Cameron Heyward takes the second spot in the BTSC Top Ten for the second year in a row. While the Steelers captain might have been eclipsed by Minkah Fitzpatrick’s knack for game-changing plays, Heyward was a steady force over the course of the season on the field, and the Steelers undisputed leader.
Heyward is one of the top defensive lineman in the NFL, but he can easily get overlooked because while many players who earn awards and esteem have a clear role that they are better than their peers, like T.J. Watt’s pass rushing ability, Heyward wouldn’t top any list in any single category. Cameron Heyward’s strength is that he can do anything defensive lineman are asked to do and more. He’s a Jack-of-all-trades, but instead of being a master of none, Heyward is great at all of them. His stats show his versatility as well. Heyward’s numbers frequently shift from year to year whenever the Steelers need him to fill a different role on the defense. From 2017 when he led the team in sacks and QB hits to 2021 when Heyward led all NFL defensive lineman in tackles and led the team in passes defended.
Cameron Heyward is closing in on historic greatness on the Steelers as well. With 78.5 sacks, he is in second place all-time in sacks on the Steelers, trailing James Harrison by 2 sacks. Heyward also ranks 11th all time for games played as a Steeler, and has a good shot at moving into 7th place in 2023, and 3rd for Steelers defenders.
Cameron Heyward has continued to play at an incredibly high level into his thirties and doesn’t seem to be slowing down yet, and each season he adds to his Pro Football Hall of Fame resume. We are fortunate to have him as a Steeler.
With Cameron Heyward leaving our list of candidates, we welcome Larry Ogunjobi to the list of players competing for the #3 spot in our BTSC 2022 Steelers top ten.
Here are the candidates:
Bold = led Steelers in stat.
James Daniels: Daniels signed with the Steelers and, despite being only 25 years old, immediately stepped into a leadership role. While Daniels struggled early adapting to his new offense and teammates, for the vast majority of the season he was the Steelers best offensive lineman. He played every snap the Steelers were on offense, so we don’t even know what it would have been like to not have him out there. That’s a good thing.
Terrell Edmunds: Edmunds has been a starter every year of his career. His role has expanded, and his play improved over time, and he has turned into a valuable “jack of all trades” type of safety, able to run with Tyreek Hill on a deep route or fill in as a linebacker and take on blockers and runners. The old phrase continues with “master of none” and that fits Edmunds as well, as he has never been a player that created splash plays or memorable highlights. It stands out that the Steelers worst loss and most passing yards surrendered since Edmunds was drafted came against the Buffalo Bills when Edmunds was out.
Stat line: 70 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 5 passes defended.
Pat Freiermuth: Freiermuth ranked second on the Steelers in targets in his second season. He also ranked second on the team in receptions and in yards per target. Freiermuth emerged as a go-to target in 2022, leading the Steelers in 4th quarter receptions, yards, touchdowns and first downs. His 6 receptions for first downs on third or fourth down in the 4th quarter of games tied for first among tight ends in the NFL in 2022. It’s hard to understate how important Pat Freiermuth’s clutch catches were to the Steelers this past season.
Stat line: 98 targets, 63 receptions, 732 yards, 2 touchdowns.
Najee Harris: Harris didn’t match his production from his rookie campaign, and he even had lower yards per touch, but Harris still led the Steelers in rushing while cutting his total touches by 18%. He did match his rookie season in touchdowns scored, with the exact same seven rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns he had in 2021. A lot of his drop in production was due to a tough first half of the season when he was dealing with a foot injury and the offensive line was not playing well at all. The second half of the season Harris produced at a higher rate than his rookie season, averaging 88 total yards per game and scoring 7 touchdowns in 9 games.
Stat line: 1034 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns, 229 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns.
Alex Highsmith: Speaking of players that stepped up in T.J. Watt’s absence, no player stepped up their production like Alex Highsmigh. Already a top run defending edge rusher, the Steelers turned Highsmith loose in 2022, and he paid them back by leading the team in sacks with the 6th most sacks in the NFL. Highsmith didn’t make the Pro Bowl squad, joining J.J. Watt as the only players with 12+ sacks to not make the Pro Bowl this season.
Stat line: 14.5 sacks, 63 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 20 QB hits, 5 forced fumbles.
Larry Ogunjobi: Ogunjobi might not have put up the numbers he has other places, his 1.5 sacks is his lowest total since his rookie season, but he was an important player for the Steelers, filling the vacancy next to Cameron Heyward and playing a large part in the Steelers improved run defense. Ogunjobi is a play wrecker and he lived in opponents’ backfields. Whether he returns to the Steelers for a second season or not, his impact in 2022 was worthy of recognition.
Stat line: 48 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks. 11 QB hits.
George Pickens: Pickens’ rookie season might not have matched JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 2017 campaign or Chase Claypool’s 2020, but Pickens was the most exciting and efficient receiver on the Steelers this past season, leading the team in yards per target, yards per reception and touchdowns. He and Kenny Pickett also set a rookie duo record for the best passer rating for any rookie QB throwing to a rookie WR. Pickens was rated by ESPN analytics as being the best in the NFL at catching a football, which is an important part of being a wide receiver.
Stat line: 84 targets, 52 receptions, 801 yards, 4 touchdowns, 9.5 yards per target.
Kenny Pickett: The Steelers went 1-4 in the first five games Pickett played. In those games he threw two touchdowns and 8 interceptions. After the bye week he turned it around, throwing 5 touchdowns and 1 interception and the Steelers went 6-1 in games he threw at least two passes in. Pickett also recorded four game winning drives and three 4th-quarter comebacks in those six wins after the bye week. Pickett has plenty of rough areas to improve in, and yet showed a lot of promise to build on as well. While we all wait to see what his future holds, it’s hard to deny the improvement he showed over his rookie season.
Stat line: 2404 passing yards, 7 touchdowns, 9 Interceptions, 4 game-winning drives.
Cameron Sutton: Sutton has improved every season, and in 2022 was the Steelers best cornerback. He led the team in passes defended and was third in interceptions. He posted the lowest passer rating against of the Steelers cornerbacks, posting a fantastic 47.9% completion percentage allowed.
Stat line: 15 passes defended, 3 interceptions, 43 tackles.
T.J. Watt: Watt didn’t have nearly the season he had in 2021. His stats are not impressive, and he didn’t put up a bunch of highlight plays either. But the Steelers win/loss record with and without T.J. Watt continues to be remarkable. The Steelers in 2022 were 8-2 when Watt played, 1-6 when he didn’t. While there were plenty of other factors affecting the Steelers turnaround, history supports his correlation to winning. The Steelers with T.J. Watt are one of the top teams in the NFL since 2017, without him they have easily the lowest win percentage in the NFL.
Stat Line: 5.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 5 passes defended, 39 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss, 12 QB hits.
There is always debate on these articles as to whether readers are voting for the most valuable Steeler or best player, and to me that’s the same thing, so vote whatever criteria feels right to you, It’s your choice.
Who was the Steelers third best player in 2022?
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