In 2021, several Steelers were poised to establish new career, franchise and historical marks; players like Ben Roethlisberger, Najee Harris, T.J. Watt accomplished such feats by rewriting record books this past season.
Entering 2022, there is no shortage of Pittsburgh players who could follow suit. From encores from emerging stars to steady veterans, here are six Steelers who may be on their way to etching fame in the near future.
T.J. Watt: Franchise Sacks
This is the locomotive that’s been building up steam in recent memory.
Since entering the NFL in 2017, Watt has amassed 72 sacks, two more than any other player in that five-year span. Just six years into his professional career, the OLB has the chance to sit atop a Steelers record.
With only nine sacks, Watt will surpass James Harrison’s franchise-best 80.5 sacks. Even more amazingly, Harrison accrued such a number across 177 games, while Watt has 72 in just 77 contests.
Given Watt’s career pace of .935 sacks per game, the star edge-rusher should collect nine sacks between Weeks 8-10 of this year. Although Week 9 is a bye, tackles Jordan Mailata/Lane Johnson of the Eagles and Ryan Ramczyk/Trevor Penning of the Saints should be on high alert.
Pat Freiermuth: Second-Year Tight End Metrics
In his first year out of Penn State, Freiermuth quickly found favor with Ben Roethlisberger, hauling in 60 receptions for 497 yards. The tight end needs only 16 catches to break the Steelers’ record for catches by a tight end in their first two years, which would best Eric Green’s mark of 75 (1990-91). The NFL record in a TE’s inaugural two seasons is much steeper at 144, set by Keith Jackson.
Likewise, Freiermuth will set a new Pittsburgh record for receiving yards by a tight end in the first two campaigns if he totals 473 yards, unseating Green yet again. The astonishing league mark of 1,980 yards in that span, set by Mike Ditka, is presumably out of reach.
Najee Harris: Second-Year Yardage
Harris scorched the Steelers’ rookie rushing record en route to a Pro Bowl season in 2021; the Alabama product looks to maintain such record-setting production this year.
Le’Veon Bell boasts the most rushing yards by a Steeler in their first two seasons at 2,221 yards. Consequently, Harris must post 1,022 rushing yards or better to create a blank slate at the top of that perch.
In NFL history, Eric Dickerson paces all runners with a gaudy 3,913 yards in his first two pro seasons. Even if Harris leads the league in touches for a second straight year, he’ll likely fall short of that mark.
Moreover, Bell’s 3,474 scrimmage yards in Years One and Two are the best in franchise history; Harris requires 1,808 total yards to eclipse that.
Diontae Johnson: Fourth-Year Receiving Yards
After racking up 2,764 receiving yards in his primary three seasons, Johnson ranks third in Steelers history for receiving yardage in that span. The Toledo product must muster 1,279 receiving yards to stake his claim for most receiving yards by a Steeler in their first four years; such a figure would be a career-high, but only by 118 yards.
Michael Thomas’ record of 5,512 receiving yards in his first four seasons will, in all likelihood, be maintained through 2022 – that is, until Justin Jefferson shatters it handily in 2023.
Chris Boswell: Franchise Scoring
Boswell has quietly become one of the most consistent and high-leverage kickers in the NFL. His late-game heroics are undoubtedly materializing in the record books, too.
Entering 2022, Boswell sits in third place in team lore with 777 points. The Wizard of Boz needs 143 points to best second-place finisher Jeff Reed. For context, Boswell had 135 points last year, and his career high was 142 in 2017.
Assuming the Steelers can keep Boswell in the black and gold for years to come, look for the kicker to surpass Gary Anderson’s team-best 1,343 career points in around four seasons.
Kenny Pickett: Rookie Passing Statistics
Pickett’s playing time this year remains a substantial wild card, but it’s still worth noting certain rookie quarterback records in Pittsburgh’s archives.
Unsurprisingly, Pickett predecessor Ben Roethlisberger holds records for rookie passing yards (2,261) and passing touchdowns (17). Both numbers are contingent upon Pickett playing a minimum of around eight games, which very well may not occur.
With Pickett presumably not opening the year as Mike Tomlin’s primary gunslinger, the Pitt product is highly unlikely to reset NFL rookie marks of 4,374 passing yards (Andrew Luck, 2012) and 31 passing touchdowns (Justin Herbert, 2020). Then again, few envisioned Herbert starting as early as Week 2.
Team: Number of Players with 800+ Receiving Yards
How about a team-oriented stat for the final tidbit?
In team history, the Steelers have only fielded one squad which featured three players to aggregate 800+ receiving yards (2020: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Johnson, Chase Claypool).
With Johnson and Claypool returning, the anticipated breakout of Freiermuth, the selections of George Pickens and Calvin Austin III and a more distributed Matt Canada passing attack, 2022 has the capability to mark a new franchise high of skill players to post 800 or more receiving yards in one season.