Najee Harris follows his third place finish in the 2021 BTSC Top Ten with a 6th place finish in 2022. Harris won the vote over Kenny Pickett by only a few votes and not even 20 votes ahead of George Pickens as Steeler fans clearly struggled to decide who the second best player on offense was behind Pat Freiermuth.
Harris dealt with injury and an offensive line trying to find cohesion in the first half of the season, but took off after the bye week, averaging 88 yards per game and scoring 7 touchdowns in the Steelers final 9 games. The Steelers running back has often carried the Steelers offense in his first two seasons, and Steeler fans should look forward to the 2023 season with what looks to be the best offensive line Harris has run behind and with quarterback Kenny Pickett entrenched as the starter and with NFL experience under his belt.
Perhaps the best sign from 2022 was Harris being more effective with fewer snaps and carries, as the Steelers Jaylen Warren stepped up and took some of the load off of Harris. The Steelers would love to have a healthy and effective Najee Harris for the entire season, and the contributions of Jaylen Warren and growth from the rest of the offense could provide the team with that exact scenario.
With Harris and the run game rolling in the second half the Pittsburgh Steelers were a top offense at moving the ball into at least Field Goal range, ranking 2nd in the NFL in percentage of drives that ended with a touchdown or field goal attempt. Going forward the Steelers need better execution as the field shrinks to shift some of their 1st place ranking in field goal attempts into their 17th ranked touchdown percentage. But if the Steelers can continue to build a better situation for Najee Harris, the offense is going to be successful.
With Najee Harris leaving our list of candidates, we welcome Levi Wallace to the list of players now competing for the #7 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
6 - Najee Harris
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.
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.
Levi Wallace: Wallace joined the Steelers as a free agent in 2022, and struggled with injuries in the early parts of the season. He was healthier after the bye, when the entire defense was much healthier and had a big part of the Steelers defensive turnaround after the bye week. He played roughly 3/4ths the snaps Cameron Sutton did and was targeted more than Sutton. His struggles in the early to mid season give him far worse advanced stats than Sutton, but the last third of the season Wallace had very good stats, and he got his hands on a good number of passes. If Wallace can build on his play from late in 2023, the Steelers will have a very good cornerback.
Stat line: 13 passes defended, 4 interceptions, 48 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 was the 7th best Steeler of 2022?
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