The Steelers will play their first regular season against the San Francisco 49ers in just a week. However, the team will need some breakouts from the rest to deliver what they promised. There is a threshold for breakouts I will use, but the obvious ones might be the answers you will look for on who should break out.
The obvious answer here is the quarterback of the team, Kenny Pickett. Pickett has pundits and former NFL evaluators alike all in on what he is selling, and for good reason. His processing has taken another step, but the real leap appears with his pocket management. With those two combined attributes, Pickett’s out-of-structure ability becomes more deadly as a technician from the quarterback position.
The Steelers need Pickett to take that next leap. But so many stats showcase it should be on the way. His catchable ball rate last year was among the league’s best, ranking 2nd in the NFL. Pickett led the NFL in a catchable deep ball rate and catchable rate under pressure, according to PlayerProfiler. Those two qualities showcase accuracy that is already there for Pickett. Now, it is about making the most out of the sustainable plays. His in-structure play will determine how much of that comes along.
On the other side, Pickett’s rookie buddy at wide receiver should enjoy a year where he makes another leap. You can consider an 800-yard season a breakout, but George Pickens has higher aspirations than that. The mega-talented Steelers receiver should see his target share increase with growth in the route-running department. Pickens is ready to take that leap in production at all three levels if this route running leap is accurate. So far, there is no sign to show that it is not.
The spectacular catches will always be there; for Pickens, it was about getting down the small nuances to create separation and become a volume target guy. IF he can combine that with the explosive plays he put up last year, it is hard not to see Pickens going for over 1000 yards and making some serious noise this year. Pickens led the NFL in EPA per route run in the final five weeks of the season. That is an actual stat. Pickett will rely upon Pickens a lot this upcoming year, and for good reason. Whenever he did last year, good things happened.
The last guy comes on the defensive side of the ball. DeMarvin Leal might be the Steelers’ freakiest athlete of their young defensive linemen. Keeanu Benton has a stake in that claim, too, but from a pure physical tools standpoint Leal has those five-star traits from burst to agility to flexibility. Embracing his role as a rotational guy both inside and on the outside, Leal will probably crack the starting lineup one day.
His athleticism raises his ceiling considerably, however. Last year, Leal looked a little lost within his pass rush plan as he tried to figure out if he was a tweener, but now that he has trained for that role, Leal should be ready to step up. Don’t expect some uber-productive season, but Leal, if he puts it together like he should, could be a five-sack guy this upcoming season.