First call: Joe Haden lists former teammate as hardest to cover; The Steelers’ triplets near the back of the NFL rankings

In Wednesday’s “First Call,” former Steelers cornerback Joe Haden gives us the five toughest guys to cover during his career. Another offseason NFL roster is less than kind to the Steelers.

The Pirates drop another game in the National League Central standings behind the scorching Cincinnati Reds. And we have an update on Penn State alum Saquon Barkley’s situation in New York.

Hear it from Haden

On ESPN’s “NFL Live,” former Steelers cornerback Joe Haden listed the top five receivers who were the hardest for him to cover.

At the top of the list was another former Steeler, Antonio Brown.

As a member of the Cleveland Browns, Haden attempted to cover for Brown from 2010-16. Haden joined the Steelers before the 2017 season started. For his career, Brown has more touchdowns (10), yards (1,479) and catches (101) against Cleveland than against any other NFL club.

Calvin Johnson, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones and AJ Green are the other receivers on Haden’s list.

Subsequent triplets makes its annual NFL “triplet rankings” list. In other words, go team by team and rank the clubs based on quarterback, top running back and top receiving target.

For the Steelers, they select Kenny Pickett at quarterback, Najee Harris at running back and Diontae Johnson at receiver. That group comes in at 22nd, behind the No. 21 Denver Broncos (Russell Wilson, Javonte Williams and Courtland Sutton) and just ahead of the Green Bay Packers with new QB Jordan Love, Aaron Jones at running back and Christian Watson as the top target.

Here’s what website said about the device.

“If there’s one team from this group most likely to make a significant jump this year, it might be the Steelers. Second-year quarterbacks typically take a step forward if they’re going to end up being good, and Pickett has an improved offense line ahead of him as well as both Johnson and George Pickens, plus Allen Robinson, Pat Freiermuth and Darnell Washington in his pass-catching corps. If he takes a leap, the Steelers can certainly jump into the top half of the league.”

The top 20 teams will be presented over the next few days. But the Steelers coming in at 22 I think is a little low. I would have put them somewhere between 16-20. And I would have made Pickens the target instead of Johnson.

Back with Barkley

Former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley may be getting contract negotiations back into gear with the New York Giants.

It is according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

The two parties have until July 17 to agree on a long-term contract agreement. If they can’t, Barkley’s salary must revert to the $10.1 million franchise mark for 2023.

“He said recently at his (youth) camp that he’s not going to make a final statement about what he wants to do in the 2023 season until we get into that deadline and to make sure there’s still space here for a deal. Talks are back between the Giants and Saquon Barkley. Now we’ll see if they can reach a point where he can become one of the highest paid running backs in the NFL.

“At least Saquon Barkley is expected to be back with the Giants on a one-year fully guaranteed cap. It’s just a matter of whether he gets the security he wants. Time will tell,” Rapoport said.

Barkley was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft. He made the Pro Bowl in 2022 and rushed for 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns on a career-high 295 attempts for the Giants.

just can not get enough

The Cincinnati Reds refuse to lose. They beat the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday 8-6. That’s good for a 10th win in a row. It is the franchise’s longest streak since 2012, when they also won 10 in a row.

Rookie sensation Elly De La Cruz homered again.

It’s his second big fly since being called up to the Major League club. He also had three hits in the game to raise his average to .308. His OPS is .898. He also caused some problems on the basepaths for Colorado.

However, the Reds’ (39-35) lead atop the NL remains at just half a game, as the Milwaukee Brewers (38-35) beat the NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks (44-30) 7-5. The Pirates (34-38) have dropped to fourth place, four games behind the Reds. They have lost eight in a row.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All e-mails are subject to publication unless otherwise stated.

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