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Steelers Analysis

Bell: Ranking Steelers Top Ten Players Entering 2024

Steelers Now analyst Derrick Bell ranks the top 10 players on the Pittsburgh Steelers ahead of the 2024 season.

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Steelers OLB T.J. Watt
Pittsburgh Steelers EDGE T.J. Watt

The Pittsburgh Steelers are several weeks away from the beginning of training camp and for the most part, their 2024 roster has been established. Once again, this is a team on paper that should be fighting for a playoff spot with hopes of breaking their postseason win drought.

One exercise that I like to each summer around this time of year is rank the Steelers best players, giving a preview of where Pittsburgh’s strengths are on the roster. Which players rose up the rankings? Who slipped a bit? It’s always a fun piece to look back on after the seasons conclusion. Without further ado, here we go.

10) RB Najee Harris

2023 Ranking (10th)

Choosing between Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren was difficult but ultimately, I chose to go with the back that had the larger sample size. Pittsburgh declined his 5th-year option but 2023 was still a successful season for the former first-round selection with him improving in several key marks. Most notably, his 14 carries of more than 15+ yards and 4.0 yards per carry were both career highs in the league. Plus, he was his usual self in terms of forcing missed tackles at a high rate with 52 according to PFF. Now in a contract season, we’ll see if new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith can help him get a payday on the open market next offseason.

Steelers LG Isaac Seumalo injury

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive guard Isaac Seumalo in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 26, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

9) LG Isaac Seumalo

2023 Ranking (8th)

Since the Omar Khan and Andy Weidl regime began, their investment in the offensive line has been immense and the start of that organizational shift began with the signing of Isaac Seumalo. After a rough start to the season, he finished on a tear with some signature performances despite being a bit dinged up down the stretch. Seumalo is heavy-handed, an asset on double team blocks and is controlled when climbing to the second level. He’s set to turn 31-years old this season, but he’s shown no signs of slowing down and his current contract is a bargain provided he remains healthy.

8) RG James Daniels

2023 Ranking (7th)

James Daniels is a good example of how good things can happen if young players are allowed to grow and finally settle into one specific position rather than being moved around the front. He’s always had a well-earned reputation as a pass protector, with an aggressive mentality, feet than can mirror athletic interior rushers and long arms to keep defenders at bay. Because of his movements skills and experience in a similar scheme in college, I’m excited about what he could look in a wide-zone heavy scheme that should utilize him in space. Pittsburgh didn’t make him a priority for an extension, but he could land a massive payday next spring with the guard market rising.

Steelers Cam Heyward

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle in a game against the Baltimore Ravens on January 8, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

7) IDL Cam Heyward

2023 Ranking (3rd)

It was a tough campaign for the Steelers captain and Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner, dealing with a groin injury that sidelined him for a chunk of the season. Now 35-years old, it’s clear that we’ve already seen the best of Cam Heyward. However, he’s still strong as an ox and an anchor in defending the run, as evidenced by the fact that opposing teams averaged 0.7 yards less per carry when he was on the field according to SIS. On the flip side, he was ineffective as a pass rusher which caused him to slip a bit down this particular list. With contract negotiations at a stalemate, the Steelers will have to parse out how much of that decline was attributed to his health and how much of that was father time catching up to the former All-Pro.

6) ILB Patrick Queen

2023 Ranking (NR)

Allow me to welcome Patrick Queen to Pittsburgh and this list for the first time! After signing the largest contract ever given out to an outside free agent, the expectations for the former Baltimore Raven are going to be deservedly high but his skill set was much needed. Pittsburgh needed to get faster in the back seven and Queen’s range and pursuit speed fill that void well. With time and experience, Queen’s gained confidence to play to his athletic traits and has shown growth in coverage over the past couple years. He’s a terror when working downhill against the run or as a blitzer but if he continues to take steps forward in rounding out his game, he could continue to climb this list in 2025 and beyond.

Steelers CB Joey Porter Jr.

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joey Porter Jr. in a game against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 12, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

5) CB Joey Porter Jr.

2023 Ranking (NR)

Speaking of first-time inclusions on this list, Joey Porter Jr. has entered the chat. This has nothing to do with Porter proclaiming himself as the top cornerback in the league and everything to do with how impressive, and honestly underrated, his rookie season was. The Steelers defense tasked him with following the opposing teams top target around the formation and more often than not, the Penn State product came away victorious. Coming out of college, it was easy to see that his length would be a significant weapon at his disposal, but his footwork took strides in the right direction as well. His aggressive play-style fits the personality of this defense and adds a man coverage element that Pittsburgh hasn’t seen since Ike Taylor’s prime.

4) WR George Pickens

2023 Ranking (9th)

The player that saw the largest leap on these rankings from last summer was George Pickens and his sophomore numbers tell the tale on why that is the case. Through his first two seasons in the NFL, he’s established himself as one of the league’s best deep threats but what led to him averaging a league-leading was 18.1 yards per reception was his improved yards after catch metrics. The graceful body control and uncanny tracking ability create the viral highlights but his effectiveness versus press is impressive for a young player. His continued development as a route runner will be the defining characteristic of just how special he can be down the line.

Pittsburgh Steeler OLB Alex Highsmith

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith runs out of the tunnel for a game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Acrisure Stadium on Dec. 23, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

3) EDGE Alex Highsmith

2023 Ranking (5th)

Fresh off a massive contract extension, Alex Highsmith delivered another strong season as a pass rusher. His sack total dipped as those can certainly fluctuate but the advanced numbers displayed his impact: increasing his pressure rate and pass-rush win-rate from the prior season. Highsmith’s first step consistently threatens the outside track, his inside-spin counter is a beauty to behold with a motor that runs hot at all times. Even if he’s close to his peak as a player, this is a very good pass rusher that is a perfect fit for the Steelers scheme. With T.J. Watt on the other side, this should be one of the most productive duos again in 2024.

2) S Minkah Fitzpatrick

2023 Ranking (2nd)

Admittedly, the top of this list lacks suspense for obvious reasons but even without the gaudy turnover production that we’ve become accustomed to, Minkah Fitzpatrick deserves this spot. Along with being an elite centerfield when patrolling the post, part of his value relies on his versatility and comfortability with a wide range of assignments. He’s improved every single season as a tackler, while missing just four all of last season according to PFF.  His deployment will be a topic of conversation for training camp and beyond: with him playing more in the box and near the line of scrimmage in 2023 compared to previous seasons. But as long as Fitzpatrick is healthy, he’s a game-changing type of player that we rarely see at the safety spot.

1) EDGE T.J. Watt

2023 Ranking (1st)

T.J. Watt holds on to the top spot and this was a no-brainer decision. 2023 was business as usual for the future Hall of Famer: 19 more sacks and four forced fumbles on his way to finishing second in defensive player of the year voting and another first-team All Pro selection. There’s no way around the fact that we are looking at one of the best seven-year starts for any player in franchise history. His get-off is still quick, the cross-chop and dip-rip moves are still effective after all these years and his ability to knife into the backfield at will is nearly unmatched. It’s worth noting that he does turn 30-years old at the start of the season and that alone should put pressure on the Steelers organization to not waste what is left of an all-time greats best years.