A little-talked-about position battle will soon get underway at Pittsburgh Steelers training camp, when second-year punter Pressley Harvin III will attempt to hold off Cameron Nizialek, the latter of whom was signed to a one-year Reserve/Future contract in late January. Nizialek has actually been with the Steelers since Christmas Day 2021, when he was added to the practice squad (along with fellow punter Corliss Waitman), following the death of Harvin’s father, who had traveled to Heinz Field to see his son play “one last time” just days earlier.
“You will see this issue come way more to the front than it’s been over this offseason. I guarantee you this,” said DK Sports’ Dejan Kovacevic during his July 20 Daily Shot of Steelers. “Once the team gets to Latrobe and especially once they start getting into the exhibitions you’ll see head-to-head measurements of the punts, head-to-head evaluations of their effectiveness.”
No doubt this is the case, as Harvin — a 2021 seventh-round pick out of Georgia Tech — had an up-and-down rookie season, during which he punted 70 times and averaged a modest 42.6 yards per kick, as per Pro Football Reference.
“But Harvin had a lot of issues beyond the length of his punts,” recalls Kovacevic. “He struggled with direction, he struggled with simple execution at times — the shanks that occurred.”
Cameron Nizialek Punted for the Falcons in 2021
Kovacevic views Nizialek — 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds — as a viable replacement, arguing that the Virginia native was an “effective, occasionally powerful punter” during his college days at Georgia, though he admits that the 27-year-old doesn’t possess Harvin’s leg strength.
Nizialek signed with the Atlanta Falcons in early August of 2021 and went on to average 45.4 yards per punt over the course of 18 kicks before he injured his hamstring in Week 4. After a stint on injured reserve, the Falcons elected to waive Nizialek on November 9, 2021, making him available to the Steelers.
The Steelers Lost Corliss Waitman to a Waiver Claim
What’s unfortunate about this situation is that the Steelers had a strong candidate to replace Harvin in the aforementioned Corliss Waitman, who was Harvin’s replacement for the two games he missed while on bereavement leave. Waitman made his regular-season debut in Week 16 at Kansas City and also played the following week at home against Cleveland. During those two games he punted seven times for 365 yards, an average of 52.1 yards per punt — an average that would have led the league if he had enough punts to qualify for the rankings.
Yet Mike Tomlin & Co. chose to bring Harvin back for the regular-season finale and he struggled mightily, averaging just 37.3 yards per kick over the course of eight punts.
Despite his struggles, Harvin went on to serve as Pittsburgh’s punter for the team’s postseason game at Kansas City. Meanwhile, the Steelers waived Waitman so wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster could return to the lineup. (Smith-Schuster played 52 snaps and caught five passes for 26 yards in the 42-21 playoff loss.) The Steelers lost the opportunity to potentially re-sign Waitman for 2022 after the Denver Broncos claimed him on waivers.
What Are the Odds the Steelers Give up on Pressley Harvin?
Despite his struggles, there are several reasons why the organization may be loath to give up on Harvin, who won’t turn 24 until September 17.
One is that he fared well as Chris Boswell’s holder last season, and the team won’t want to disrupt that chemistry if that can be avoided. In fact, Tomlin pointed to Harvin’s skills as a holder as the reason he brought him back for the postseason game against the Chiefs.
Second, if Harvin fails to make the team out of training camp, there would be a dead money cap charge on the team’s salary cap. It would be a modest charge — the prorated portion of the $80,732 signing bonus that came with his rookie contract. But dead money charges add up, and Pittsburgh is already carrying more than $30 million in dead money on its 2022 cap.
And to be sure, Harvin has the potential to be an inexpensive solution at the position for years to come, as he is slated to earn a salary of $825,000 in 2022 (same as Nizialek), then $940,000 in 2023 and $1.055 million in 2024, according to overthecap.com.
The latest Steelers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Steelers newsletter here!
Quentin Lake Starts His 1st Training Camp on the PUP List
Meanwhile, the son of former Steelers defensive back Carnell Lake will begin his rookie training camp on the Rams’ Physically Unable to Perform list. Quentin Lake, a 2022 sixth-round pick out of UCLA (No. 211 overall), was officially added to the list on July 24, as per the NFL’s daily transaction wire.
Lake was selected three picks after the Steelers drafted tight end/fullback Connor Heyward, the younger brother of Steelers All-Pro defensive lineman Cam Heyward. Some see Heyward the younger as a potential threat to fullback Derek Watt, though Watt doesn’t see it that way.
Follow the Heavy on Steelers page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content!
• Former Steelers 1st-Round Pick Dead at 50: Investigation ‘Now Underway’: Report
• Fans Rip Joe Haden’s ‘Abomination’ of a Steelers-Browns Tattoo
• Son of Former Steelers Pro Bowler a Top 5 Pick in MLB Draft