The Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 ended with a playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the AFC Playoffs. There were several bright spots for the team last year, and up-and-down season saw some individual players be a cut above the competition.
Every offseason Pro Football Focus (PFF) releases their Top 101 players from the previous year. This article, similar to the NFL Network's Top 100 list, attempts to rank the best players, regardless of position, from the previous year. This unbelievably daunting task certainly will have fans feeling slighted when their favorite players don't make the list, or aren't ranked high enough for their personal liking.
The PFF Top 101 had three Steelers represented on the list for the 2015 season. Take a look at who made the list, their previous ranking, and their justification of the selection.
92. James Harrison (Unranked)
At this point you have to begin to wonder if Harrison is legitimately ageless. A perennial underdog story, Harrison is now 37 years old and is still the best pass-rusher on the Steelers' defense. He notched 48 total pressures, but also a strong grade against the run, and in all honesty shows no sign of truly declining despite his advanced age. If anything he ended the season stronger than he began it, with a sack in each of the Steelers' two postseason games.
Best performance: Week 5 at San Diego: +7.1 grade
Key stat: Harrison had the third-highest run-stop percentage for 3-4 OLBs at 9.0
24. Ben Roethlisberger (36)
But for missing time due to injury, we could have seen a season from Ben Roethlisberger that would have put him at the very sharp end of this list, because when he was on the field, he was excellent. His accuracy and efficiency throwing downfield was remarkable in 2015, completing 27 passes for 1,170 yards just on deep (20+ air yards) passes over the regular season. In his two postseason games, he added another three such completions for 105 yards, orchestrating one of the league's most dangerous passing attacks.
Best performance: Week 13 versus Indianapolis: +8.5
Key stat: Roethlisberger was accurate on 50.0 percent of his deep throws, second-best in the NFL.
2. Antonio Brown (7)
The best wide receiver in the game right now, Antonio Brown is simply unstoppable against any conventional coverage. Broncos CB Chris Harris Jr. hadn't allowed a touchdown for 36 straight games before facing Brown in Week 15—the Steelers wideout grabbed two TDs in Harris' coverage that game. Brown isn't a physical specimen in the way some of the NFL's top receivers are, but excels at every fundamental aspect of the position. He earned the highest grade for a wideout PFF has ever given, and was only slowed down when the Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger to injury and were forced to play Landry Jones and Michael Vick. Had Brown been paired with Roethlisberger all season, his stats project out as 158 catches for 2,114 yards and 15 touchdowns; the first two of those three numbers would be all-time single-season records.
Best performance: Week 9 versus Oakland: +8.5
Key stat: Brown's cumulative overall season grade of +36.1 was the highest for any NFL WR in the PFF era (since 2007).
As stated earlier, every year there are players who certainly could be listed as snubs from the list. Although there is no chance for every team to have all of their prime time players on the list, there are certainly those who could be called "snubs". Here are some names which should have at least been considered on the Top 101 list.
Cameron Heyward - Having 7 sacks from the 3-4 DE position is no easy task, and when you add in his tremendous play against the run and Heyward should certainly top the list of snubs.
Martavis Bryant - Yes, he missed the first 5 games of the season with a 4-game suspension and a knee injury, but what he did when coming into the lineup certainly is noteworthy. It feels a one-year suspension in 2016 tarnished Bryant's 50 catches for 765 yards and 6 touchdown performance.
DeAngelo Williams - Williams filled in for Le'Veon Bell during his two-game suspension, and carried the load when he was lost for the second half of the season. If not for a foot injury in the season finale against the Browns, Williams would have rushed for over 1,000 yards on limited duty. His 907 yards and 11 touchdowns led the team in 2015.
William Gay - There is no doubt the 30th ranked pass defense isn't going to get much credit, but if one player should be on the list it is William Gay. Gay didn't allow his receiver to catch a touchdown pass till the end of the regular season, and was able to snatch two interceptions and a sack in 2015. There is a reason they call him "Big Play" Willie Gay.