It’s always difficult to quantify a players value in a season. There is no WAR system, not officially anyway, like there is in baseball. But Pro Football Reference takes a stab at it every season with their “Approximate Value” system, attempting to put a number value on a player’s season. It does seem to weigh baseline numbers more heavily, like games started, but it’s always an interesting perspective.
Here’s how things stack up for the Steelers in 2021, their top season leaders in Approximate Value. We’ll look at the top ten:
|DL Cam Heyward||16|
|EDGE T.J. Watt||15|
|RB Najee Harris||10|
|WR Diontae Johnson||9|
|QB Ben Roethlisberger||9|
|WR Chase Claypool||7|
|EDGE Alex Highsmith||7|
|OT Dan Moore Jr.||7|
|OT Chukwuma Okorafor||7|
|Seven Others Tied||6|
If you’re wondering, those six others are: ILB Devin Bush, S Terrell Edmunds, S Minkah Fitzpatrick, LB Joe Schobert, CB Cam Sutton, OG Trai Turner, and DE Chris Wormley.
Clearly, this is an imperfect number, Fitzpatrick was much more valuable than Bush or Schobert but was weighed down because of the lack of obvious impact plays like interceptions and takeaways.
Despite T.J. Watt’s record-breaking season, Cam Heyward leads the Steelers in AV at 16, tied for the second-highest of his career (he had an AV of 17 in 2019). Heyward and Watt are head and shoulders above the rest, the top two defenders by a wide margin. The next closest behind them is Alex Highsmith with an approximate value of seven, more than half the others.
Najee Harris has the top mark in AV at ten, though it was just the sixth-highest of any rookie in the NFL behind LB Micah Parsons (18), QB Mac Jones (14), OT Rashawn Slater (14), WR Ja’Marr Chase (13), and DE Gregory Rousseau (11). Harris was the only player on the Steelers’ offense to start all 17 games and one of just three on the team, joining Heyward and SS Terrell Edmunds.
Johnson’s 2021 AV was his highest ever though just one point above his drop-filled 2020. Moore Jr. and Okorafor’s value were boosted by each starting in 16 of the 17 games while Turner was the only one to start all 17, battling a knee injury to finish out the year.
Of Steelers who played a heavy amount of snaps, 10+ starts, TE Zach Gentry had the lowest AV at just one, though his starts were skewed by the use of 12 personnel that gave him official starts but far from starter’s playing time. Joe Haden had a foot injury that limited him to just eleven games but came away with an AV of just four while Kendrick Green’s rookie struggles gave him a value of only five.
Across the league, Bills’ QB Josh Allen came away with the highest Approximate Value at 19. Of non-QBs, WR Cooper Kupp and Parsons had the highest AV coming in at 18. The best AV in history is LaDainian Tomlinson’s 2006 season that saw him rush for over 1800 yards and a record-setting 28 touchdowns, garnering him an AV of 26.
If you’re curious, here’s a link to their complete AV list for the 2021 Steelers.