As the Steelers continue through free agency and are building their 2022 roster, it is a good time to take a look back at 2021 again and rank the top ten Steelers players of the season. There are a good number of players who played well, and a lot who didn’t.
In our first vote, T.J. Watt won the overwhelming majority of votes and deservedly so. But there was more competition than many might expect. Watt’s 76% of votes was lower than the 84% of NFL Defensive Player of the Year votes he received, but still an impressive margin of victory over Cameron Heyward’s second-place finish at 14%.
T.J. Watt joined the Steelers as the 30th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He was the 7th edge rusher taken in that draft, but currently ranks 1st in sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, tackles for a loss, QB hits, and passes defensed in his draft class. He ranks sixth in solo tackles and 2nd in interceptions among all players drafted in 2017 as well.
T.J. Watt will forever be compared to the #1 pick in the 2017 draft, Myles Garrett who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns. The two best defenders in that draft are edge rushers playing for long-time division rivals. When facing each other’s teams there stat lines are pretty telling:
M. Garrett vs. Pittsburgh: 8 games, 6 sacks, 20 solo tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, 12 QB hits, 3 forced fumbles.
T.J. Watt vs. Cleveland: 9 games, 14.5 sacks, 38 solo tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, 23 QB hits, 1 interception, 4 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery.
So far, in this rivalry inside of a rivalry, the Steelers Defensive Player of the Year has a big advantage over the man taken 29 picks ahead of him.
With the #1 spot in our top ten decided, we welcome Alex Highsmith to the 10 players that are now competing for the #2 spot in our BTSC Steelers top ten.
Let’s take a quick look at the candidates:
Bold = led Steelers in stat, * = led NFL in stat
Chris Boswell: In a season where the offense struggled mightily, Boswell carried a lot of the scoring load, making the second most field goals of any NFL kicker, while tying Justin Tucker for the most 40+ yard field goals made on the season.
Stat line: 36/40 field goals, 27/29 extra points.
Kevin Dotson: Dotson only appeared in 9 games for the Steelers, and it showed. With rookies starting on either side of him, Dotson was the anchor of the line, and that line was improving before he was hurt. The Steelers recorded 5 straight 100+ yard rushing games, a streak that ended with Dotson’s injury. That span of time involved the only two wins the Steelers recorded where their opponent scored 20 or more points.
Minkah Fitzpatrick: Despite turnover in the secondary and the defensive front falling apart, Minkah Fitzpatrick helped keep the secondary playing well. The Steelers were able to stay right on the edge of the top ten passing defenses while becoming the Steelers primary run stopper for far too much of the season.
Stat line: 2 interceptions, 7 passes defended, 1 fumble forced, 1 fumble recovered, 84 solo tackles.
Pat Freiermuth: The rookie tight end had a great first year, showing up as a quality blocker and dynamic receiving threat, his 7 TDs on 79 targets shows his ability to produce points in the red zone, and only Najee Harris was targeted more than 25 times while posting a higher catch rate than Freiermuth’s 75.9%. While his overall numbers weren’t stunning, the young man provided a massive upgrade at the position in just his first season.
Stat line: 79 targets, 60 receptions, 497 yards, 7 TDs.
Joe Haden: The veteran cornerback missed 5 games, but was still the Steelers best cornerback over the course of the season, and the Steelers defense continues to be a much better defense when he plays and the Steelers continue to win far more of their games with him than when he is out.
Stat line: 0 interceptions, 6 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 26 solo tackles.
Najee Harris: Harris broke the Steelers rookie rushing record despite running behind an offensive line that was in bad shape most of the season. When the offensive line was able to give him mediocre play, Harris dominated.
Stat line: 1200 rushing yards, 7 rushing TDs, 467 receiving yards, 3 receiving TDs.
Cameron Heyward: While T.J. Watt was the Defensive Player of the Year for the NFL, it’s hard to say he was even the best defender on the team, Cameron Heyward’s continued excellence in a season when he was often acting as a 1-man defensive line cannot be over valued.
Stat line: 10 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 9 passes defended, 53 solo tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 17 QB hits.
Alex Highsmith: In his second year, Highsmith stepped into a starting role in 2021. In that role Highsmith recorded only 6 sacks but continued to show he is a sound defensive player who is strong in all phases of the game. While we look forward to Highsmith growing further into his role in 2022, his play in 2021 was definitely above the line.
Stat line: 6 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 46 solo tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 15 QB hits.
Diontae Johnson: The Steelers leading receiver made his first playoff appearance and recorded the first 1000 yard receiving season since 2018. While his efficiency numbers were not good, it wasn’t just Johnson, the entire passing offense was bad.
Stat line: 169 targets, 107 receptions, 8 receiving TDs.
Ben Roethlisberger: The Steelers quarterback was a shell of his former self, and yet it is hard to believe that the team would have made the improbable run to the playoffs without him. Similar to Jerome Bettis being a major reason the 2005 Steelers won the Super Bowl while he was a backup, Ben Roethlisberger’s importance to the 2021 Steelers likely is more than his ability to still play the game.
Stat line: 3740 passing yards, 22 passing TDs, 10 interceptions.
Now it is up to you to make your selection. Who should be rated the second-best Steeler of 2021, and who should come back to compete for 3rd?
Who was the next best Steeler of 2021?
This poll is closed