Steelers Defense Leaves Heavy Presence in CBS Sports Player Rankings

Connor Deitrich

CBS Sports has been releasing their top 10 rankings for each position in the NFL in anticipation of the 2020 season. To the surprise of no one, the Steelers were very relevant in the defensive player rankings. Four total players were ranked for the team. T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Joe Haden, and Cameron Heyward were all selected at their respective positions. Though there has been some controversy with the exact ordering of the lists, it’s nice to see these four players get their much-deserved credit. 

Watt was the only Steelers to top any of the lists. He was ranked number one in a stacked group of edge rushers. Watt was joined in the top five by division rival Myles Garrett, Chandler Jones, Cameron Jordan, and Joey Bosa, in that order. That’s an incredible group of names, and for Watt to sit on top, it just shows how good he was last year. Despite finishing behind Jones in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2019, Watt has higher expectations entering the new season, at least according to CBS Sports. 

 Though we would argue they were correct with the number one spot, the rest of the edge rusher group had some debatable selections. Nick Bosa being all the way down at number 10, feels a little criminal. He was dominant as a rookie last year and was a DPOY front-runner in the first half of the season. Looking ahead, he could definitely develop into one of the best edge players in the NFL. Other semi-controversies here were Khalil Mack being ranked ninth and Von Miller being left off the list entirely.

 Next up on the list, we have Minkah Fitzpatrick, positioned at the number two spot in the safety group. Last year, there was a strong argument to be made that Fitzpatrick was the best safety in the NFL. Of course, Jets fans and Jamal Adams would have something to say about that. As we look to 2020, it’s no wonder there are high expectations for Fitzpatrick. In his first full season with the team, the chemistry between him and his teammates should be even better than last year. It helps, too, playing alongside a very good group of players in the secondary with the league’s best pass rush in front of them.

 Tyrann Mathieu was the safety ranked ahead of Fitzpatrick on the list. There’s no doubt that the Honey Badger is one of the most versatile defensive players in the game. But Fitzpatrick and Adams were widely considered the two best safeties last year, as supported by their first-team All-Pro selections. With trade requests and uncertainty around Adams’ status in New York, Fitzpatrick could very likely finish the coming season as the top-rated safety. And it’s worth noting, Justin Simmons of the Broncos continues to be underrated by the national media. He came in sixth on the list, also trailing Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris of the Vikings. 

 By far, the biggest controversy involving a Steeler in these lists was the selection of Joe Haden as the number three cornerback in the NFL. Don’t get it twisted, Haden had a great season last year as he continued his career revival in Pittsburgh. But many fans of the team would argue that Haden isn’t even the best corner on the team. Many would give that distinction to Steven Nelson, who wasn’t selected to the list at all. Furthermore, this list is based on expectations for the 2020 season, not what happened in 2019. At 31 years old, Haden will slow down sooner than later. He was excellent last year and was probably a fringe top 10 corner, but having him third on the list is definitely sketchy.

 Somehow, someway, Tre’Davious White of the Bills came in all the way down at number seven. That, without a doubt, is the biggest controversy at this position. At absolute worst, White was the second-best cornerback in the NFL last year. To have him seventh heading into next year is mind boggling. He trailed the likes of Marcus Peters, Patrick Peterson, Jalen Ramsey, and Byron Jones. White is a better corner than each of those players. Speaking of Jones, his new teammate Xavien Howard came in eighth, another one that many would argue is ranked too low. 

 Cameron Heyward’s spot on the defensive linemen list was controversial too, but for the opposite reasons of Haden. Heyward came in at number seven on the list. The argument can be made that since it’s a prediction for 2020, Heyward loses some spots on the list because of his age. He’s 31 just like Haden. Based on last year, though, it’s hard to expect Heyward to slow down at all. He just seems to get better with each passing season. Of course he won’t be ahead of Aaron Donald, but if this was a 2019 ranking, Heyward would be second. So to expect him to fall down all the way to seven feels like a bit of a stretch. 

 Between Donald and Heyward were Chris Jones, Kenny Clark, Grady Jarrett, Fletcher Cox, and DeForest Buckner. That’s a great list of football players, and there’s no shame in coming behind those guys in the rankings. But Heyward was better than all of them last year. Of course, all of those players are younger than Heyward by at least two years. Don’t count out the savvy veteran just yet, though. His bull rush, all-around strength, motor, and speed still undoubtedly make him one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL. Also for what it’s worth, former Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave rounded out the list at number 10. 

 So based on these rankings, it’s no wonder expectations are high for the Steelers entering 2020. They have top 10 players at numerous positions and others like Stephon Tuitt, Devin Bush, and Steven Nelson could be joining the top 10 lists by year’s end. Of course, throw in the fact that the only direction for the offense to go from last year is up, and it’s shaping up to be a fun 2020 season. Let’s just hope the games are able to be played, because this team and especially this defense, is one we don’t want to miss out on watching. 

Connor Deitrich is a Contributor with AllSteelers. Follow Connor on Twitter @CDeitrich22, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.

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