T.J. Watt’s 2022 season wasn’t anywhere close to as successful as his 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year winning season that earned him the #1 spot in last season’s BTSC Top Ten. Watt missed seven games in 2022, and was nowhere near as productive as he was in previous seasons, posting career low totals in almost every statistic.
Despite his reduced production, Watt was still a valuable player, and kept alive the T.J. correlation, the ridiculous difference in the Steelers record with and without T.J. Watt. The Steelers did win their first game since drafting T.J. Watt in which Watt didn’t play, beating Tampa Bay in Week 6, but overall were 8-2 with T.J. Watt playing, and 1-6 without him. The Steelers are 2-12-1 (16.7%) when Watt has played less than half the snaps in a game, compared to 58-24-1 (70.5%) when Watt plays at least half the game. Over the six years Watt has played, only the Kansas City Chiefs have won more than 70.5% of their games, and the team with the worst record over the last six years still won almost 30% of their games.
While there are other factors involved, the correlation between T.J. Watt playing and the Steelers winning is so strong that it cannot be ignored. And I think it is one of the main reasons Watt still made the initial 2022 Pro Bowl roster, and only fell to 5th in this season’s Top 10. As we hope for a healthier and more productive bounce back season in 2023, it is still good to know that even if he isn’t finishing plays at a ridiculous rate, T.J. Watt is still helping the team win.
With T.J. Watt leaving our list of candidates, we welcome to the list of players now competing for the #6 spot in our BTSC 2022 Steelers top ten.
Here’s the list so far:
1 - Minkah Fitzpatrick
2 - Cameron Heyward
3 - Alex Highsmith
4 - Pat Freiermuth
5 - T.J. Watt
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.
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.
Myles Jack: Jack signed with the Steelers in Free Agency and made an immediate impact, recording 10+ tackles in his first three games of the season to go with 2 tackles for a loss and a pass defended. Jack led all Steelers inside linebackers in snaps played and led the Steelers in tackles, both solo and assisted. Myles Jack wasn’t the player NFL fans remember from his prime years in Jacksonville, but he was a very solid run defender and before his injury, wasn’t too bad in coverage either. Jack is a good candidate for a Buck linebacker position, if he can be protected from tougher coverage assignments and allowed to focus on stuffing the run, he can still be a valuable linebacker.
Stat line: 104 tackles, 61 solo tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 3 passes defended.
Diontae Johnson: Johnson has led the Steelers in targets in all four years he has been in the NFL. He’s led the team in receiving yards twice and in receiving touchdowns twice. Johnson has been voted a Pro Bowl player once as well.
Johnson is consistently open, creating space through his skillful releases off the line of scrimmage and his quick-twitch route running. While Johnson has excelled at creating space, his yards per catch and catch rate lag behind other receivers in the NFL and even on his own team. He doesn’t create a lot of yards after the catch either. But even if he isn’t the most dynamic receiver, being consistently open means he is a good target on most passing plays, and that will continue to drive his value and volume of targets.
Stat line: 147 targets, 86 receptions, 882 yards.
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.
Robert Spillane: Spillane joined the Steelers in 2019 in a move most people saw as a training camp gig. Spillane didn’t make the team, but they kept him around and when injuries depleted their special teams Spillane got the call up and led the Steelers in special teams tackles the second half of the season. He made the team the following year and every year since, playing at least 35% of defensive snaps all three years. 2022 was his first playing over 50% of defensive snaps. Spillane isn’t a star by any stretch of the imagination, and isn’t even the guy you want to be your starting linebacker. But when you don’t have those guys around? Spillane is a great player to have as the Nest Man Up.
Stat line: 79 tackles, 52 solo tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 4 passes defended, 1 sack.
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.
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 is the 6th best Steeler of 2022?