Pete Prisco published a list of the Top 100 NFL Players of 2022 on CBSSports.com Tuesday afternoon. Shockingly, he must have defied the internal memo to CBS employees that the Pittsburgh Steelers are to be omitted or undervalued when evaluating the 2022 NFL season. My tongue is in my cheek in case it is not apparent.
I first became aware of Prisco when he was a sportswriter for the Florida Times-Union, the Jacksonville, FL local newspaper. I would occasionally call into his show, known as Bob from the Southside, and would slip in Steeler observations and questions. Prisco was plugged into the NFL and I always knew he would end up being a national voice instead of a local one. I remember calling into him and telling him early in Ben Roethlisberger’s career that he was the second coming of John Elway. He thought I was crazy with that comparison, but I wonder now that Roethlisberger’s career is over, if he still thinks that is as farfetched an idea.
Prisco is a reliable voice for CBS who often has measured, insightful takes on the NFL. The only bias I have ever heard him accused of was a love affair with Peyton Manning by rabid Jaguars fans. I do think he has a tendency to overvalue quarterbacks in his evaluation of teams, but he uses a consistent logic that I may not agree with, but appreciate. Prisco’s list of the top 100 players essentially boils down to a three round fantasy draft if you were starting from scratch, plus a few honorable mentions. He considers Aaron Donald to be the top player in the NFL at this point and based on 2021 and the Los Angeles Rams Super Bowl victory, I can see the logic.
In typical Prisco fashion, the next three players are quarterbacks, which is not surprising, and then Cooper Kupp who did have a ridiculous season in 2021. After Kupp, he names another quarterback, some guy named Tom Brady as the sixth best player in the league. Then we come to the first Steeler on the list:
Prisco’s No. 7 Ranking Overall: T.J. Watt
Prisco observes about Watt:
“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. Watt is also good against the run, which makes him a double threat on the edge.”
I was excited to see that Prisco gave Watt his due as the best edge player in the NFL. Watt is a complete package, and he does not get caught up in wild analytic theories and trusts his eyes. The guy who actually sacks the quarterback and makes the important plays in crunch time is only behind Donald as a defender. It is a weird feeling to think that the reigning DPOY is still underrated. The list of players continues with a mix of edge rushers, offensive linemen, wide receivers, cornerbacks and even a couple of tight ends before two more quarterbacks come off the board. During what I would still consider the ‘imaginary’ first round, another Steeler appears on the list.
Prisco’s No. 27 Ranking Overall: Cam Heyward
Prisco observes about Heyward:
“He might be the game’s most underrated down player. He is a force who doesn’t pile up huge sack numbers in their scheme. But he did have 10 last year, which is the second-best of his career.”
Heyward plays defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, and it could be argued that he is more of a defensive tackle than end because of his defensive responsibilities. At this point in his career, Heyward has played the 3-4 defensive end better than anyone has ever done it in the NFL and seems bound for the Hall of Fame when his playing days are done. The only player who consistently plays with his hand in the dirt in front of him on defense is Donald — exactly where he belongs.
After placing two players in the top 32, the Steelers do not have another player appear until early in what would be the third round. Coincidentally, it is the Steelers former third round pick and possibly free agent to be after the 2022 season.
Prisco’s No. 70 Ranking Overall: Diontae Johnson
Prisco describes his ranking of Johnson:
“He had a career-best 107 catches with eight touchdowns last season. He tied Davante Adams for the second-most targets per game at 10.6.”
Prisco gives a lot of love to wide receivers in his top 100. Johnson at 70 is the 11th player at the position. By comparison, the unabashed quarterback lover only has 10 quarterbacks in the top 70 players in the NFL. I might rank Johnson slightly ahead of players like Ceedee Lamb and Chris Godwin, but even black and gold colored glasses cannot get him much higher than 8th on a list of current NFL receivers.
The final Steeler who appears on the list is my only issue. He is the seventh safety off the board.
Prisco’s No. 97 Ranking Overall: Minkah Fitzpatrick
Prisco analyzes Fitzpatrick’s ranking:
“After an impressive 2020 season, his play dropped some last season. Early in the season, he just wasn’t as good. But he came on late to help the Steelers make the playoffs.”
Fitzpatrick is in the top 100 players and if six safeties were not ahead of him, it would be hard to argue that he should be higher on the list. Ranking him behind the likes of Kevin Byard, Derwin James, Jordan Poyer and Jessie Bates, his fellow free safeties is the issue. I would take Fitzpatrick over all four of these players.
Fitzpatrick joined the Steelers in 2019 and nearly helped that team make the playoffs with multiple splash plays. He followed it with an outstanding 2020 season and with the exception of a few less than stellar turns in the first half of 2021, anchored the secondary for the third consecutive year for the Steelers. He is not the fifth best free safety in football.
Overall, it made my day that Myles Garrett was ranked ninth, two spots behind Watt and that Heyward got some national recognition for a change. Three of the Steelers in the top 100 are defensive players and if they play to the level that Prisco ranks them, the Steelers defense should be elite.
What do you think, Steeler Nation? Did Prisco get it right? Are you happy that at least one person at CBS watches Steelers games? Please comment below or on my Twitter @thebubbasq.