Skip to content

Good News, Bad News From PFF’s Top Three Steelers Ranking

The path to success for the Steelers in 2024 is rather clear: play elite defense and score just enough points to get by.

Put another way, Pittsburgh looks like your prototypical smashmouth AFC North team.

Pro Football Focus released its latest episode of the “PFF NFL Podcast” this week in which Steve Palazzolo and Sam Monson offered their three best players on each AFC roster. Without listening, one might be able to guess the Steelers’ trio.

DE TJ Watt
DT Cameron Heyward
CB Minkah Fitzpatrick

The duo also acknowledged linebacker Alex Highsmith was the likely first man out, pointing to the top four players being on the defensive side.

Story continues below advertisement

While not surprising, it’s telling and an appropriate reflection of the Steelers’ roster-building efforts at this point in franchise history. At a time when an offensive revolution is ongoing around the NFL, the Steelers’ overwhelming strength is on the other side of the ball. That’s important, to an extent, but an offense that ranked 28th in scoring last season needs to get better.

Yet, because the Steelers’ defense is so good — Teryl Austin’s group was a top-10 scoring defense in his first season — it has allowed Omar Khan and Mike Tomlin to focus on offense this offseason. Pittsburgh scooped up Arthur Smith to serve as their offensive coordinator, a position in which he had some success with Tennessee.

The Steelers also made the offense a priority in the draft, showing a commitment to building out from the trenches. Using three of their first five picks on the offensive line inspires hope for improvement there, and given Pittsburgh’s track record at developing receivers, we can probably pencil in third-round pick Roman Wilson for a Pro Bowl or two in short order.

Of course, the offensive success typically starts and ends at the quarterback position … and here comes Russell Wilson. While Wilson’s All-Pro days are behind him, he (and Justin Fields, quite frankly) does represent an upgrade over Kenny Pickett. The wideout, according to the PFF pod, is the Steelers’ top offensive player and could be in line for an ever bigger season after reading the league in yards per catch a year ago.

Story continues below advertisement

“Theoretically, an upgrade at the quarterback position, regardless of which guy is throwing him the football, they should be better than Kenny Pickett, who did not play to the strengths of George Pickens,” Monson pointed out.

Palazzolo agreed: “He might have been a better receiver last year … Pickens looked a little bit more explosive, added more after the catch, and if you get that year where he’s catching everything in traffic, you could get that special season from Pickens.”

The North is loaded once again. Even with a potentially elite defense and an offense that probably can’t get worse, the Steelers still have the longest odds (+650) to win the division. It’s fair to expect improvement in 2024, and if Wilson can turn back the clock some, Pittsburgh might be right back in the thick of things in the AFC.

Featured image via Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY Sports Images