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Steelers-by-position: Specialists

Another in a position-by-position series in advance of the start of free agency on March 16.

Chris Boswell (PK), Pressley Harvin III (P), Christian Kuntz (LS), Cameron Nizialek (P), Rex Sunahara (LS)
(Free Agent Scorecard: None)

With the sixth-to-last pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected a punter who as a senior at Georgia Tech led the NCAA in average yards per punt (48.0), who was a consensus All-American and the winner of the Ray Guy Award, who had become a YouTube star for a 41-yard rainbow he threw during a fake punt against Miami in 2019. Rookie Pressley Harvin III and veteran Jordan Berry slugged it out during training camp and the preseason for that one spot on the 53-man roster, but this competition was unusual for the NFL in that it likely was slanted a bit in favor of the rookie because the rookie was a draft pick.

Berry had a fine offseason, but in the end, Harvin won the job and averaged 42.6 yards per punt during the regular season, with three touchbacks and 25 inside the 20-yard line. Berry signed with the Vikings after being released by the Steelers and turned in his best season as a pro, with a 46.5 average, with three touchbacks and 26 inside the 20-yard line.

Harvin struggled in adapting to the NFL, and it was especially noticeable with his inconsistency in being able to flip field position when the Steelers were backed up in their own end, but at no time did Coach Mike Tomlin waiver from Harvin as the team's punter. That was most apparent when the death of Harvin's father caused him to miss the Dec. 26 game in Kansas City and the Jan. 3 game vs. the Browns. Corliss Waitman filled in for those two games and averaged 52.1 yards on his seven punts, but when it came time for the win-or-go-home regular season finale in Baltimore, Harvin was the punter and Waitman was inactive.

"You know, the inclement weather conditions (in Baltimore) and the continuity that we had at the snap-hold-kick component of it was a part of the equation," said Tomlin about his rationale for that decision, "and really, it will continue to be part of the equation. We've had great success with Christian (Kuntz) snapping and Pressley (Harvin) holding, and (Chris Boswell) kicking. We've been in some big moments (with placekicking), and so that was a decision-maker. And wouldn't you know, we go out there (in Baltimore) and in that inclement weather, and those guys snap-hold-kick and send us home with a victory. Punting is just a part of the equation. That snap-hold-kick component, the cohesion required to be varsity there is attractive as well. And so, Pressley remains our punter."

The Steelers made a change at long-snapper at the end of the preseason when they replaced Kameron Canaday with Christian Kuntz, and that was seamless, as Tomlin referenced in the previous paragraph. At no point in 2021 was Kuntz's snapping an issue, and he already has signed a one-year contract for the 2022 season.

Chris Boswell is right there with Baltimore's Justin Tucker on the list of the NFL's best and most reliable placekickers, and his value to an offense that had issues scoring early in games throughout last season should not be understated. He converted 90 percent of his field goal attempts – 36-of-40 – and it marked the fifth time in his seven NFL seasons in which he converted at least 90 percent of his field goal attempts.

In the three seasons since 2018 when he converted 65 percent of his field goal attempts in a rare off year, Chris Boswell has been successful on 84-of-91 field goal attempts (92.3 percent), including 10-of-12 (83.3 percent) from 50-plus yards.

As is the case with all soon-to-be second-year pros, Harvin will be expected to show marked improvement, and the most likely scenario is that the Steelers will give him every opportunity to show he can live up to that. There typically is a learning curve for punters transitioning into the NFL, where the K-balls used for special teams are more difficult to drive and direct, and there being a bigger emphasis on directional punting in the NFL to complement the coverage.

Tomlin has come out and praised Harvin's work and rapport with Boswell, and there is no way the Steelers want to do anything to mess with a process that so consistently translates into points. Neither Harvin nor Kuntz will be permitted to sleepwalk through the training camp/preseason phase of the calendar, but it's doubtful the Steelers will be looking actively to replace either one.
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