As the Steelers continue through the offseason, building 2022 roster, it is a good time to take a look back at 2021 again and rank the Top 10 Steelers players of the season. There are a good number of players who played well, and a lot who didn’t.
Diontae Johnson was one of the Steelers four Pro Bowl players in 2021, and while Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt and Najee Harris joined him in that honor, they appear as the top three players on this list while Diontae Johnson is entering the list as the 7th pick.
Johnson led the Steelers in every receiving total with 169 targets, 107 receptions, 1,161 yards and 8 touchdowns. While his total stats are impressive, his efficiency, and the effectiveness of the Steelers passing game, was not impressive.
With the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger and a re-tooled offensive line, Diontae Johnson returns to a different offense in 2022. But while there are questions surrounding how he will perform, Johnson shouldn’t be undersold here. Diontae Johnson has led the Steelers in targets and receptions in all three of his seasons with the team, He led the team in receiving in both 2020 and 2021, second to James Washington in 2019 and led the team in receiving touchdowns in 2019 and 2021, coming in third in 2020. Over his three seasons he leads the team in every receiving statistic by a good margin.
Diontae Johnson’s three-year stats and the 2nd place in that stat.
Targets: 405 (226 JuJu Smith-Schuster)
Receptions: 254 (154 JuJu Smith-Schuster)
Yards: 2,764 (1,733 Chase Claypool)
Touchdowns: 20 (12 JuJu Smith-Schuster)
Diontae Johnson joins Najee Harris as the only Steelers offensive playmakers to make the Pro Bowl since 2018. (Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro made it in 2019 and 2020).
So while the questions about how good Diontae Johnson will be without Ben Roethlisberger, it’s not so much a question of will he be good, but can he replicate his Pro-Bowl season of 2021 or even improve on it?
Best Steelers of 2021:
1. T.J. Watt
2. Cameron Heyward
3. Najee Harris
4. Minkah Fitzpatrick
5. Chris Boswell
6. Pat Freiermuth
7. Diontae Johnson
With Johnson finally off the list, we add Dan Moore Jr. to our list of ten candidates for the 6th most important Steeler of 2021.
Let’s take a quick look at the candidates:
Bold = led Steelers in stat, * = led NFL in stat
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.
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.
Dan Moore Jr.: Dan Moore Jr. didn’t have the best rookie season, but he stepped in when he wasn’t supposed to play and solidified the left tackle position while providing a lot of value in the run game. Moore Jr. also had the disadvantage of playing with numerous different left guards lined up next to him and was left on an island to guard Miles Garrett a lot in the Steelers two games against the Browns, allowing 1 sack.
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.
Joe Schobert: Schobert joined the Steelers via a trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and he helped hold down the inside linebacker position for the Steelers. He ended up second on the team in tackles, while playing the 5th most snaps on the Steelers defense. While not a long-term solution to the Steelers linebacker needs, Schobert was a solid player for the one season he was on the team.
Stat Line: 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 70 solo tackles, 6 passes defended, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 QB hit.
Ahkello Witherspoon: Akhello Witherspoon only played in 9 games in 2021, and ranked 8th in snaps for defensive backs on the Steelers, but he also led the Steelers in interceptions and tied Cameron Heyward for the most passes defended. His shorter time on the field definitely limited his value to the team, and with his awful first game, justifiably so. But it is hard to overstate the impact Witherspoon had late in the season when the Steelers made their push to a playoff berth.
Stat Line: 3 interceptions, 9 passes defended, 14 solo tackles, 1 tackle for a loss.
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 8th best Steeler of 2021, and who should come back to compete for 9th?
Who was the 8th best Steeler of 2021?
This poll is closed
Dan Moore Jr.