Every July Pro Football Focus ranks the 50 best players in the NFL at the present time. Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers had two representatives on this list. T.J. Watt ranked 7th overall and Cameron Heyward came in at 19th.
Sam Monson of PFF praised this dynamic duo on Pittsburgh's defensive line for their outstanding production and claimed that they are among the best in the league at their position. However, there is one Steelers player Monson disrespected when constructing his rankings: Minkah Fitzpatrick.
To be fair, the All-Pro safety wasn't coming off his best season when PFF strung together this list last July. However, it's hard to keep an elite player down for long. Multiple safeties made the list, including Tennessee's Kevin Byard (35th), Adrian Amos (40th), and Marcus Williams (45th), but Fitzpatrick was excluded from the top 50 rankings entirely.
That will no doubt change when Monson develops his rankings this summer. Fitzpatrick just earned his third First-Team All-Pro honors and is arguably coming off the best season of his professional career -- earning 96 tackles and 11 pass defenses tying for the league lead with 6 interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown), per ESPN stats. He did all of this despite missing two games last year.
Where could Steelers land on PFF's top 50 list in 2023?
After witnessing what we did from Minkah Fitzpatrick last year, he could go from missing the list entirely to being a top-30 player on Pro Football Focus' rankings this summer. At the same time, other names could slide.
T.J. Watt missed half of the 2022 season with a pectoral injury and didn't quite look the same upon his return. Going from a Defensive Player of the Year season to what we saw last year could make him one of the biggest fallers on the list -- potentially dropping from 7th to somewhere in the 30s or 40s.
When it comes to Cameron Heyward, there wasn't much drop-off in his play. He actually earned remarkably comparable sack and tackle-for-loss numbers in 2022 than he did in 2021, but chipped in 6 more QB hits last year on his way to Pro Bowl honors. Heyward could take a slight dip on the list as young NFL players may leapfrog him.
Outside of 'the big three' in Pittsburgh, it will be interesting to see if any other player could make a jump onto the top 50 list in 2023. Some of the closest to do so might be Alex Highsmith, George Pickens, or Pat Freiermuth.
As of now, it's probably reasonable to expect that Watt, Heyward, and Fitzpatrick are the only Pittsburgh Steelers representatives on Pro Football Focus' top-50 players list this summer. Hopefully, a few more Steelers can be added to that list in the near future.