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.
Minkah Fitzpatrick joined the Pittsburgh Steelers the day after Ben Roethlisberger was pulled out of the Steelers 2019 week 2 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, and the Steelers quickly turned into a top 5 defense. Minkah Fitzpatrick thrived in Pittsburgh, recording 12 takeaways in his first two seasons with the Steelers, turning three of those turnovers into touchdowns directly. He also went to the Pro Bowl and made the First-Team All-Pro list both seasons.
In 2021, with losses in the secondary and injuries to the defensive line Minkah Fitzpatrick’s playmaking took a backseat to providing help in coverage and stopping the run. Fitzpatrick traded interceptions for tackles, leading the Steelers and ranking 12th in the NFL in solo tackles. He had the most solo tackles of any non-linebacker in the NFL.
The Steelers run defense was awful, allowing the most rushing yards of any defense, while giving up the most 20+ yard runs with 24 allowed. The second and third worst run defenses gave up twenty-two 20+ yard runs combined.
Yet while the run defense was porous, the Steelers pass defense allowed the 8th fewest 20+ yard passing plays in the NFL, and ranked 9th in total passing defense. Minkah Fitzpatrick, as the free safety, had a lot to do with taking away those big plays in the passing game.
While the drop-off in impact stats left Minkah Fitzpatrick out of the Pro Bowl and out of the running for any post-season recognition, he was still an impact player, he was just patching holes in the defense instead of being the guy making plays.
The first four Steelers on our list, T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Najee Harris, and Minkah Fitzpatrick are decided, who will join them in the top 5?
With Fitzptrick off the list, we add the other half of the Steelers safety tandem, Terrell Edmunds to our list.
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.
Terrell Edmunds: Edmunds was labeled a reach when he was drafted, and while he has played in all but one game since then, and started all but 5, Edmunds has been more known for his weaknesses than his strengths. Edmunds has put in the work, improved every season, and in 2021 had his best coverage season, ranking in the top 20 in passer rating against when targeted, while still being a key player against the run for the Steelers.
Stat line: 2 interceptions, 6 passes defended, 1 sack, 8 tackles for a loss, 63 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: 3,740 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 5th best Steeler in 2022?
This poll is closed