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State of the Pittsburgh Steelers: Russell Wilson or Justin Fields the answer at quarterback?

Where does your squad stand ahead of the 2024 NFL season? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the new faces to know, one significant fantasy spin and the stakes at play in the campaign to come.

Members of the Steelers organization, Steelers fans around the world and those who know that is the absolute best.

The Steelers once again finished the season with a winning record! But they also, once again, failed to get close to the Super Bowl or even notch a playoff victory. It feels like Pittsburgh has been kind of drifting since the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger following the 2021 season. Now, they have a revamped quarterback room. Is that enough to get them all the way back? Let's take a look.

2024 brain trust

Table inside Article
Head coach Mike Tomlin
General manager Omar Khan
Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin
Special teams coordinator Danny Smith

Roster reshuffling

Below is a rundown of the Steelers' most notable roster developments for the 2024 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.

Table inside Article
Draft class (round-pick) Key additions Key departures
Troy Fautanu, OT, Washington (1-20) Justin Fields, QB Kenny Pickett, QB
Zach Frazier, C, West Virginia (2-51) Russell Wilson, QB Mason Rudolph, QB
Roman Wilson, WR, Michigan (3-84) Van Jefferson, WR Mitchell Trubisky, QB
Payton Wilson, LB, N.C. State (3-98) Cordarrelle Patterson, WR Diontae Johnson, WR
Mason McCormick, OG, South Dakota State (4-119) Quez Watkins, WR Allen Robinson, WR
Logan Lee, DE, Iowa (6-178) Patrick Queen, LB Chukwuma Okorafor, OT
Ryan Watts, DB, Texas (6-195) Donte Jackson, CB Markus Golden, LB
DeShon Elliott, S Kwon Alexander, LB
Mykal Walker, LB
Patrick Peterson, CB
Levi Wallace, CB
Keanu Neal, S

New faces to know

This is a photo of Arthur Smith of the Tennessee Titans NFL football team. This image reflects the Tennessee Titans active roster as of Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. (AP Photo)
Arthur Smith
Offensive coordinator

I would imagine some fan bases might have reason for pause if Smith was selected as their offensive coordinator. But having lived through the Matt Canada era -- 44 games in which the Steelers never ranked better than 23rd in yards and 21st in points -- most in Pittsburgh would agree this is a welcome change. True, when Smith was head coach in Atlanta from 2021 to 2023, the Falcons' offense averaged 19.6 points (24th in the NFL) and 318.9 yards per game (23rd). However, Smith was much better as an offensive coordinator for the Titans, who averaged 27.9 points (fifth in the NFL) and 379.6 yards per game (also fifth) during his time in that role (2019-2020). And he was the one who unlocked the running game in Tennessee, which should excite Najee Harris, who's entering a contract year in Pittsburgh, and Jaylen Warren.

Patrick Queen
LB · Year 5

The Steelers got Queen to jump from the rival Ravens via a three-year deal worth up to $41 million. I know Baltimore fans are trying to play it off like it鈥檚 no big deal, but Queen had a career-high 133 tackles in 2023 and earned a Pro Bowl nod. He hasn鈥檛 missed a game in his four years in the NFL (67 starts) and brings some stability to the Steelers linebacker room. 

Donte Jackson
CB · Year 7

After letting cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace walk in free agency, the Steelers acquired Jackson (as part of a trade that sent receiver Diontae Johnson to Carolina) to solidify their secondary. Jackson, who has 14 career interceptions in his six pro seasons, will line up opposite 2023 second-round pick Joey Porter Jr., who had a great rookie campaign and made an immediate impact for a team that allowed 19.1 points per game last season, tied for sixth-fewest in the league. 

State of the QB room

The Steelers were apparently so shook by the Kenny Pickett experiment that they not only went out and got Russell Wilson, but they added a second quarterback, Justin Fields, just to be completely sure they were doing everything they could. It's like when you miss your anniversary, then you panic and go overboard with the gifts. The Steelers want to throw as many quarterbacks as possible at the problem.

I still feel like Russell -- who is entering camp in 鈥減ole position鈥 to win the job -- is a good quarterback. Obviously, things didn't work out for him with the Broncos, even after a better 2023, but pairing him with Arthur Smith feels right. As offensive coordinator in Tennessee in 2020, Smith used play action on a league-high 34.4 percent of his offensive plays. And that's where Russell thrives; he's recorded a 109.7 passer rating on such plays in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016). If you regularly put him in that situation, the 35-year-old might just revive his career. Smith also used the run a lot in recent seasons, with Atlanta logging 31.8 carries per game in 2022-23, good for second in the NFL in that span, and if he leans on the ground again in Pittsburgh, that will take some pressure off the veteran passer. All of this said, there should be reason for optimism. Then add in the athleticism of Fields, who will likely get some goal-line packages and some other stuff worked in for him. I'm intrigued by this Steelers quarterback room.

Most important non-QB

T.J. Watt
OLB · Year 8

I ask, was he robbed of Defensive Player of the Year honors last season? Watt led the NFL with 19 sacks and 36 quarterback hits. He is the only player in NFL history to lead the NFL in sacks in three different seasons since they started tracking sacks way back in 1982. I鈥檓 not saying Watt needs to derive any kind of extra motivation from the award going to Myles Garrett, of the rival Cleveland Browns, last year. But I would not want to be the quarterback who has to face him in those first couple of weeks of 2024 -- Pittsburgh plays Atlanta, Denver and the Chargers to open the season. Fun fact: Watt is on pace to hit 100 career sacks in his 108th regular-season game, which make him the second-fastest to 100 in league history, behind Hall of Famer Reggie White (104 games). As of now, that鈥檚 Week 4 at Indy.

My HOTTEST Steelers fantasy take:

George Pickens is going to TRULY break out.

I mean, he was good last year, putting up 63 receptions, 1,140 receiving yards and five touchdowns. This year, he should be more consistent with better quarterback play. And if Russell is hitting his stride with play action, it could help Pickens improve his production down the field, where he was already pretty productive in 2023. Pickens had three touchdown receptions of 60-plus yards in 2023, tied for the most in the league with Tyreek Hill and Ja鈥橫arr Chase. The thing is, while Pickens had some huge games -- which ultimately helped him log a league-high 18.1 yards per catch -- he also disappeared at times. We've been waiting for him to go off with regularity, and it's going to happen this year.

2024 roadmap

Three key dates:

  • Week 1: at Atlanta Falcons. The Arthur Smith REVENGE GAME. He could do the funniest thing and give tight end Pat Freiermuth like 20 targets (). This contest is also one of three roadies in the Steelers' first four games.
  • Week 11: vs. Baltimore Ravens. I'm really looking forward to this one for several reasons. This rivalry game kicks off a pretty wild section of the Steelers' schedule.
  • Week 17: vs. Kansas City Chiefs. The Steelers will play three games in an 11-day span, including this game against the defending Super Bowl champions on Christmas Day. The Steelers play all of their divisional opponents, plus the Eagles and Chiefs, in the final eight weeks of the season. Is somebody trying to make it extra difficult for the newly extended Mike Tomlin to go on his usual late-season run to finish above .500?

For 2024 to be a success, the Steelers MUST:

A) Win the Super Bowl
B) Make a playoff run
C) Earn a playoff berth
D) Finish above .500
E) Show progress

My answer: B) Make a playoff run. Look, I don't mean to speak for all Steelers fans here. However, while it's great to have a head coach who has never had a losing season, how about more seasons where you win a Super Bowl? Heck, how about winning a playoff game? The Steelers haven't done that since 2016! I know many of you might be too young to know about Tom Landry -- a longtime Cowboys coach who went years without a losing record but won just two Super Bowls, thanks in large part to the Steelers teams of the era. Tomlin just signed an extension, so he's not going anywhere. But at some juncture, you need to realize that you've been on the for a while, and it's time to do some more winning in the postseason.

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