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Player Outlooks (2023)
QB Kenny Pickett: Those overly dependent on statistics might “miss” on Pickett as a candidate to take a big leap this season, as his numbers were unspectacular as a rookie, but the progress was apparent down the stretch—including a 6-1 record across his final seven healthy starts (with the lone loss being a 37-30 shootout versus Cincinnati). The weapons are there to put up numbers, and on the offensive line, the selection of Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones in Round 1 should be a big boost to the group. Pickett is a clear breakout candidate in Year 2.
RB Najee Harris: A summer foot issue didn’t lead to any missed time for Harris last season, but it was clear that he wasn’t quite himself at less than 100% strength. Down the stretch, though, Harris was a different player and a key reason for Pittsburgh going 7-2 in November, December, and January—handling 18.2 carries per game and combining for a season-long rushing pace of 310 attempts, 1,271 rushing yards, and 11 rushing touchdowns. With the offense primed to take a step forward, Najee is worth selecting in the middle of the second round in traditional fantasy leagues.
RB Jaylen Warren: A gem of an undrafted free agent last year, Warren became the clear No. 2 back for the Steelers—averaging 4.9 yards per carry and providing a spark behind Harris while playing 31% of the team’s offensive snaps on the season. However, are much higher on Pittsburgh’s starter than most, and we don’t see any way Warren will be the top option on the backfield (as some have suggested is possible); consider him a decent FLEX with high handcuff appeal.
RB Anthony McFarland Jr.: The Steelers have long preferred to be a one-back system, so with Jaylen Warren having the change-of-pace snaps locked down, there is very limited value for McFarland entering his age-24 season. Through three years, the former Maryland standout has rushed 42 times for 146 scoreless yards (3.5 YPC).
WR Diontae Johnson: A season-long touchdown drought for Johnson prevented him from finishing as a top-36 option at wide receiver last year, and the acquisition of Allen Robinson II combined with George Pickens possibly making a leap could spell trouble for his future fantasy outlook in Pittsburgh. Overall, Kenny Pickett becoming a star is the best shot at Johnson returning to the low-end WR2/FLEX range, so we’ll see if enough opportunities are there for the dynamic target to take advantage of.
WR George Pickens: Pickens has sky-high potential that should be obvious with the “eye test,” and fantasy owners can only hope his stock doesn’t rise from the current WR3/WR4 range. As a rookie, Pickens saw a very high average depth of target (14.5 yards), but he has the skillset to do more underneath and should pick up some tricks of the trade from Allen Robinson II. We would recommend ignoring any analytics that call Pickens a fade this summer.
WR Allen Robinson II: Those burned by an early pick on Robinson last year might not give him a shot at redemption, but if you watched the Los Angeles offense in 2022—particularly when everyone was healthy—there was production left on the field with Matthew Stafford either locked on elsewhere (probably Cooper Kupp) or flat out missing a throw. The Steelers evaluate wide receivers better than anyone, so them trading for the soon-to-be 30-year-old should be reason enough to believe he can still contribute at a high level if you don’t want to take our word for it. Consider him a quality late-round option.
WR Calvin Austin III: Austin is coming off a “redshirt” season to begin his career, and now he appears to be stuck in a situational role behind Johnson, Pickens, and Robinson—not to mention the targets that will go to the running backs and tight ends. Still, last year’s fourth-round pick might have some solid weeks with both downfield speed and the ability to do damage on designed touches, so his role will be worth watching in preseason action.
WRs Hakeem Butler and Miles Boykin: Butler has been through a lot since being a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, including a position switch to tight end last summer with the Eagles; but he’s now back as a wide receiver after a dominant stint in the XFL, and if anyone can develop him, it’ll be Pittsburgh. The former Iowa State star might be competing with Boykin as a bigger perimeter target, and a strong summer for Butler should increase his dynasty stock.
TE Pat Freiermuth: The Steelers adding Allen Robinson II could limit the chances of Freiermuth making a major statistical leap in 2023, and third-round rookie Darnell Washington was also added to see playing time as a devastating blocker at tight end. On the bright side, the touchdown upside (seven as a rookie before just two last year) should return with Kenny Pickett—who only threw for seven scores in 13 games—set to be more comfortable and aggressive in his second season, and Freiermuth is coming off an overall TE7 finish despite the drop in scores.
TE Darnell Washington: Perhaps Washington will always be a better real-life option than fantasy option, and the Steelers have a clear starter at tight end with Freiermuth. However, the rookie is a monstrous big-play threat at six-foot-seven, 264 pounds, and he possesses a scary ceiling if he can develop a route tree with nimble feet for his size and rare athletic traits. The towering height can make him an immediate factor in the red zone, which could give him fantasy value as a desperation start.
Best IDP value: CB Joey Porter Jr.
We thought Porter had a case to be a top-ten pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but he landed in the perfect spot with Pittsburgh to start Round 2—as it’s where his father Joey Porter was a star pass rusher, and the rookie has a great mentor at cornerback with Patrick Peterson taking him under his wing. The three-time All-Pro corner has even said his new rookie teammate “has all the intangibles to be better than [him],” and Porter can follow in the footsteps of Sauce Gardner and Tariq Woolen as Year 1 impact players.
Stat to know (via draft guide)
After dealing with a foot injury last summer, Najee Harris didn’t have any games with 20+ carries until after the Steelers bye in Week 9; he then handled 20+ carries in five of the final nine games as Pittsburgh finished 7-2 down the stretch.