Predicting Steelers' Key Stat Leaders for 2021 NFL Season

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2021

Predicting Steelers' Key Stat Leaders for 2021 NFL Season

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have something to prove in 2021.

    After collapsing down the stretch last season, the Steelers have work to do to prove they are still capable of playing like the team that started 11-0 before losing five of their last six—including two to division rival Cleveland

    While the team lost some major contributors through free agency, their foundational pieces remain in place. Ben Roethlisberger is back for what could be his final season. JuJu Smith-Schuster surprisingly returned on a one-year deal. T.J. Watt is back after a controversial snub for Defensive Player of the Year. 

    In short, the Super Bowl window may be closing for the Steelers, but they are still plenty dangerous. 

    Here's a quick look at who should be leading the way for them this season and what to expect statistically. 

QB Ben Roethlisberger

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Steelers have put a lot on their star quarterback's plate over the last few seasons. In 2020 and 2018, he was in the top three in passing attempts per game as the Steelers largely avoided their run game and threw more than just about everyone. 

    Drafting Najee Harris in the first round of the draft is a pretty good indication they will look to bring some balance to the offense. 

    At least, that's the way that defensive lineman Cameron Heyward sees it. 

    "You give that guy a good running game and tell him he doesn't have to throw the ball 50, 60 times, he's going to be that much more dangerous, and I think we're looking forward to that," Heyward said in an appearance on Good Morning Football. "It's going to be pretty good longevity-wise if he wants to keep playing."

    Harris—who had 1,891 scrimmage yards and 30 touchdowns for college football's best offense last season—will make a difference and likely lighten the load on Roethlisberger, but the Steelers figure to have a young offensive line that will have to make strides, too. 

    Ultimately, Roethlisberger still gives the Steelers the best chance to win, but his numbers should come down from a volume standpoint. 

    Key Stats Prediction: 3,752 passing yards, 26 touchdowns 12 interceptions

WR Chase Claypool

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    A different receiver has led the Steelers in receiving in each of the last three seasons. Chase Claypool could extend that streak to four in 2021. 

    Diontae Johnson had the distinction last year. He turned 144 targets into 88 catches, 923 yards and seven touchdowns. Claypool was not too far behind in his rookie season. He had 873 yards and nine touchdowns on 109 targets. 

    Claypool was by far the most efficient of the group. He averaged eight yards per target. The next highest on the team was 7.0 for James Washington. 

    Part of that is a product of the kind of targets he gets. His average depth of target was 13.2, while Smith Schuster averaged 5.5 and Johnson averaged 7.9. 

    The Steelers' quick passing game will still be a part of the offense. But the introduction of Najee Harris into the mix is going to take some of those targets away from the receivers as they funnel them to their new rookie back. 

    What isn't going to change is their desire to get Claypool the ball when they want a big play or are hunting for a touchdown in the red zone. If anything, his role will get bigger with a full year in the league under his belt. 

    Key Stats Prediction: 79 catches, 1,067 yards, 11 touchdowns

Edge T.J. Watt

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    With all due respect to Aaron Donald, T.J. Watt should have been the Defensive Player of the Year. The good news for the 26-year-old is he's set up to be a contender for the award once again. 

    The Steelers pass-rush is losing a little bit of bite with the departure of Bud Dupree. There isn't real evidence that's going to impact Watt's numbers, though. In the four regular-season games Watt played without Dupree in the lineup, he had four sacks. 

    That stretch includes a two-sack effort with a forced fumble against Indianapolis, which turned out to be their last win of the season. 

    Watt's production isn't dependent on the Steelers scheming pressures for him. According to ESPN, he had the highest pass-rush win rate (defined as beating his block in under 2.5 seconds) of anyone in the league. Watt was at 29 percent. Donald was at 24. 

    With Dupree gone, the Steelers are going to rely on Alex Highsmith to step up. They'll need pressure from the interior as well, but most importantly, Watt has to dominate. 

    Every indication is that he will. 

    Key Stats Prediction: 57 tackles, 18 TFL, 15.5 sacks, five forced fumbles

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