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.
Alex Highsmith joins in the penultimate spot on our Top-10 list. Highsmith in his second season and first as a starter was a bright spot in run defense, recording the second most run defense tackles of any edge rusher and with an average tackle depth of 2.1 yards, he was much more effective than much of the Steelers defense that allowed an embarrassing 5 yards per rush over the season. Highsmith tied Cameron Heyward for second on the team with 15 tackles for a loss and ranked third in QB hits with 15 of those as well. In defending the run and pressuring the quarterback Highsmith ranks third on the Steelers defense, behind only T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward.
Highsmith also shows coverage ability to go with his smart and strong play defending the run and pressuring the quarterback. The one clear area for Alex Highsmith to improve on is in recording sacks. If you compare Highsmith’s pressure, hit and sack rates for his first two seasons to T.J. Watt’s first two seasons Highsmith only lags behind Watt significantly in his rate of recording sacks. While some of that is caused by Highsmith losing the race to the quarterback to T.J. Watt, he has shown he has room to grow in becoming a finisher on pass rush.
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
8. Ben Roethlisberger
9. Alex Highsmith
With Alex Highsmith joining the list, we add Chukwuma Okorafor to the candidates for the final spot in the top 10.
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.
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.
Chukwuma Okorafor: Okorafor finally was a full-season starter for the first time in his 4th season with the Steelers. While he isn’t a star player he is a very reliable player at a position that is one of the hardest to find quality play. Okorafor enters his fifth season with the Steelers with a new contract that makes him the highest plaid player on the Steelers offense and the 4th highest paid Steeler overall. Hopefully his play continues to improve as it has every season of his career so far.
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.
Cameron Sutton: Sutton moved from the Steelers dime back to the Steelers #2 cornerback for the 2021 season. He played well in that role, but struggled some when Joe Haden was out and Sutton needed to take over the role of the Steelers top cornerback. He was the Steelers most reliable cornerback though, starting 16 games, five more than any other Steeler cornerback in 2021 and played the second most snaps on defense of any Steeler.
Stat line: 2 interceptions, 6 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 44 solo tackles, 4 tackles for a loss.
Ahkello Witherspoon: Ahkello 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.
There’s only one spot left in the BTSC 2022 Top Ten Steelers list, who will it be? It’s your last chance to vote for the best Steelers of 2021.
Who was the 10th best Steeler of the 2021 season?
This poll is closed
Dan Moore Jr.