The ever-popular Pro Football Focus spent the past four days rolling out its list of the 101 best players over the course of the 2019 season. The Pittsburgh Steelers finished with five players on the list, all of them representing the defense, and pretty much none of this should be a surprise.
The first two to check in were Minkah Fitzpatrick, ranked 94, and Steven Nelson, who was slotted at 86. Javon Hargrave later was named 68th in the second installment, but nobody was added to the list in the third.
The fourth and final installment of the list went live yesterday and rounded out the final two Steelers to be included. I’m sure you already know their names, and yes, both of them made it into the top 10, though neither in the top five. They would be T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward, the two cornerstones of the defense, both first-team All-Pros. On Watt, who was ranked sixth overall:
T.J. Watt had been an impressive pass-rusher for a while, but this was the year he took that step towards being an elite, game-changing force, and he firmly stepped outside the shadow cast by his brother. The younger Watt finished the season with 81 total pressures, a massive eight forced fumbles and even two interceptions, as he elevated his game from simply generating pressure to finishing impact plays and changing the game with turnovers. His 91.3 overall PFF grade was the highest among all edge rushers, and his pass-rushing grade of 91.7 also led the league at his position.
On Heyward, ranked 10th:
Every season there is a battle to earn the position of the best interior defender in the league not named Aaron Donald. This season, Cameron Heyward raised his hand, and his game, to take that honor. With teammate Stephon Tuitt getting injured, Heyward needed to up his game and did exactly that, registering 59 total pressures and 44 defensive stops. The latter figure was a career-best, seven more than his previous high, while his 59 pressures were good enough to earn a PFF pass-rushing grade of 84.0. His overall PFF grade of 91.5 was the best mark of his career and the second-best mark among interior defenders in 2019.
For what it’s worth, they were the second- and third-ranked defensive players in the entire league. Only Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams, ranked second, placed higher than them among all defensive players.
There is an outside possibility that both Watt and Heyward receive contract extensions from the Steelers this offseason. Heyward, entering the final year of his first extension, is a guarantee to get another one.
As for Watt, he is entering year four, with his fifth-year option an inevitability. The Steelers have never before negotiated an extension for a first-round pick prior to year five since the fifth-year option became a thing just under a decade ago, so I would imagine they will wait until next year, for no small reason being the lack of cap space.