Cameron Sutton started out a 3rd round pick who earned snaps in the Steelers dime formation. In 2019 with Teryl Austin and Minkah Fitzpatrick joining the team, Sutton’s role expanded as the team moved Minkah Fitzpatrick around and Sutton was asked to fill a number of roles. In 2020 Sutton went from playing roughly 1/4th of defensive snaps to over half as he became a key rotational piece in the secondary while the next season would see him taking over as a starting cornerback.
Sutton’s play over his two years starting for the Steelers earned him a big contract with the Detroit Lions, and for good reason. In 2022 Sutton posted his best season in coverage, dropping his catch rate allowed from over 60% for the first four years of his career to 48%, while being targeted more than any other season. His yards per target allowed (5.3) tied his 2019 number while obviously filling a much tougher role on the defense. And it wasn’t circumstantial, Sutton went from 6 passes defended in 2021 to 15 in 2022. Considering the drop in his catch rate allowed was worth 13 receptions, 9 more passes defended makes up most of the difference. Sutton also added a career high 3 interceptions.
Sutton’s rise from a dime back afterthought to sought after starter in the last three years is very impressive, and it is good to see a Steelers corner leave the team because another team paid them a lot to leave rather than because the Steelers needed to replace them for poor play.
With the addition of Cameron Sutton to the BTSC 2022 Top Ten, we have our full list:
#1 Minkah Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick is a staple on any list of the Steelers best players since 2019. Fitzpatrick was the leader of the secondary that led the NFL in interceptions. Fitzpatrick led the Steelers in interceptions and ranked second in tackles. He ranked third in passes defensed, recorded a defensive touchdown and a blocked field goal. Minkah Fitzpatrick truly did it all for the Steelers 2022 defense.
Stat line: 6 interceptions, 96 tackles, 11 passes defended, 1 defensive touchdown.
#2 Cameron Heyward
Heyward has been the leader of the Steelers defense for years now, and his play continues to be top notch. Heyward had more help on the defensive line with the addition of Larry Ogunjobi, but with T.J. Watt injured and only able to record 4 sacks this season, Heyward stepped up in the splash department, coming second on the team in sacks, and first in tackles for a loss and QB hits. With his more aggressive rushing, Heyward didn’t record as many pass defenses (he led the team with 9 in 2021) and failed to record an interception for the first time since 2019. One of the most underrated attributes of Heyward is his willingness to fill any role the defense needs, and his ability to excel at any of them. He’s a great leader, and a Hall of Fame-worthy player.
Stat Line: 74 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss, 22 QB hits, 4 passes defended.
#3 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.
#4 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.
#5 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.
#6 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.
#7 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.
#8 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.
#9 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.
#10 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.
Comparing this list to the 2021 list, Ben Roethlisberger is no longer with the team, and was replaced by Kenny Pickett, Chris Boswell (#5), Diontae Johnson (#7) and Akhello Witherspoon (#10) all fell off the list while George Pickens, James Daniels and Cameron Sutton joined the list.
T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Najee Harris, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pat Freiermuth, and Alex Highsmith made the list both years. The list has 5 players from offense and 5 from defense, although the rankings favor the defense pretty heavily. I think most of the selections would be on anyone’s list, but that doesn’t mean we all agree with the list. I for one had Terrell Edmunds ahead of Cameron Sutton for the tenth spot and had Cameron Heyward as my #1.
But that’s half the fun of these lists, arguing about the parts we disagree with, so we’ll have one final poll for what waw wrong on this list, and you can comment below what you personally would change.
What did the 2022 BTSC Top Ten get wrong?
This poll is closed
Nothing, it’s great. Everything is great.
Kenny Pickett is far too low.
Kenny Pickett shouldn’t even be on this list.
Where is Terrell Edmunds?
I wanted to vote for Devin Bush!
Najee Harris is a RB, they have no value!
How is Alex Highsmith rated above T.J. Watt?
My favorite player didn’t make the list.
Diontae Johnson not making the top ten is a travesty.
The polls were rigged.