By reading the title, I’m sure you can already guess the non-quarterback the Pittsburgh Steelers can’t afford to lose this year.
Ok, it’s T.J. Watt. Of course it’s T.J. Watt. CBS’ Cody Benjamin put together a list of the most valuable non-QBs to each team and selected Watt for the Steelers, writing:
“Pittsburgh runs on its defense, and while there are certainly other veterans who could help make up for Watt’s potential loss (i.e. Cameron Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick), few NFL edge rushers are as consistently threatening. Watt is working toward a fifth straight 13-sack season and hasn’t logged fewer than 35 QB hits since 2018.”
Frankly, given the lack of an established franchise quarterback, you could argue Watt is the most valuable player on the team even if you included QBs into that mix. The 2021 Defensive Player of the Year, Watt tied Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record with 22.5 last season. Though Watt benefitted from a 17th regular season game, he still tied the mark in just 15 starts, not even considering all the in-game time he missed due to nagging injuries. Watt is among the most dominant defensive players in football and until Aaron Donald’s recent pay raise, was the highest paid non-QB in the league.
He’ll enter 2022 as one of the key figures of this roster, part of a defense that must return to Top 10 form if the Steelers want to be competitive. Keeping the score down and giving their offense good field position are critical components to Pittsburgh’s success.
Watt should end this season as the franchise’s all-time sack leader, besting James Harrison, Joe Greene, and all the rest. A remarkable accomplishment for someone entering just his sixth year in the league.
It’s hard to argue there is any other non-QB as valuable as Watt. Defensively, you could look towards Cam Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick, both certainly worthy of consideration. Heyward is a leader on and off the field and without Stephon Tuitt, losing Heyward would be a monumental blow. Pittsburgh has no other free safety with the range, instincts, and ball skills Fitzpatrick has and he takes away a lot of air space for quarterbacks. Offensively, the options are more limited, but Najee Harris would be up there. The Steelers must run the ball well this year and Harris will be the team’s workhorse back. Depth behind him is scarce. A committee of Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland is no one’s definition of a good time.
Around the rest of the AFC North, OT Jonah Williams was picked for the Bengals (a bit of a curious choice), DE Myles Garrett for the Browns, and OT Ronnie Stanley for the Ravens. So a very trench-heavy focus around the AFC North.