Our second annual Steelers Depot awards, choosing our superlatives of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season. Like last year, we’re naming the Steelers MVPs, the Rookie of the Year, the Play of the Year, and several other categories. Alex Kozora, Matthew Marczi, and Josh Carney have turned in their respective votes over the last several days. Now… it’s my turn!
Offensive MVP: RB Najee Harris
Najee Harris started out the season in a bit of a slump as a combination of poor offensive line play and his own efficiencies as a runner held back what many hoped would be a strong sophomore season. However, Harris managed to write the ship and quite literally, became the face of Pittsburgh’s offense, paring with UDFA Jaylen Warren to spearhead a revitalized rushing attack that gashed opposing defenses throughout the second half of the season.
Harris finished the season with 272 carries for 1,034 yards (3.8 YPC) and seven rushing TDs along with 41 receptions for 229 yards and three scores. Harris saw his snaps decrease with Warren in the fold, but he appeared fresher and was able to bludgeon opposing defenses as a physical runner. He had six games over 80 rushing yards in the second half of the season and played his best when Pittsburgh needed it most, having the offense adopt a run-first mentality with Harris as the focal point.
Defensive MVP: Minkah Fitzpatrick
Alex Highsmith and Cam Heyward are also deserving candidates, but S Minkah Fitzpatrick wins this one hands-down in my book. Fitzpatrick posted a career-high six interceptions along with 11 PBUs while still aiding in run defense with 96 total stops (56 solo). He managed to make impact days on a weekly basis, kicking things off Week 1 against the Bengals with a pick six and a key blocked extra point to give Pittsburgh a shot at victory. He also had game-sealing interceptions against Atlanta and Baltimore to vault Pittsburgh into playoff contention over the final stretch.
Fitzpatrick’s efforts as a feared member of the secondary helped Pittsburgh tie the league lead in interceptions. While T.J. Watt can be seen as the defense’s most valuable player and the most valuable player overall, that award goes to Fitzpatrick this season thanks to his efforts with Watt missing time.
Rookie of the Year: QB Kenny Pickett
You guys know of my infatuation with WR George Pickens, but you got to go with Pickett on this one. This team managed to go 7-2 down the stretch thanks in part to Pickett’s progression as a passer, his poise and leadership, and his knack for coming up with the clutch play in the waiting moments of games. He also did a great job of taking care of the football in the second half of the season, part of the reason why Pittsburgh moved on from Mitch Trubisky to Pickett.
The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Pickett in hope of having him become their franchise QB, and he showed flashes of that in the second half of the season. I don’t know if Kenny Pickett has the sheer talent profile or the upside to be ‘the guy’, but I do know that he can become a good game manager at worst and help a conservative offense move the football and get out of close games. We need to see more explosive plays downfield and better overall awareness from Pickett in Year Two, but given how he finished the season, I’m here for going in with an open mind that he can become Pittsburgh’s franchise QB for the next decade.
Biggest Surprise: CB Cam Sutton
CB Cam Sutton has been a solid player for the Steelers since seeing his role increase in the 2020 season, earning a full-time starting gig in 2021. However, he was normally seen as this tweener that is better suited for the slot, not having the long speed or ideal size to match up with WR1s on the perimeter. We went into 2022 expecting Sutton to be this team’s slot corner, but he far exceeded expectations, finishing with a career-high three interceptions and 15 PBUs, almost double than his best mark in 2020 with eight.
He may not be a prototypical “shutdown” CB, but Sutton’s play has earned him quite the raise this offseason. He had a QB rating against of just 63.3. Post-bye week, that number dropped to 56.3. Sutton is a versatile chess piece that can play on the outside, in the slot, and even a bit at safety, which helps rotate and move Minkah Fitzpatrick around. While Pittsburgh still should look for more of a toolsy boundary corner that can develop into a CB1, re-signing Sutton should be Priority #1 for this team this offseason.
Biggest Disappointment: LB Myles Jack
I wanted to go with Tyson Alualu or Larry Ogunjobi here, but LB Myles Jack gets my vote. When the Steelers signed Jack this offseason, we were hoping that he would be the team’s best ILB since Ryan Shazier, having the pedigree and athleticism to make plays against the run as well as provide quality coverage. Sadly, while Jack was serviceable, he didn’t play to the level many expected him to when he signed a two-year deal worth $16 million.
He racked up tackles to start the year but managed only three TFLs and three PBUs with no sacks, INTs, or forced fumbles. He also struggled in coverage throughout the season, and due to injury, he ended up seeing his role reduced for Robert Spillane who was this team’s staple at ILB down the stretch. Much like Devin Bush, Myles Jack has failed to provide splash throughout his NFL career at the LB position, and it appears that 2022 was much of the same for one of Pittsburgh’s “splashiest” free agent signings.
Most Underrated: CB Cam Sutton
I’m going with Sutton again for this one, mainly because his impact went widely unnoticed by the casual Steelers fan. He was Pittsburgh’s best coverage defender outside of Minkah Fitzpatrick, allowing a QB rating against of just 63.3. Post-bye week, that number dropped to 56.3. Throw in three picks, 15 PBUs, and his positional versatility, Sutton helped keep a lid on opposing WR1s all season despite not being a prototypical CB1.
Play of the Year: Kenny Pickett’s Game-Winning Touchdown To Najee Harris (Week 17 Vs Ravens)
Like Marczi stated in his awards, this TD pass from Pickett to Harris may go down as the moment that kick-started Pickett’s career as a franchise QB and a moment that may be mentioned in the future as the turning point into a new era of Pittsburgh Steelers football. This impromptu scramble drill by Pickett to find Harris in the end zone with less than a minute remaining to defeat their arch-rivals on the road is enough of a storyline alone to give this the top spot. However, this TD effectively won Pittsburgh the game and kept their dreams at the postseason alive, kept Mike Tomlin’s non-losing season streak alive, and sparked optimism in Pickett and the Steelers’ offense heading into the offseason for 2023.
Coach of the Year: HC Mike Tomlin
While I could have gone with a position coach here, you got to tip your hat to Mike Tomlin. Dave Bryan mentioned time and again that Pittsburgh should build a statue of Tomlin outside of Acrisure Stadium if he could get this team a winning record and into the playoffs, both of which he nearly accomplished. Despite all of Tomlin’s flaws as a coach, he made the main thing the main thing despite a 2-6 start: winning.
He committed to the daily disciplines to see improvement at an individual and collective level regarding his roster, and the fruits of that labor and belief in his team came to fruition in the second half. His players believed in him and his message that was never changing, following his example and committing to the process. He may have underachieved relative to “The Standard” in Pittsburgh in recent seasons, but Tomlin did what nobody thought he could with this roster in 2022, thus he should be recognized for those efforts.
2023 Player to Watch: LB Mark Robinson
WR Calvin Austin III would be a good pick here but give me LB Mark Robinson. Fans had been clamoring for Robinson to get into the lineup all season, and he gave them a taste Week 17 against the Ravens, showing off his aggressiveness and physicality as a downhill thumper against the run. However, he still has a long way to go regarding his mental processing and coverage to be ready for a three-down role as a starting option. Still, Robinson is often compared to former Steeler LB Vince Williams who managed to carve out a solid career as a former late-round draft pick. Can Robinson do the same? We’ll have to tune in next season to find out.
Best Addition: RG James Daniels
This is a runaway in my opinion as Daniels far outplayed Pittsburgh’s other free agent additions to date. He struggled a little bit to start his tenure as a Steeler but really came on strong down the stretch, playing as Pittsburgh’s best offensive lineman which he was expected to be when he signed this offseason. Still only 25 years old and in the first year of a three-year deal, it’s possible that Daniels is a foundational piece for Pittsburgh’s OL for years to come.
Most Missed: EDGE T.J. Watt
Technically, T.J. Watt never left the Steelers this season. However, he did miss a good portion of the 2022 season after injuring his pec in Week 1, sending Pittsburgh’s season into a downward spiral without his impact. The Steelers have been 17-5-1 since last season if Watt plays 50% or more of the defensive snaps and are only 1-10-1 when he plays less than 50%. Pittsburgh was 1-6 without Watt this season and had their impressive sack streak snapped.
Needless to say, Watt is the most valuable player on the Steelers’ roster and is one of the most valuable players in the entire NFL. Given that Pittsburgh would have likely won another game with Watt in the fold for a full season which would have gotten them into the playoffs, he gets my nod here as the most missed.