The Pittsburgh Steelers believe that they have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. They do, after all, have three first-team All-Pros on defense, and a number of players on offense who are a year removed or less from their last Pro Bowl appearance—six of them, in fact.
So it’s not greatly surprising that five of them were projected to be among the top 100 players in the NFL during the 2020 season. You can easily guess the three players on the defensive side of the ball who are included, and you have to figure Ben Roethlisberger can at least make a top 100 list.
The other is JuJu Smith-Schuster, who at this time last year was considered one of the bright up-and-coming stars, fresh off of a 111-catch, 1426-yard Pro Bowl season and preparing to take over the number one receiver role from Antonio Brown. Nobody on offense had the season they hoped for, however. He checked in at 100 on the list.
The earliest entry was T.J. Watt, but not until the 31st spot. “As the cornerstone of the Steelers’ defense, Watt has made big strides every year since he was drafted — and 2020 will be no exception” Brooke Pryor wrote. “He’ll be able to build off of his disruptive season — 14.5 sacks, 36 quarterback hits and 8 forced fumbles — with another year of playing alongside Bud Dupree, who’s back on a franchise tag. Chasing James Harrison’s 16-sack single-season team record, Watt is also in line for a monster contract in the offseason to keep him in Pittsburgh for a long time”.
Minkah Fitzpatrick followed next, coming in at 42. “The young, versatile safety barely scratched the surface of his abilities in his first season in Pittsburgh”, his entry reads. “This season, defensive coordinator Keith Butler plans to move Fitzpatrick around to keep him involved”.
Cameron Heyward doesn’t get mentioned until 73, after having not been ranked at all a year ago, now coming off his second first-team All-Pro year. “His intangibles as a leader on and off the field make him one of the Steelers’ most valuable players, something the team should keep in mind with Heyward’s contract coming up after the season”, Pryor writes”.
Roethlisberger comes in at 78, which is barely the middle of the pack in terms of quarterback rankings, outside of the top 10, but then again, he has a lot to prove, including physically, after having three tendons in his throwing elbow surgically reattached less than a year ago.
With Smith-Schuster at 100, that means no offensive linemen made the list for Pittsburgh. No cornerbacks, either. No Devin Bush. The perception will change if this team is able to accomplish what its collective talent should be able to allow it to.