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Three Steelers Who Need Bounce Back 2024 Campaigns

Which Pittsburgh Steelers need to have bounce back seasons in 2024? Here are three important players that need to take that step.

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Pittsburgh Steelers DT Cam Heyward
Pittsburgh Steelers DE Cam Heyward

In just a little over a month, the Pittsburgh Steelers will depart to Latrobe for training camp where real live football, pads included, will thankfully take place. This time of the year feels like the beginning of a lengthy journey in pursuit of one thing: another Super Bowl trophy. There’s so many factors that play into a successful season but one of those is getting bounce back campaigns from players coming off years where they underperform. These stretches can stem from injury concerns to unnatural lulls in production, with no two situations completely alike. Today, we’ll take a look at three players that will need to regain past forms in order for the team to be at their best next season.

QB Russell Wilson

This one feels obvious given the positional value aspect of the conversation but in the event that Russell Wilson were to regain some semblance of his best years, the ceiling for this Steelers team increases dramatically. After a truly dreadful 2022 debut season with the Denver Broncos, Wilson was leaner, healthier and more productive this past fall, but it wasn’t enough for them the franchise to hitch their wagon to him for another calendar year. His 7.8 ADOT was the lowest of his career but his propensity to hold on to the ball awhile contributed to him leading the league in pressure % responsible according to PFF while also being sacked 45 times. For multiple reasons, Wilson never looked completely comfortable in Sean Payton’s offense.

The good news is that Wilson still has his patented moon ball with outstanding touch and accuracy to the deep portions of the field and his arm strength remains mostly intact. His athleticism has waned from his prime days as a Seattle Seahawk but his feel for creating outside of structure still gives the viewer glimpses of greatness. If everything goes according to plan, new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith is going to turn him into a low volume, explosive seeking passer that reduces the amount of stress on his shoulders. “Prime Russ” is unlikely to return but a more efficient passer would still give the Steelers a noticeable upgrade under center.

DE Cam Heyward

The Cam Heyward storylines have created quite a bit of drama over the past month or so but even before looking to the distant future, the Steelers need a healthier, more productive #97 on the field in 2024. Last season was a tough one for the former All-Pro as he suffered a sports hernia injury in the season opener which kept him on the sidelines until his return in week 9. Heyward’s pressure and sack rates have now dropped in three consecutive seasons according to SIS but 2023 was his worst year as a pass rusher since becoming a full-time starter. Deciphering how much of that was due to him playing at less than full strength is partially what makes his contract extension wishes a difficult negotiation.

On a positive note, Heyward’s numbers against the run were predictably very good, largely thanks to his superb play strength and technique, both key factors into what he predicts will elongate his career. Pittsburgh held opposing rushers to 3.8 yards per carry with Heyward on the field, compared to 4.5 whenever he was on the sidelines. Even if some of the quick twitch explosiveness doesn’t return, there’s still a ton of value in having a three-technique who can dominate interior offensive linemen at the point of attack. Of course, until there’s a resolution to his contract situation, there will be plenty of headlines surrounding the Steelers captain, most of which will not centered on his play on the field.

TE Pat Freiermuth

Unlike the first two members on this list, Pat Freiermuth is just now about to enter his physical prime, turning 26-years old in October. Last season was a frustrating one for many members of the offense, but the tight end was dealt a pretty tough hand, mainly because of hamstring injury that landed him on the injured reserve list for a portion of 2023. Even when he was in the lineup, it was almost as if he was an afterthought, with offensive coordinator Matt Canada electing to not feature him whatsoever in the passing game. There were also some notable struggles as a run blocker earlier in the season that eventually did improve down the stretch once he was back to full strength.

Smith’s offense features multiple tight end sets with regularity and moving Freiermuth around the formation will be a priority, especially without a defined or proven number two wide receiver option currently on the roster. He’s a smart player with extremely reliable hands and is pretty tough to bring down after the catch, often dragging defenders for more yards. His touchdown production has dipped with the Steelers having issues galore in the red zone and that certainly needs to be a focus for the offense as a whole. Without a contract extension before the season opener, Freiermuth will have the chance to accumulate a strong season and earn himself a nice payday next spring.