Steelers’ T.J. Watt Cracks Top 10 Of CBS Sports’ Top 100 Players Of 2022

Fresh off of his first-ever Defensive Player of the Year award while tying the NFL’s single-season all-time sacks record at 22.5, Pittsburgh Steelers’ star outside linebacker T.J. Watt is truly among the biggest names and the biggest stars in the NFL.

CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco certainly agrees, placing Watt at No. 7 overall in his top 100 players of 2022 rankings, marking one of four defenders in the top 10 overall. Los Angeles Rams’ star Aaron Donald came in at No. 1 in Prisco’s rankings, while Watt slotted ahead of Cleveland’s Myles Garrett at No. 9 and Los Angeles Rams’ standout cornerback Jalen Ramsey at No. 10.

“He was the Defensive Player of the Year last season after leading the league in sacks with 22.5, which tied Michael Strahan for the all-time single-season record,” Prisco writes regarding Watt’s placement. “Watt is also good against the run, which makes him a double threat on the edge.”

Watt truly is a game-breaker on the edge for the Steelers. Even while seeing double and triple-teams, the star pass rusher consistently finds a way to get home to the quarterback. It’s remarkable to watch on a snap-to-snap basis. Despite his exploits on the field (72.0 career sacks, 22 forced fumbles, 80 tackles for loss, 32 passes defensed, four interceptions, seven fumble recoveries) in just five seasons, Watt still ranks behind Donald overall in the views of the national media — for now.

Donald is arguably the greatest defensive player in the history of the game. Based on the trajectory Watt is one, he might have that argument in a few years himself.

Along with Watt in Prisco’s top 100, Steelers’ defensive lineman Cam Heyward, wide receiver Diontae Johnson, and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick also cracked the list. Heyward landed at No. 27 overall, ranking as the second interior defensive lineman in the rankings behind Donald, edging out the likes of Tennessee’s Jeffrey Simmons (No. 31 overall) and Cameron Jordan (No. 39 overall) at the position.

“He might be the game’s most underrated down player,” Prisco writes. “He is a force who doesn’t pile up huge sacks numbers in their scheme. But he did have 10 last year, which is the second-best of his career.”

Heyward truly is a force for the Steelers, especially opposite Watt along the Steelers’ defensive front. He’s as strong as they come in the NFL and is quick enough to shoot gaps and blow up plays in the backfield on a regular basis. Though he is 33 years old, the All-Pro defensive lineman continues to get better and better late in his career, which is remarkable.

After Watt and Heyward, there is a sizable gap until Johnson cracks the rankings at No. 70 overall for Prisco. Based on Prisco’s rankings, Johnson lands at the 12th receiver in the top 100, behind the likes of Los Angeles Rams’ star Cooper Kupp (No. 5 overall), Las Vegas Raiders’ Davante Adams (No. 11), Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson (No. 13), Miami’s Tyreek Hill (No. 17) and Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase (No. 18), just to name a few.

“He had a career-best 107 catches with eight touchdowns last season,” Prisco writes of Johnson. “He tied Davonte Adams for second-most targets per game at 10.6.”

The talent is certainly there with Johnson, who emerged as a legitimate No. 1 receiver for the black and gold in 2021, regardless of how the Steelers’ fan base feels about him as he finds himself in a contract dispute. Able to get open against the best corners in the game, Johnson has the goods to ascend to a higher level in his game, especially if he can clean up some of the concentration drop issues that popped up in his game once again late in 2021.

Based on Prisco’s rankings, Johnson slotted ahead of Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins (No. 71), Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans (No. 73), and Philadelphia’s A.J. Brown (No. 94) in the top 100. That’s how highly Johnson is viewed outside of the Steel City.

Finally, Fitzpatrick cracks the list at No. 97 overall, which feels a bit low for the standout Steelers’ safety. While he is coming off of a down year in 2021, at least based on turnovers created, Fitzpatrick remains a key piece for the Steelers’ defense, coming on strong down the stretch last season to help the Steelers get into the playoffs.

“After an impressive 2020 season, his play dropped some last season,” Prisco writes. “Early in the season, he just wasn’t as good. But he came on late to help the Steelers make the playoffs.”

Fitzpatrick was dealing with a lot of moving parts early in the season, which led to some perceived struggles. He was rather consistent all season long though, and that showed down the stretch, especially as the Steelers struggled against the run.

Fitzpatrick’s ranking at No. 97 puts him as the eighth safety in the rankings, two slots behind Cincinnati’s Jessie Bates at No. 95 overall. Tampa Bay’s Antoine Winfield Jr. was Prisco’s top safety, coming in at No. 49 overall.

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