The NFL season is already 10 weeks old and, miraculously, the Steelers are 6-3 and own the top Wildcard spot in the AFC. Who are the players most responsible for getting them there? These are the 10 best Steelers through the season’s first 10 weeks.
HM: DT Keeanu Benton
I didn’t want to write this without acknowledging how awesome Benton has been this season. The Steelers needed him to play above his age when Cam Heyward went down, and he’s rose above those expectations. He has been a force on the interior all season, and Pittsburgh will be in great hands with him anchoring the defensive line for the next decade.
10. RB Jaylen Warren & Najee Harris
This is a little bit of a cheat, but both guys have raised each other’s play and we’re all going to die one day so who could possibly care if I show both of them some love. The Steelers have hit their stride in the run game. Warren is coming off his first career 100 yard game and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season, and is also second on the team in catches with 31. Harris has really come into his own, as well. He has 464 yards on the season with three touchdowns, including two in the last two weeks. It took some time (which is why they aren’t higher on the list) but Pittsburgh has one of the best running back duos in football, and that’s a really awesome thing to see.
9. CB Joey Porter Jr.
It’s truly amazing how quickly Joey Porter has become one of the best man-to-man coverage cornerbacks in football. He allowed just two receptions for nine yards on five targets against the Packers, taking his season total to just eight receptions on 25 targets. His 32 percent reception percentage leads all cornerbacks with at least 91 coverage snaps played,
8. OT Broderick Jones
It’s amazing how quickly Jones changed the way this offense runs the ball. In weeks 1-7, the Steelers were 30th in the NFL in yards before first contact- they are second in the league over the last three weeks in that category. They have also utilized Jones as a puller, which has done a lot of good for Najee Harris, who is at his best when being utilized as a gap-scheme runner. The Steelers have run for a combined 371 yards in the last two games, and Jones has been a catalyst for that.
7. LB Cole Holcomb
Much like another guy we’ll get to, Holcomb helped solve the weakest link on the Steelers’ defense from the past several seasons- inside linebacker. Holcomb is still tied for second on the team in tackles, despite being lost for the season in Week 9 against the Titans. His shoes will not be easy to fill for the remainder of the season.
6. S Minkah Fitzpatrick
The splash plays haven’t come for Fitzpatrick the way we are accustom to, but a lot of that has to do with his usage. He’s spent more time in the box, but has played that role well. He is second on the team in tackles, and first in solo tackles. He is still the unquestioned leader on the back end, and his absence has been felt over the last two weeks.
5. EDGE Alex Highsmith
Highsmith’s sack numbers may not blow anyone away, but he’s applied constant pressure to the quarterback all season long. His efforts against the Browns in Week 2 won the Steelers the game- he took over with an opening-drive pick-sis and a forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown. He has earned that big pay-day he got in the offseason.
4. LB Elandon Roberts
Roberts was the best signing of the offseason for the Steelers. The Steelers have lacked a real presence at off-ball linebacker for a long while, and he, along with Holcomb, have come in and been immediate impact players. Roberts leads the team in tackles, and is second on the team in tackles for loss. He’s also deflected six passes in pass coverage.
3. K Chris Boswell
Boswell is arguably the second-best kicker in football. He is 14-of-15 field goals this season, including 4-of-5 on field goals of 50+ yard field goals. Because of how many field goals the Steelers settle for, and without his reliability, the Steelers aren’t 5-3.
2. WR George Pickens
His play has taken a real backseat these last three games, but Pickens has half of the Steelers’ receiving touchdowns this season. He leads the team in catches, yards, and touchdowns, and his ability to constantly make circus catches to extend drives has been a saving grace for a largely bad passing game.
1. EDGE T.J. Watt
Alright, we all knew who was going to be No. 1, but how could he not be? Without T.J. Watt, the Steelers are in the sweepstakes for the No. 1 overall pick. He is once again amongst the league leaders in sacks and pressures, and he’s had multiple key takeaways that have fueled victories in games Pittsburgh would have otherwise lost. For my money, he’s the best defensive player in football, and without a doubt the best player on the Steelers’ roster.