The Pittsburgh Steelers season is over, and it is time to take notice for who played above the line throughout the season, and those who fell below said line. It should be noted the only people to make the list below are players. No categories, like 3rd down defense, were used. Also, no coaches made either list.
With that said, let’s get to the winners and losers from the 2022 regular season.
Stat Line: 15 games, 96 total tackles, 1 TFL, 6 INTs, 11 pass defense, 1 TD
What else can be said about Minkah which hasn’t already been said before? The guy is a playmaker in every sense of the word, and is a 1st Team All-Pro for a reason. He might not be a perfect player, but no one is. Fitzpatrick is a building block for which the Steelers are building around, and he hasn’t let them down after giving him a big money contract prior to the season.
Stat Line: 17 games, 272 carries, 1,034 yards, 3.8 ave., 36 long, 7 TD / 41 catches, 53 targets, 229 yards, 5.6 ave., 3 TD, 19 long
To say Harris had a rough start to the season is an understatement. Whether his issues were related to his injured foot, which required a steel plate to be placed in his shoe, or the overall execution of the play which was called, it wasn’t good. Nonetheless, Harris rebounded with an excellent second half of the season, ending the year with over 1,000 yards on the ground. If Harris can pick up where he left off in 2022, it will be huge for the 2023 Steelers offense.
Stat Line: 13 games, 245 completions, 389 attempts, 63.0 completion %, 2,404 yards, 6.2 ave., 184.9 ydsd/gm, 57 long, 7 TDs, 9 INTs / 55 carries, 237 yards, 4.3 ave., 23 long, 3 TDs
In Week 4 at halftime Pickett entered the game, and everyone knew the only thing which would knock him out of the lineup was injury. And that happened more than once throughout the season, but what Pickett did was slowly improve, end the season on a high note, and have a massive amount of experience heading into his sophomore season. If there is an expected jump from Year 1 to Year 2, Steelers fans should be excited to see what Pickett brings next season.
Stat Line: 17 games, 75 total tackles, 10.5 sacks, 14 TFL, 4 pass defense, 1 FF, 1 FR
Like Fitzpatrick, there isn’t much to be said about Heyward which hasn’t already been said. The defensive captain was a mainstay for the defense, and proved yet again age is nothing but a number. Despite getting long in the tooth, Heyward had a fantastic season in 2022. When Heyward wasn’t playing well was when the offense couldn’t sustain drives and he was over-worked. When the offense started getting their stuff together, Heyward started to shine again. This recipe for success should carry over to 2023.
Stat Line: 17 games, 38 total tackles, 14.5 sacks, 12 TFL, 1 pass defense, 5 FF
14.5 sacks is legit, no matter what anyone says. “Well, he only had a few without T.J. Watt.” This is true, but what has everyone said about a pass rusher opposite Watt? The Steelers need to find someone who can take advantage of their one-on-one matchups. Hello, Alex Highsmith. The question now becomes if/when the Steelers will be able to retain his talents for the long haul when the time comes.
Stat Line: Continuity is key
The continuity along the offensive line is well-documented, but I still can’t get over the massive amount of snaps the group played together in 2022. Playing alongside one another is one thing, but seeing this time together pay off is another. The Steelers’ offensive line went from a liability in the preseason, to a strength by the end of the season. If this group remains on this trajectory, or adds talent this offseason, we could be looking at the making of a dominant offensive line.
Stat Line: 16 games, 77 carries, 379 yards, 4.9 ave., 31 long / 28 receptions, 33 targets, 214 yards, 7.6 ave.
I distinctly remember seeing the Steelers put out a team photo of everyone at the team’s mandatory minicamp. As I zoomed into the picture I saw this smaller player, No. 30, flexing during the picture. I found it funny, but also pretty bold when I looked up it was an undrafted running back named Jaylen Warren. While he might have been joking, he certainly had some flex-worthy plays in 2022. For the first time in a long time, I feel confident about the running game if something were to happen to Najee Harris...all because of this young flexing undrafted player.
Stat Line: 17 games, 52 receptions, 84 targets, 801 yards, 15.4 ave., 4 TDs, 42 long
Everyone knew Pickens was capable of doing damage as a rookie, but history showed Steelers receivers take some time to develop and see significant snaps. While Pickens’ playing time and role was limited early in the season, when the Steelers traded Chase Claypool it opened the door for Pickens to be on the field more. Once that door opened, Pickens sprinted through it and never looked back. What’s truly scary is what the offense could look like if/when Pickett and Pickens are on the same page 100% of the time next year.
Stat Line: Major contributions
The Steelers’ rookie class was great to watch in 2022. Whether you are talking about Kenny Pickett, George Pickens, DeMarvin Leal, Connor Heyward, Mark Robinson or Jaylen Warren, this group has the potential to have some serious staying power. If the rebuild happens through the draft, the class of 2022 was a huge step in the right direction.
Stat Line: 20 INTs
Some say turnovers, or takeaways, happen in bunches. They are unpredictable. While I agree with that sentiment, I also recognize the Steelers’ defense was taking the ball away via interception on a pretty regular basis in the second half of the season. Yes, a lot of it had to do with the return of T.J. Watt and an increased pass rush, but the Steelers’ defense taking the ball away was a huge part of their success down the stretch of the regular season.
Stat Line: 4 games, 20 tackles, 2 pass defense, 1 INT
When it comes to a disappointing season, can you think of one more disappointing than Witherspoon? After signing a two-year contract in the offseason, Witherspoon had a rough start to the season, mainly in Week 2 vs. the New England Patriots, and injured his hamstring in the Thursday Night Football game in Week 3 vs. the Cleveland Browns. After sitting out several weeks with the injury, he eventually landed on Injured Reserve (IR) for the remainder of the season. Now, the Steelers are faced with a decision on whether they want Witherspoon back in 2023.
Stat Line: Horrible timing of his injury
I hated putting Wormley on the loser list, but I absolutely hate the fact he injured his knee (ACL tear) in the final weeks of the regular season. Did I mention he is in a contract year? Couldn’t be worse news for Wormley, and him being in this situation is just lousy. The crazy part? Wormley was having a pretty solid season before the injury. Just another example of a really unfortunate late-season injury which will impact his future in more ways than one.
Stat Line: 16 games, 5 receptions, 7 targets, 53 yards, 10.6 ave., 31 yard long / 8 carries, 39 yards, 4.9 ave., 18 yard long
Olszewski was brought in to be the team’s return man, and possibly take some reps in the slot. While he was able to be a viable option in the slot, mainly as a jet sweep decoy, Olszewski’s season as a return man was forgettable. No moment was worse for the one-time All-Pro than watching a punt bounce off his facemask against his former team, New England, and cause a game-changing turnover. Olszewski has an uphill battle at making the team in 2023.
Calvin Austin III
Stat Line: Wasted year
Everyone was excited to see what the rookie from Memphis could do for the black and gold, but unless you went to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA to watch training camp, you didn’t see it. After a foot injury kept him out of both the preseason and regular season, he essentially had a red shirt season. To me, he reminds me too much of Senquez Golson. All he has to do is perform next season to brush off this comparison, but we’ll have to take a wait-and-see approach.
Stat Line: 17 games, 81 total tackles, 2 TFL, 2 pass defense
It seems as if the line has been drawn in the sand, and all the writing on the wall states the Steelers and Bush are destined to part ways. The knee injury crippled the Top 10 draft pick, but the fact he didn’t have his 5th year option picked up, or earn a second contract, makes the trade with the Denver Broncos into the Top 10 that much worse. Say what you want about Devin Bush, but his play post-surgery screams ‘bust’.
Stat Line: 7 games, 117 completions, 180 attempts, 65.0 completion %, 1,252 yards, 7.0 ave., 4 TD, 5 INT / 19 carries, 38 yards, 2.0 ave., 2 TD
Trubisky finds his way onto the losers list not for poor play, although the start of the season was less than stellar, but just for his overall situation. Will Trubisky be back in 2023? If he requests his release I don’t blame him. If he stays in Pittsburgh, he is likely admitting he will be relegated to back-up duty for the remainder of his NFL career. He chose the Steelers on the first day of the legal tampering period, and after the drafting of Kenny Pickett everyone saw the writing on the wall, even Trubisky. It was a lose-lose scenario, and if Trubisky wants out after just one year, I don’t blame him.
I talk about this more on the latest episode of the “Let’s Ride” podcast. Check out the Wednesday show in the player below: