The end of the Ben Roethlisberger era in Pittsburgh has come. It has inevitably triggered a period of transition for the Steelers, starting with selecting QB Kenny Pickett in the 2022 NBA Draft. Pickett, however, is not starting, though that's not much of a shocker.
Having said that, Mike Tomlin's squad has a lot more uncertainty than usual going into the 2022 NFL season.
"The Pittsburgh Steelers fanbase is interesting. Sometimes I think they live in a time warp. I feel the exact same way about them every single year until Mike Tomlin."
— @ColinCowherd pic.twitter.com/ka8rSxFy2c
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) July 27, 2022
It all starts with the team's wide receiver position. This is in disarray as a result of Juju Smith-Schuster's departure in free agency. The selection of two prominent rookie wide receivers, however, should provide Steelers fans with a wealth of conversation starters during the preseason.
After the draft, though, the depth chart for the Steelers is mostly decided… except for a few surprises.
3 biggest surprises from Mike Tomlin's first depth chart in Pittsburgh
3) Cody White is 3rd string WR
The wide receiver position is one where the Pittsburgh Steelers never seem to be short on talent. Keep in mind that a number of notable WRs have come and gone by way of Pittsburgh. These include Plaxico Burress, Hines Ward, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders among others.
As mentioned above, however, JuJu Smith-Schuster's leaving has caused Pittsburgh to experience another changing of the guard. This is why they added two new rookie wideouts along with a first-time Pro Bowl receiver who is entering his last contract year.
Not surprisingly, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and George Pickens will start.
The backup wide receivers corps, however, is where we might find a surprise or two. One such surprise is having veteran Cody White bumped down to the third string.
Throughout 2021, White caught just five catches for a total of 33 yards. He is entering his third season with the Steelers, though. As such, some expected him to have the inside track to be part of at least the primary backups.
2) Isaiahh Loudermilk is not starting (yet)
Although Isaiahh Loudermilk had a lot of promise during his first season, he didn't even play 25% of the season's snaps. He seemed ready to push for more time in his second season when he arrived at OTAs with a significant increase in muscle mass.
Mike Tomlin talks about players making a jump in Year 2.
This year, that could be DL Isaiahh Loudermilk, who's been emulating Cam Heyward in trying to become a more well-rounded player.
“It’s a lot easier to learn this stuff when Cam’s your teacher."https://t.co/kuCPXa3I75 pic.twitter.com/gZQXYfJLIX
— Steelers Now (@PghSteelersNow) June 28, 2022
For the Steelers, Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi will start as defensive ends this season. Still, Loudermilk should end up playing more often over the course of the season. He was the second-best run defender for the Steelers last season. Loudermilk also grew larger and stronger now.
In order to keep their starters fresh and lower the chance of injuries, the Steelers will likely try to rotate linemen even more this season. That should work to Loudermilk's advantage. The coaching staff surely expected big things from him in 2022.
1) Ahkello Witherspoon as starting CB
The Steelers lack a definite #1 cornerback. Right now, they have three CBs who have started games. One is Ahkello Witherspoon, who started just three games but ranked eighth among defensive backs in terms of snaps played. There's also Levi Wallace. He started every game for the Bills and placed second on their defense in snaps played. Lastly, they also have Cameron Sutton, who started 16 games for the Steelers and finished second in defensive snaps played.
Initially, pundits anticipated that Wallace would be a starting CB. Right now, however, Ahkello Witherspoon has supplanted him.
Witherspoon ought to be a guy who adapts to each matchup and helps defend against elite receivers. Still, Wallace seems to have a bit more upside than him. Fans shouldn't be shocked if they trade places in the coming weeks. We cannot blame the defensive coaches, though, since there is clearly no best choices at CB.