To no one’s surprise, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cam Heyward, and T.J. Watt all made Touchdown Wire’s list of the Top 101 players in the NFL. The order and ranking they came in though might catch some fans off-guard.
Doug Farrar and Mark Schofield did a great job putting together a comprehensive list of the best current players in the NFL filled with analysis and tape breakdowns for each player. But some Steelers’ fans might not like where those three ended up, especially T.J. Watt. Here’s how the website slotted those three.
Minkah Fitzpatrick – #37
TJ Watt – #34
Cam Heyward – #20
Heyward in 20th place is on the money. Fitzpatrick at 37 feels a tad low but not unreasonably so. But Watt at 34? That’s a ranking you might give him last year before he followed up his 2019 campaign with an equally impressive one. He’s someone who should be much closer to #10 than he should be to #50 and other rankings have reflected as much.
Here’s how they broke down each player. On Fitzpatrick, they noted his playmaking ability and ball skills.
“When the Steelers traded a 2020 first-round pick for Fitzpatrick early in the 2019 season, they immediately shifted his focus from a do-it-all guy to free safety, and Fitzpatrick responded by becoming one of the best in the game…”
Fitzpatrick has picked off nine passes in two seasons and 30 starts with the Steelers after Kevin Colbert boldly gave up a future first-round pick for him. It was a controversial move at the time and an almost unprecedented one. 2020 was the first time the Steelers didn’t have a first-round pick since 1967. But it was more than worth the cost as Fitzpatrick was the missing piece of the defense, transforming it into an elite group.
Watt came in at 34th place with the site writing:
“If you’ve watched Watt burn off the edge over the last few seasons, it should come as little surprise that he was the most productive pass-rusher as a 9-technique end — the speed-rusher who aligns not only outside the tackle, but also the tight end…nobody had more total pressures as a 9-tech than Watt’s 59.”
Watt easily could’ve been the league’s defensive MVP the last two seasons. But he lost out to Patriots’ CB Stephon Gilmore in 2019 and Rams’ DT Aaron Donald last season. Watt led the NFL in sacks with 15 of them in 2020 and is just outside the top 10 of the Steelers’ all-time list.
Players rated ahead of Watt included Packers’ safety Darnell Savage, Browns’ quarterback Baker Mayfield, and Titans’ QB Ryan Tannehill. It’s hard to justify any of those players being considered better than Watt, who is arguably the second-best defensive player in football.
Heyward ranked highest of all Steelers, at #20.
“Heyward was one of the table-setters on the NFL’s best defense in 2020, and he did so relatively quietly, because he had just four sacks. But that doesn’t tell nearly the entire story — overall, Heyward had 14 quarterback hits, 45 quarterback hurries, and 32 stops. Throughout his estimable career, Heyward has been a force no matter where he lines up — he had 32 snaps in the A-gap, 456 in the B-gap, 243 over the tackles, and 114 outside the tackles in 2020 — and he’s always been tough to stop wherever he shows up.”
That’s a nice breakdown of Heyward’s alignment and shows his versatility along the Steelers’ front. His numbers were down last season compared to 2019 (his sacks fell from nine to four) but his overall impact remained largely the same. As they wrote, if it wasn’t for Donald, Heyward could be argued as the game’s top interior defensive lineman.
No other Steeler beyond those three made the top 101. Unsurprisingly and deservedly so, Kansas City Chiefs’ QB Patrick Mahomes was named the game’s best player.