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.
The first two choices were pretty easy, T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward easily won the first and second spots respectively with little real opposition. Third place was more competitive. In the end Najee Harris beat out Minkah Fitzpatrick for third place earning 208 votes to Fitzpatrick’s 131. Harris secured 50% of the total votes.
It was no secret that the Steelers wanted Najee Harris in the 2022 NFL Draft, but it was a bit controversial as many argued, and still argue that a 1st round running back is a poor investment with the length of their careers being typically lower that other positions.
Whatever happens in the future, Najee Harris was an immediate impact player for the Steelers and deserves to be the top offensive player on this list. Harris rushed for 1200 yards and 7 touchdowns, and added 467 yards and another three touchdowns as a receiver.
In Steeler history, only Barry Foster, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis have had more yards from scrimmage than Najee Harris did last season. And that doesn’t even tell the whole story, because his impact gets more clear when you involve advanced stats.
Najee Harris ranked 48th out of the 53 qualifying rushers for yards before contact per play at 1.7 yards before contact per rush. The NFL rushing leader Jonathan Taylor averaged 2.6 yards before contact per rush. It’s a lot easier to break tackles with a head of steam and when those tackles are coming from DBs and LBs instead of LBs and DLs. Yet Najee Harris came in second in tackles broken and third in yards after contact.
It wasn’t the Steelers offense getting Najee Harris yards. Najee Harris was a phenomenal back as a rookie, and the main question heading into his second year is can the Steelers put an offense around Harris that will set him up for success, instead of setting him up to fail and watching him make the best of it.
With the top three spots filled, we welcome Chase Claypool to the list, and now it is your turn to choose who deserves the title of the 4th best Steeler of 2021.
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.
Chase Claypool: Claypool’s 2021 season was considered a drop-off from his rookie season, but statistically that was only true in touchdowns scored, one of the most volatile stats for receivers. Claypool’s second season saw him improve slightly in yards per game, yards per target, broken tackles and drops. While the entire passing game was less efficient in 2021, Chase Claypool saw the least decline in efficiency.
Stat line: 105 targets, 59 receptions, 860 yards, 2 TDs.
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.
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.
Chris Wormley: Chris Wormley was put into a much bigger role than he had played before in 2021, when injuries moved him from the #4 defensive lineman on the team to #2. In that increased role Wormley nearly doubled the previous highest snap count of his career, and his production more than doubled. While Wormley was part of the defensive struggles in run defense, he was a major asset in pass defense, ending up third on the team in sacks and 4th in pressures.
Stat line: 7 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 3 passes defended, 51 total tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, 10 QB hits.
Now it is up to you to make your selection. Who should be rated the fourth-best Steeler of 2021, and who should come back to compete for 5th?
Who was the fourth best Steeler in 2021?
This poll is closed