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One Under-the-Radar Player on Offense and Defense the Steelers Can’t Afford to Lose

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a deep roster dotted with established stars and rising studs on both sides of the ball. It’s a roster ready to compete in 2024.

Leading the way are the names we all know by now. TJ Watt, Cam Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Russell Wilson, George Pickens. With the exception of Wilson, who’s backup Justin Fields is more than capable if called upon, if any of these players misses a significant amount of time this season, it will be hard for the Steelers to truly stay in the mix.

In this exercise though, I want to dig a little deeper to find an under-the-radar player on both sides of the ball that the Steelers can’t afford to lose this season. As famous podcaster and Steelers fan Dave Dameshek puts it, who are the “Jenga pieces” that nobody’s talking about? Despite these 2 players not being household names at this stage of their careers, they hold important roles for a Steelers team looking to improve on their 10-7 playoff season in 2023.


The Steelers’ uber-talented tight end is prepping for a major role in this new offense in 2024. In my opinion, the Steelers have a legitimate WR1 in George Pickens who is ready to stake his claim as one of the league’s most dynamic WRs. Behind him, though, it’s a bit underwhelming. The most tenured WR on the roster other than Pickens after the departure of Diontae Johnson is Calvin Austin III, the 5’8″, 170 pound speedster heading into his 3rd season with the team.

While dynamic, CA3 isn’t really built for a massive target share, and the other guys on the roster like Van Jefferson, Roman Wilson (R), and Quez Watkins all have major question marks as anything more than role-playing WR3’s this season.

Enter Freiermuth, who has flashed as a big-bodied weapon in the middle of the field and as a real Red-Zone threat in his 3 years as a Steeler. In this Arthur Smith offense which famously is TE-friendly, the man they call “Muth” has a chance to really shine as the teams best pass catcher outside of Pickens. If the Steelers were to lose Pat Freiermuth for a significant length of time in 2024, it could leave the team high and dry when it comes to a consistent 2nd option in the passing game. TE2 Darnell Washington hasn’t shown he can be a legit weapon through the air yet, and with the questions at WR behind Pickens, it’s imperative that Freiermuth be available and healthy this season for Pittsburgh.


Joey Porter, Jr. is coming off a quietly stellar Rookie season that saw him finish tops in the league in passer rating allowed among ALL corners with over 50 targets. Even more impressive is he put up those numbers despite following each opponent’s best receiver every week. His physical play style and competitive spirit are a huge asset for a defense that likes to mix and match coverages and he acts as a big-play eraser even when matched up against some of the most dynamic receivers in the league.

JPJ’s presence on the field is essential for Pittsburgh when you consider the unproven pieces behind him on the roster. Trade acquisition Donte Jackson is experienced and solid, but nobody is going to mistake him for a CB1 replacement. 2nd-year guys like Cory Trice and Darius Rush have tremendous potential, but it’s impossible to determine at this point if either one is up to the task of stepping in if Porter misses time.

Cam Sutton’s presence helps the overall depth and versatility of the CB room tremendously, but Sutton was torched as Detroit’s CB1 in 2023 and is much better suited as an inside/outside versatile CB3 behind both Porter and Jackson. If JPJ misses time, it would force the Steelers to rely on role players and depth pieces to shoulder the massive responsibility of locking down playmakers on the outside. Stay healthy, 24.

Does anybody else stand out to you as a potential under-the-radar “Jenga piece”? Let me know in the comments and be sure to follow me on Twitter/X (@thebetz93) for more Steelers and NFL content!


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