Bold Predictions for Steelers' Individual Stat Leaders in 2022 NFL Season
The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering a transitional season for the first time in recent memory. Longtime starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger retired this offseason, meaning Pittsburgh will have a new Week 1 starter.
However, having a new face under center shouldn't significantly change expectations in Pittsburgh. The Steelers haven't experienced a losing season under head coach Mike Tomlin, and you can bet that they're still thinking of the playoffs in 2022.
We're here to examine a few expectations of our own, specifically, of the statistical variety.
Below, you'll find some bold predictions for the Steelers' stars and projected stat leaders. We'll look beyond the obvious projections—T.J. Watt will be the leading sack producer, barring injury—and dive into some more specific expectations for the 2022 season.
Mitch Trubisky Won't Start Entire Season but Will Top 20 TD Passes
With Roethlisberger long gone, the Steelers will likely turn to veteran Mitch Trubisky to start at quarterback in Week 1. Rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett made a compelling argument with some strong preseason play, but Trubisky likely sealed the decision with a terrific preseason finale.
Against the Detroit Lions, Trubisky went 15-of-19 for 160 yards and a touchdown. He has the edge in starting experience, and he looks extremely comfortable in Matt Canada's offense.
"The job was his all along, but Trubisky was the best quarterback over the course of the Steelers' preseason," Mark Madden of TribLive wrote. "He put an exclamation point on that in Sunday’s exhibition finale vs. visiting Detroit."
We do expect to see Pickett at some point this season, whether due to injury or simply because Pittsburgh wants a look at its future. We don't see Trubisky starting all 17 games in 2022.
However, we do expect Trubisky to perform well and to take advantage of weapons like Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Najee Harris, George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth. An aging Roethlisberger tossed 22 touchdown passes with this group in 2021. Trubisky can do the same.
Now, Trubisky has only topped 20 touchdown passes once in his career. He had 24 touchdowns in 2018 and also made the Pro Bowl that season. The North Carolina product probably won't return to the Pro Bowl in 2022, but we expect him to have a solid season, leading the Steelers in passing yards and having one of the best campaigns of his career.
Stat Prediction: 3,165 passing yards, 21 TDs, 11 INTs, 390 rushing yards, 3 rushing TDs
Najee Harris Will Barely Reach 4.0 Yards per Carry
By most metrics, Steelers running back Najee Harris had a fantastic rookie campaign in 2021. The Alabama product tallied 1,200 rushing yards, 467 receiving yards and 10 combined touchdowns.
The one area where Harris fell a tad short was in efficiency. He averaged an underwhelming 3.9 yards per carry. This wasn't necessarily his fault. Roethlisberger's waning arm strength didn't exactly keep defenses honest, and the offensive line was a mess.
The Steelers may get more explosive passing plays with Trubisky and/or Pickett under center. However, their offensive line is not significantly improved. Pittsburgh added Mason Cole and James Daniels, but they haven't provided significant upgrades.
Tomlin has been critical of the line this preseason.
The other potential issue for Harris is that he's dealing with a Lisfranc injury.
"Najee Harris revealed after the game that he had been out with a sprained Lisfranc injury," Joe Rutter of TribLive tweeted. "Said recovery time is 4-6 weeks and he just passed four weeks."
We could see a slow start to Harris' season, and we expect the line to again be problematic. This doesn't mean that Harris won't have another great overall season—and we do expect him to reach 4.0 yards per carry on the season—but it's going to be another grind.
Stat prediction: 1,118 rushing yards, 4.0 yards per carry, 390 receiving yards, 9 combined TDs.
T.J. Watt Will Again Lead the League in Sacks
Steelers fans got a scare in the preseason finale when Watt exited after taking a shot to the knee from Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson. Fortunately, the injury doesn't appear serious.
"No long term concern at the moment," Tomlin said, per ESPN's Brooke Pryor.
Watt should be ready for Week 1 and to follow up last year's Defensive Player of the Year campaign with another strong season. Last year, the 27-year-old tied Michael Strahan's single-season record with 22.5 sacks.
We don't see Watt matching the record again. However, we do predict that he'll not only lead Pittsburgh in sacks but will lead the NFL for the third straight season.
Watt led the NFL with 15.0 sacks in 2020.
The key here is consistency. Watt has logged at least 52 quarterback pressures in each of the last three seasons, according to Pro Football Reference. He actually had more pressures (61 vs. 52) in 2020 than he did in 2021, though he hit home more frequently last year.
We fully expect Watt to remain consistent this season, and the addition of defenders like Myles Jack and Larry Ogunjobi may actually open more opportunities for him. While we expect Watt to see a dip in sacks, we believe he'll be equally impactful as a pass-rusher.
The bold prediction here is that Watt leads the league in sacks again and makes a strong case for another nod as Defensive Player of the Year.
Stat Prediction: 55 tackles, 17.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, 3 FF