George Pickens joins his quarterback and fellow rookie Kenny Pickens on the BTSC Top Ten players list for 2022. The young man started Week 1 for the Steelers but struggled in the first few weeks catching 5 of his 12 targets (41.7%) for 65 yards (5.42 yards per target) and no touchdowns. In Week 4 he caught 2 of 4 targets for 31 yards in the first half, and then with Kenny Pickett coming in at halftime caught all four second half targets for 71 yards.
The Pickett to Pickens connection would continue to thrive, as the two recorded a 65.5% completion percentage, a 9.6 yards per target, a 4-0 touchdown to interception total and the highest passer rating (119.5) between any two rookies (minimum 50 passes) since the NFL/AFL merger. George Pickens also showed a knack for big plays, leading the Steelers with 18 receptions on balls thrown 15+ yards downfield, ten more than any other Steeler and 47.4% of the teams total downfield receptions while accounting for 35.5% of downfield targets. He scored 2 of the Steelers 3 touchdowns on those throws, and none of the Steelers 7 interceptions on downfield throws were to George Pickens.
As the Steelers look to grow offensively in 2023, getting George Pickens even more involved in the offense (15.3% of Steelers targets in 2022) will be a big part of that plan. The last time the Steelers saw a yards per target higher than Pickens’ 9.5 it was JuJu Smith-Schuster’s rookie season in 2017, and Smith-Schuster made the Pro Bowl the next year as his targets doubled. Mike Wallace posted an incredibly high yards per target his rookie season as well, and he recorded about 500 more yards in his second season, which is roughly the same increase as Smith-Schuster. Those players both had veteran Ben Roethlisberger as their quarterback in their breakout seasons, so it isn’t fair to expect the same jump from Pickett in 2023, but it will be exciting to watch the young man grow from his rookie season.
With George Pickens leaving our list of candidates, we welcome Chris Boswell to the list of players now competing for the #9 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
7 - Kenny Pickett
8 - George Pickens
Here are the candidates:
Bold = led Steelers in stat.
Chris Boswell: Boswell didn’t have a great 2022 campaign, missing 5 games with injuries and posting his worst season since his awful 2018 season. He was one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL from 2019-2021, making over 90% of his field goal attempts each season but in 2022 that dropped to 71%. Even in a poor season Boswell kicked several game winning field goals and led the Steelers in scoring.
Stat line: 20/28 field goals, 18/18 extra points, 78 points.
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.
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.
Mitchell Trubisky: Trubisky joined the Steelers and won the starting job. The Steelers offense was a wreck the first half of the season, and while Trubisky was a big part of that, the results from Kenny Pickett before the bye week make Trubisky’s time as the starter look a lot better. Outside of an ugly game against Baltimore in Week 14, Trubisky didn’t turn the ball over much at all, and for all of Steelers fans calls to throw the ball downfield more, Trubisky was leading the NFL in downfield attempts when he was replaced by Kenny Pickett as the starter, with both Diontae Johnson and George Pickens in the top 5 for most targets 15+ yards downfield. After losing the starting job, Trubisky would play in three more games, and the Steelers would win 2 of those 3, with the aforementioned disaster in Baltimore as the only loss.
Stat line: 1252 passing yards, 4 TD, 5 INT, 81.1 passer rating.
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 9th best Steeler of the 2022 season?
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