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Steelers Now NFL Notebook, July 6

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Steelers NFL Notebook

The Steelers Now Notebook is your go-to source for all the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers and NFL.

🏈 6:30 p.m: To preview the 2022 NFL season, ESPN surveyed more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help compile a list of the top 10 players at 11 different positions. On Wednesday, Jeremy Fowler released the defensive tackle rankings and Cam Heyward came in at No. 5 — behind DeForest Buckner, Chris Jones, Jeffery Simmons and Aaron Donald.

The fact that Heyward’s been named to five straight Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro three times since 2017, No. 5 seems pretty low. Maybe it’s because he’s 33, but he has shown no signs of slowing down. I mean, he’s coming off a season where he earned first-team All-Pro honors — recording 10 sacks, 89 tackles and 15 tackles for loss.

Heyward took notice of the slight and tweeted, “I respect my peers but this list ain’t right.” He also tweeted a picture of a bear with the caption, “Warning: Do not poke.”

Heyward, who’s heading into his 12th season with the Steelers, said on Mina Kimes’ podcast in May that he wants to play at least five more years. He also mentioned that he deserves to be in the same discussion with Donald when it comes to the best defensive tackles in the game.

“I know Aaron is a really talented guy, but don’t just shy away and say it’s Aaron Donald and everybody else,” Heyward said. “Sh*t, it’s Cam and Aaron and everybody else.”

If Heyward can continue to rack up Pro Bowl nominations and first-team All-Pro honors, he very well could join Donald in Canton someday.

“I still really like Cam Heyward as a top guy,” an NFC executive told ESPN. “He’s just got a power to his game where, when he gets his hands on you, he can drive you back. And he plays his ass off.”

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward (97) participates in the Organized Team Activities (OTAs), Tuesday June 8, 2021 at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. (Caitlyn Epes / Pittsburgh Steelers)

🏈 5 p.m: Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season during his 15 seasons as the Steelers’ head coach, but Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports believes that streak will end in 2022. Schwab notes that the Steelers were a seven-win team last season (via point differential and Football Outsiders’ estimated wins) and were extremely fortunate to even make the playoffs, thanks to the Jaguars upset over the Colts in Week 18 and the last-second non-tie in the final game of the season between the Raiders and Chargers.

“Nobody likes hearing their team was lucky, but the 2021 Steelers were lucky,” Schwab wrote. “That probably won’t carry over. If there’s regression back to normal records in close games and the Steelers’ Mitchell Trubisky/Kenny Pickett quarterback combination struggles, Pittsburgh will be nowhere close to a playoff berth in a tough AFC. There will be unjustified talk about Mike Tomlin’s job security and the Steelers will have to answer unfamiliar questions about a potential rebuild.”

Schwab anticipates the Steelers struggling out of the gates this year, possibly even entering October at 0-3. He also thinks the quarterback situation with Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett is a disaster waiting to happen. So yeah, Schwab’s outlook for the Steelers in 2022 is pretty grim.

“I anticipate this being Mike Tomlin’s worst season,” Schwab wrote. “Pittsburgh has a tough schedule, a tricky quarterback situation with two potentially bad subpar options and imminent regression. I don’t think the Steelers will be down for long, because the franchise’s infrastructure is too good for that, but the only reason to project them to finish above .500 is a blind faith in Tomlin and their history.”

Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin

Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin during practice at Heinz Field preparing for a Wild Card Round matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022 in Pittsburgh, PA. (Karl Roser / Pittsburgh Steelers)

🏈 1 p.m: After breaking Franco Harris’ franchise rookie rushing record and making the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2021, many expect Najee Harris to take a substantial leap in his sophomore campaign. Jarad Evans of Pro Football Focus recently previewed the league’s running backs from a fantasy football perspective and claimed that Harris and Broncos’ running back Javonte Williams will have breakout years in 2022.

Harris led the league in touches last season with 381, which was the most by a rookie since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2001. Harris also led all running backs with 74 receptions in 2021. With Harris’ dual-threat abilities, he’s like a gold mine for fantasy football owners.

“Disregard the Steelers’ offensive line or question marks about Pittsburgh’s offense with Mitchell Trubisky under center,” Evans wrote. “Volume is everything at the running back position in fantasy. Harris arguably possesses the best role in all of fantasy football, and he is an underrated favorite to finish as the overall RB1.”

Mike Tomlin likes his RB1 to be a bell cow, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Harris racks up a ton of touches again in 2022. However, Harris mentioned during minicamp that the Steelers have talked to him about decreasing his amount of touches so he doesn’t wear out by the end of the season.

Both of PFF’s consensus fantasy rankings and fantasy projections rank Harris as the overall RB3.

CLEVELAND, OH – OCTOBER 31: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) dives into the end zone to score on an 8-yard run during the third quarter of the National Football League game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns on October 31, 2021, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

🏈 11 a.m: Happy 25th birthday to Steelers offensive lineman Nate Gilliam. Gilliam joined the practice squad late in 2021 and is in his second season with the team.

Also born on July 6 were former kicker Matt Bahr, who turns 66 today, and strong safety Nat Berhe, who turns 31, and defensive tackle Joe Krupa, who died in 2011. A second-round pick out of Purdue, Krupa played nine seasons with Pittsburgh from 1956-64 and made the Pro Bowl in 1963.

Get caught up on all the news with Steelers Daily.

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