The Pittsburgh Steelers named their new hire a week ago Arthur Smith, and since that hire, much has been made of the players and who is affected by it the most. But who ends up gaining the most from it right off the bat? Here are the three obvious winners from this move.
It might not be evident that this would be a winner, given that Smith underutilized Drake London. But London still had 109 targets, and how Smith uses his top receiver will allow a guy like Pickens to pop. The more the Steelers put on Pickens’ plate throughout the season, the more he showed out. Pickens proved by the end of the season that he could run any route to all three levels of the field, and more than that, he is far more dangerous yards after the catching player than he was given credit for initially.
Smith’s play-action shots will not only set up Pickens for the ability to win down the field, but he could be used similarly to A.J. Brown in Tennessee when he catches those slants and digs off play action. They are efficient routes for an efficient route runner and receiver who can create explosive plays when given the play in those spots.
So, yes, the top playmakers’ comment is notable, but it’s a bit overblown when you look at it as a whole. And Smith’s dropback passing game is lackluster, which is likely why the team wants to add a passing game coordinator to add more flavor to that part of the offense, but Pickens can cook within the bread and butter of the entire scheme.
The biggest winner of this entire thing might be Warren. Najee Harris does benefit, too, but unless the team is going to run more gap schemes and switch the scheme up from Smith’s previous stops, Warren fits the scheme even better. Warren’s a great gap scheme runner, but he has the burst, toughness, and agility to be a fantastic wide zone runner. There is never a question about that.
Warren will benefit from that, but Smith’s almost always had a running back who can run a full tree out of the backfield and create mismatches with linebackers in space. That is something that Warren has proven to be able to do, but in Matt Canada’s offense, that never came alive. It will likely come true in Smith’s scheme, and Warren should see an even heavier workload moving forward.
Suppose Smith uses Freiermuth like he should be used, which is getting up to the second level and digging out those linebackers and safety rather than down-blocking into defensive ends. In that case, Freiermuth has the potential to unlock this offense. He started to block at a high level towards the end of the year, finally getting into the right spots that would allow him to succeed while playing at a high level.
But his mismatch ability in the receiving game was not used nearly enough. Freiermuth is an underrated route runner and, with play action in effect, could be a serious weapon down the field for the Steelers under Smith. He will play more than ever before on top of that, so expect Freiermuth to see himself take the leap if he gets used in the correct fashion while letting Darnell Washington clear lanes.