights if they hope to be competitive in a tough AFC North division. Pittsburgh could have themselves a new playmaker in the secondary, and Bud Dupree’s replacement has a chance to shine. With that said, here are two hidden gems on the Steelers roster.
James Pierre was an undrafted free agent last year and had a limited role in the Steelers’ defense. However, according to early reports coming out of Pittsburgh, Pierre is proving to be one of the most impressive players during minicamp. He’s stepped up and has picked off Ben Roethlisberger twice, catching the attention of the coaching staff as a potential contributor next year.
If he keeps up his stellar play, Pierre will likely earn himself more playing time in 2021. It’s unlikely he becomes a starter, but he can be a strong rotational cornerback for Joe Haden, Justin Layne, and Cameron Sutton. If he can earn that type of role this year, then his future will look extremely bright, as he’ll have an opportunity to earn a starting position in 2022.
The Steelers’ defense struggled in the back half of the season, mainly due to the number of injuries the roster had collected. Having depth is going to be a key issue for Pittsburgh, especially with the newly added 17th game to the schedule. Pierre can be that depth piece in the secondary the Steelers need to stay fresh throughout the year, improving their chances of making the postseason once again.
Bud Dupree left Pittsburgh and signed with the Tennessee Titans. Before going down with an injury, Dupree was playing as one of the best pass rushers in the league. Now that he’s gone, the Steelers will need someone to step into that role and produce right away. As of now, it looks like it’s Alex Highsmith’s job to lose, as he’s currently listed as the starter on ESPN.
Highsmith has been spending a ton of time working alongside TJ Watt, which bodes well for his potential in 2021. The Steelers also seem to like Highsmith’s physique and prowess, as he is moving offensive lineman much more efficiently. Between getting stronger this offseason and working closely with Watt, Highsmith is setting himself for a breakout year. He flashed his potential in 2020, as he racked up 48 total tackles, 2 sacks, and an interception.
If Highsmith can build upon his rookie season and help TJ Watt in the pass-rush, then Pittsburgh’s defense should remain at the top of the pecking order. The Steelers are a well-rounded team, but they’ll need someone on the defensive line to step up. Look for Highsmith to be that guy this year, as the stars are aligning for a breakout year.