In a similar vein to the NFL 100, a listing of the top 100 players in the league across all positions, as selected by the NFL players themselves, ESPN came out with its own top 100 list on Monday. That list, voted on by 50 NFL experts, rated the top 100 players for the upcoming season, looking strictly at how they are expected to perform in the upcoming year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers placed only two selections on the list for the 2021 season, but they were among the highest pairing for one team in the NFL. Edge rusher T.J. Watt led the way by ranking sixth overall, and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick came in 32nd overall.
That is an improvement for both players from their rankings last season, when the experts had Watt ranked 31st in the league, and Fitzpatrick 42nd. In writing the explanation for Watt’s rating, Brooke Pryor said:
“Watt is poised to become the highest-paid player at his position — and with good reason. He is an anchor not only for the Steelers defense but for the team as a whole. A year ago, he and Bud Dupree formed a fierce pass-rushing tandem, and with Dupree gone, Watt will be even more important. The Steelers want to make another run at the Super Bowl before the clock runs out on Ben Roethlisberger, and Watt will be a key player in their efforts to get there.”
Watt’s “signature stat” for the ranking was a total of 15 sacks, 80 disruptions, and an 18.4 percent disruption rate from 2020, making him the NFL’s most disruptive pass rusher. His ESPN projections for the upcoming season sit at 62 tackles, 11 sacks, and three forced fumbles.
Down on the list, Fitzpatrick earned this description from Pryor for his 32nd spot:
“The Steelers made the rare in-season blockbuster trade for Fitzpatrick in 2019 and haven’t regretted it for a second. A two-time Pro Bowler, Fitzpatrick is a leader in the secondary and a favorite among coaches for his football acumen and talent. On a recent episode of The Flying Coach podcast, coach Mike Tomlin said Fitzpatrick is able to “digest things and make it turn up on the field that other guys can’t.” As a free safety, his stats aren’t always reflective of his impact, but he is a dynamic player in the middle of the field. And the longer he is in Keith Butler’s defense, the greater impact he will have.”
Fitzpatrick’s signature stat was his 13 takeaways over the last two seasons, which leads all NFL safeties and is second only to New England Patriots corner J.C. Jackson’s 16. His 2021 stat projections are 85 tackles, two interceptions, and one forced fumble.
The Steelers were third among AFC North teams in total selections to the list. Both the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens had five players selected. For the Browns, it was Myles Garrett (11), Nick Chubb (54), Denzel Ward (56), Baker Mayfield (86), and Joel Bitonio (93). Baltimore had Lamar Jackson (22), Ronnie Stanley (37), Marlon Humphrey (49), Marcus Peters (57), and Mark Andrews (98).
The Cincinnati Bengals had only Jessie Bates III (83) make the list, while the Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars had no players selected. The Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers led the way with eight selections, topped by Tom Brady 20th overall.
The players above Watt in the list, in order, were Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, L.A. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, and K.C. receiver Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs (four), San Francisco 49ers (four), Bills (three), Rams (three), Packers (two), Seahawks (two), and Arizona Cardinals (two) were the franchises that placed two players on the list sooner than the Steelers.