The Steelers are always one of the more stable franchises in the NFL. As expected, 2020 is no exception to that rule. Despite losing Javon Hargrave, Mark Barron, and Ramon Foster, the Steelers return most of their starters for the 2020 season. However, after a rocky 2019, there are plenty of players that have a lot to prove in the 2020 season. Here are the three Steelers players with the most prove in 2020.
Terrell Edmunds is the Steelers player to watch in 2020
There is no one with more to prove on the Steelers roster than Terrell Edmunds in 2020. After being a shock first-round pick in 2018, Edmunds has been painfully average in his first two years as a Steeler. Only two turnovers forced in two years will not cut it, and the Steelers coaches have made that much clear.
We know Edmunds has the physical tools and improving instincts. That much has been certain since his very first practice in rookie minicamp. However, Edmunds sticks out like a sore thumb in coverage. His lack of ball skills and lack of discipline in coverage gets him burnt far too often. He also needs to become a more consistent tackler. Edmunds missed 14 tackles or 12% of his attempted tackles (making 103 tackles out of 117 attempts).
Everything that Edmunds does from here on out will be used to evaluate his process. Pittsburgh may need to make a move at safety if he falls below expectations and does not take another step forward. The upside Edmunds possesses is the entire reason he was a first-round pick, and he must now prove the Steelers right.
Thus far at training camp, he has shown out with a few good run stops and big hits on Tuesday, as well as standout plays in coverage on Monday. Everything he does in camp will be closely monitored to see just what he will be this year, but it ultimately has to translate onto the football field.
JuJu Smith-Schuster must rebound
There were astronomical expectations for JuJu Smith-Schuster last season after Antonio Brown was traded. Smith-Schuster was expected to immediately fill Brown’s shoes at the top target in the Steelers offense, but after a disappointing year, there is severe doubt that he can be that top-flight guy.
Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury and Smith-Schuster’s injuries set him back, and it could be a fluke season, but he has to prove that. With a career-high six drops last season, Smith-Schuster was disappointing, even though the young quarterbacks left yards on the field that would have made up for some of his inadequate production.
Smith-Schuster has already connected with Roethlisberger multiple times at training camp in the Steelers team sessions. His shift back to primarily playing the slot will allow Smith-Schuster to remedy a severe weakness at beating press coverage. With more bulk on his frame than ever, Smith-Schuster should be able to be a mismatch and bully defensive backs.
The arrow is still pointing up for Smith-Schuster, given the circumstances behind his disappointing 2019, and it seems to be coming together for him so far in 2020. If he can stay healthy, he may return to form this season.
Chukwuma Okorafor must stick the landing
Chukwuma Okorafor, a former third-round draft pick for the Steelers in 2018, seems to be the front runner for the starting right tackle job in Pittsburgh this season. More than most, he simply has to stick the landing and prove he can part of the future plans along the offensive line for the Steelers.
With dazzling quick feet and an underrated violent streak, Okorafor proved to be sturdy against the Rams last season, as he surrendered only one pressure and no sacks in that contest. Okorafor was seen at practice on Monday taking the first-team reps, which denotes that he likely gets the nod over Zach Banner right now.
The critical key for Okorafor will be to hold onto that spot and improve his hand usage to take his game to the next level. When he came into the league, his timing and punch placement were his two significant issues. Now, while they have improved, they are still erratic and can get him beat against better edge rushers.
Okorafor may have the most critical landing here in terms of career trajectory. Being an ideal scheme fit for the Steelers, Okorafor needs to be a plug-and-play lineman for a Steelers offensive line that needs to protect an aging Roethlisberger more than ever before.