Pittsburgh Steelers

3 Pittsburgh Steelers Who Surprised the Most Last Season

The NFL season ended last Sunday but the Pittsburgh Steelers season ended in the first round of the playoffs. During this early period of the offseason, people take this time to not only look ahead but to evaluate the past campaign and in this article’s case, how Steelers players performed. There were some expected performances from many players on the team while other’s play shocked many. Three players stood out in particular and this article will look at the three players who surprised the most.

3 Pittsburgh Steelers Who Surprised the Most Last Season

1. Running Back Jaylen Warren

Undrafted running back Jaylen Warren made an impact in the limited time he played in 2022. Showcasing good speed and vision, many thought he might have a chance to be a good backup for Najee Harris going into the 2023 season. Warren last season exceeded those expectations playing so well that it caused people to question if Harris should be the starter. Given more opportunities and running behind a newish offensive line that the Steelers have been trying to improve since 2021, his statistics saw a jump.

His rushing yard total for the season increased from 379 to 784 along with his rushing touchdowns increasing from one to five. He also showcased more toughness than the previous season, by breaking tackles and setting physical blocks when pass blocking. Warren proved that he could ease Harris’ workload and be a good starter when called upon.

2. Cornerback Joey Porter Jr.

Second-round draft pick Joey Porter Jr. was expected to make a solid contribution in his first season last year. He looked good in college and had many things going for him coming into the NFL such as his athletic build and overall length. Concerns about his hip quickness and technique caused some concerns about his effectiveness early on in his NFL career. Combine that with how hard it is to play cornerback, people’s expectations weren’t insanely high for his first season. It took Porter Jr. a little while before he got the starting job which was in Week 8, but he hit the ground running once he got the reigns.

He was very sticky in coverage and used his speed and length to his advantage.¬† He often took on the opposing team’s best wide receiver and played well against them. Two of his best games came against star wide receivers Deandre Hopkins and Calvin Ridley, holding both in check. Not everything was perfect for Porter Jr. in his first season as he had some issues with tackling and good route runners, such as Amari Cooper, gave him some issues occasionally. But it was an excellent start and a lot of potential for an even better season next year.

3. Outside Linebacker Nick Herbig

Like Porter Jr., Nick Herbig is another rookie to make this list as he was drafted in the 4th round last year. While he succeeded as a pass rusher in college, many wondered if he could translate that success to the NFL due to his size. At 6’2 with 31 1/4 inch arms, his height and arm length are on the shorter side for an outside linebacker. This caused concerns with many in the media wondering if he should become an inside linebacker when he made it to the NFL. The Steelers made the bold decision to keep him at outside linebacker. Unlike most people and teams, the Steelers had a vision in mind that paid off.

Herbig was electric as a backup pass rusher providing the Steelers with 3.5 sacks and making some big plays in key moments. One play that stands out is a strip sack he had late in the game versus the Seattle Seahawks. Throughout the game, Seattle starting quarterback Geno Smith had done a great job avoiding pressure and sacks. He would either step up in the pocket or escape it and run for extra yardage. At 7:04 minutes left in the 4th quarter, the score was 27-20 with the Seahawks having the ball. Seattle had a first and 10 at their 20-yard line and was trying to drive down the field to tie up the game 27-27. Smith hiked the ball and Herbig was able to beat talented offensive tackle Charles Cross and get to Smith to strip sack him. Smith had the ball knocked out of his hand while getting sacked and the Steelers were able to recover the ball.

It was a pivotal moment in the game that the Steelers’ offense capitalized on by scoring 3 points on the following drive. That is just one of the many major contributions Herbig made this year like the other Steelers players on this list.

Main Image: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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