The Pittsburgh Steelers have added a ton of talent since the end of the 2022 season, and with the new influx of free agents combined with Omar Khan’s haul from the 2023 NFL Draft, the team’s depth chart should look significantly different entering the 2023 season.
With that change will mean that some Steelers returning veterans will see their roles changed, reduced or eliminated entirely in 2023.
Which are the Steelers returners that are most at risk of losing their spot? Let’s break them down, starting with why they’re on this list, but then a possible the path to them keeping their role intact after all.
LT DAN MOORE JR.
The first-round pick playing the position that you manned the year before is never a good place for a football player to be. That’s where Dan Moore Jr. find himself after the Steelers traded up to get Broderick Jones in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Offensive linemen do sometimes take a while to adjust to a new level of play, and so Moore might not lose his job right away, but the writing is certainly on the wall.
The best bet for Moore might be a shift to right tackle, where he could challenge incumbent Chukwuma Okorafor, who also had has so-so results in his time as a starter. Okorafor has a heavy $13 million salary cap hit, so he could be an attractive option to be released or traded.
At the worst-case scenario, expect Moore to be the Steelers’ backup swing tackle in 2023.
LG KEVIN DOTSON
It’s tough to see how Dotson will keep his starting role at left guard, with right guard James Daniels having pretty clearly out-played Dotson in 2022 and free agent Isaac Seumalo coming in to take over at one of those two spots.
The one way forward might be if the team thinks that having Daniels, Dotson and Seumalo all on the field together makes for their best three interior offensive linemen. Daniels has played center in the past. That seems to be the one shot Dotson has at holding onto a starting guard job.
On the other hand, with Nate Herbig also coming in as a free agent, it’s conceivable that Dotson could fall all the way from being a starter to not even being the top backup. For that reason, he remains a possible trade chip for Khan.
C/G KENDRICK GREEN
As bleak as things looks for Dotson, his former starting mate Kendrick Green might be in a worse spot. The Steelers moved Green from center to guard in 2022, with both parties agreeing that the experiment to move him to center in 2021 was a failure.
Then came the deluge of guards at the top, with Seumalo and Herbig both seemingly assured of making the team, and it’s hard to envision Green hanging onto a roster spot there, let alone any kind of playing role.
The one place it might be possible is a move back to center, where there isn’t an obvious pure backup to Cole after the departure of J.C. Hassenauer in free agency.
WR/KR GUNNER OLSZEWSKI
Gunner Olszewski started out the 2022 season as the Steelers’ backup slot receiver and kick returner. He then lost that job to Steven Sims, only to regain half of it back when Sims was promoted to the starting lineup following the trade of Chase Claypool.
Sims left via free agency this offseason, so Olszewski is presumably back at the top of the depth chart as a return man, but that will face competition there from 2022 fourth-round pick Calvin Austin III, who is returning after missing all of his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury.
In the slot, things might be worse, with not only Austin but also Anthony Miller coming back from injury to be a receiving option and then the Steelers swinging a trade for Allen Robinson II.
Olszewski’s one shot seems to be to beat out Austin for the return job, and then use that as a way to get receiving reps.
DT ISAIAHH LOUDERMILK
The Steelers seemed to really like Loudermilk, trading a 2022 fourth-round pick to get a 2021 fifth-rounder and take him, despite the pick being out of left field when compared to most draft boards.
With injuries to Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt, that seemed prescient, as Loudermilk played 288 snaps in his rookie season. But last year, with the signing of Larry Ogunjobi, that role was cut by more than half, down to 116 snaps.
Ogunjobi and Cam Heyward return for 2023, and while Alualu and Chris Wormley are gone, the Steelers replaced them with veteran free agents Breiden Fehoko and Armon Watts. Then, the team used a second-round pick on fellow Wisconsin alum Keeanu Benton in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Backup nose tackle Montravius Adams is back as well, and Loudermilk played no nose tackle at all in 2022 after taking 11 snaps there in 2021. So where does he fit? It seems like it would almost take an injury to envision a role for Loudermilk in 2023.
CB LEVI WALLACE
The Steelers have two veteran cornerbacks that entered 2022 as the team’s starting players on the outside, Levi Wallace and Ahkello Witherspoon. It seems likely that neither will have a starting role at some point in 2023, with free agent Patrick Peterson assuredly taking one slot and second-round pick Joey Porter Jr. likely to take over the other sooner rather than later.
Witherspoon is a coverage specialist that had an injury-ruined 2022, but was very good in 2021 with the Steelers and 2020 with San Francisco. Wallace, on the other hand, was healthy last year while having a very middle-of-the-road season, and his strongest attributes are his runs defense and tackling ability.
Those skills more closely align with what Porter brings to the table, and are less valuable in multiple cornerback schemes. Even if Witherspoon isn’t a full-time starter, it’s easy to see ways for the Steelers to make room for him against multi-receiver sub packages.
The path to playing time for Wallace is harder to see and likely revolves around some combination of injury, a decline in the 33-year-old Peterson, or Porter taking longer than expected to pick up the defense.
Wallace and Witherspoon, who have identical $5 million cap hits, are also potential trade chips for Khan, with one moving out opening up significant room for the other.