‘Tis the season for lists and rankings as we continue counting down the remaining weeks before the start of training camps. Monday morning, Pro Football Focus Senior Analyst Sam Monson identified the best 101 players in the NFL right now and it includes three members of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense in the top 21.
Not surprisingly, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was ranked very high on Monson’s list at No. 3 overall with the two players ranked ahead of him being Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Here is what Monson wrote about Brown and his ranking.
It’s ironic that the best receiver in the game is not a 6-foot-3, 220-pound physical freak in the way so many of the top players are. Antonio Brown is 5-foot-10, under 190 pounds, and was a sixth-round draft choice, but he is at the top of the game and virtually uncoverable. Broncos CB Chris Harris Jr. hadn’t allowed a touchdown for 36-straight games before he faced Antonio Brown this past season. Brown beat him for two scores in that game, as well as 12 catches and 137 yards. He is able to take apart some of the best cover men in the game, and would have put up simply mind-bending numbers had his quarterback stayed healthy this season. His projected numbers with a fully-healthy Roethlisberger would be 158 receptions (all-time record), 2,114 receiving yards (all-time record) and 15 touchdowns. He may not be the physical freak that teams are looking for when they draft a receiver, but he is the best receiver in the game right now playing the best football of his career.
In addition to thinking that the Steelers currently have the best wide receiver in the league, Monson also has Le’Veon Bell as his highest-rated running back entering the 2016 season. Monson writes of Bell, who he ranked 10th overall:
Le’Veon Bell only carried the ball 113 times last season before being shut down, and yet he ended the year with the fifth-best rushing grade in the NFL if we lower the snap threshold far enough to include him. He averaged 3.4 yards per carry after contact, which is more than C.J. Spiller averaged in total yards per carry. When you add in his work as a receiver, there is no more complete back than Bell, who can play all three downs and be a real threat in every facet of the game in a way other backs on this list can’t be. Right now Bell is the best RB in the game, and we could see something spectacular if he is on the field every game in the 2016 season.
While Ben Roethlisberger isn’t Monson’s highest-ranked quarterback, he does have the Steelers signal caller ranked 21st overall and 4th overall as far as the position goes. He writes:
With Roethlisberger playing last season, Antonio Brown averaged 9.7 catches per game, 132 yards, and scored all of his receiving touchdowns. When he was injured, Brown managed just 4.3 catches and 59 yards per game, despite being pretty much uncoverable. Roethlisberger would have been firmly in the MVP conversation in 2015 had he played in every game, and even against the league’s best defense in the playoffs, he was able to put up 339 passing yards and complete 64.9 percent of his passes. His career has been remarkably consistent, and he shows no sign of dipping in form, while the rest of that class of 2004 have begun to struggle. Roethlisberger should be seen as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, not just a top-10 guy.
There’s been a lot of discussion as of late as to which NFL team currently has the top offensive trio in the league and based on Monson’s Monday rankings, it’s the Steelers. Conversely, the Steelers were one of three teams that failed to have at least one of their current defensive players ranked by Monson. Was this a snub or an oversight? Personally, I could come up with several strong arguments as to why Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward belongs in at least the bottom quarter of these rankings.