The Steelers, despite their apparent flaws, have started to find some real gems on their roster the more extended the years have gone along. That means a lot of their players are on the rise, but who is the most on the mound for the future of the team? Here are four players Pittsburgh should be excited about for their future.
Joey Porter Jr.
Obvious? Probably. The correct answer? Absolutely. No one has a better rookie season on the Steelers than Joey Porter Jr., although I put one other rookie up against him (more on that later). No, Porter is not without flaws. He has plenty of warts to deconstruct. But there are always flashes that get you excited. Porter’s length and coverage skills are excellent and his best trait. When the issues have come up, you have not seen them in man coverage. Porter has an excellent understanding of leverage and has cleaned up his false steps. He is grabby, but that will wear off with time.
Porter’s got to stop ducking his head when he tackles. That trait will get him out of screen fits and make him a net negative in the run game. In today’s game, Cornerbacks have to be active in those roles. It’s not something you can run from at this point. The good thing? It’s entirely teachable. Porter has a lot of things you can not teach, and the problems he displays are not something to be concerned about. This year is an encouraging sign for the future of their cornerback position. Porter has all the tools, and the challenges he has embraced and conquered are fantastic.
NT Keeanu Benton
Do you want another rookie? Well, another rookie is what you get. Keeanu Benton is a fantastic story on how defensive line evaluation goes in Pittsburgh. They don’t miss much on these interior guys for a reason. At Wisconsin, Benton was asked to primarily defend the run, reading blocks and deconstructing double teams, but he had the body, frame, and athleticism to take that leap as a pass rusher. He has done that already and is playing at more than just nose tackle.
Benton’s got his fastball down. It’s a chop-swim combination that works for him. But he has other moves in that bag, too. I still would like to see him develop more consistency in his plan, and his pad level can swell at times, but not nearly as much as it did at Wisconsin. Benton is their best defensive lineman, not named Cam Heyward. That’s a massive respect for his ability. Pittsburgh has themselves a stalwart on the inside.
RB Jaylen Warren
Somehow, I think Jaylen Warren leveled up heading into this season. His rookie season was impressive, but the second-year Warren looks like a different man with the same mentality that got him into the building. Warren’s explosiveness and decisiveness have taken a quantum leap forward this season. He came in looking bigger, and this is one of those cases where ‘best shape of life season’ actually comes to fruition. Warren looks more athletic.
I always thought that Warren was in the hunt for one of the better pass-protecting running backs in the league. He still is, and Pittsburgh is lucky to have him. But the most significant leap Warren has made is in his receiving ability. He breaks tackles in the open field and creates something out of nothing far more often than you would think in those tight areas. Warren leads the league in yards per route run out of the backfield at 2.1 yards per route run. He adds a dynamic factor this team has not had in the backfield for a while, and it’s helped out Najee Harris.
DL Montravius Adams
Let’s hope his injury is minor because Montravius Adams played some high-quality football before his ankle injury. This is the unconventional pick for this list. I could have thrown Darius Rush or Broderick Jones on here, and both are promising, but I would lean toward Adams as a veteran who is currently playing the best football of his career. At a high snap count, too, Adams has exploded onto the scene after some up-and-down games to start. Since Week 3, Adams has been on a tear.
When his explosiveness shines, Pittsburgh has slotted him outside of nose tackle. Adams has enough juice to impact any play and destroy them. In run defense, he is blowing up plays at a higher clip than he has throughout his career. In the last year of his deal, Adams should be expected to return if he continues to play at this level. The Steelers were lucky that Adams stepped up like he did without Heyward, but now he can become a building block.