Every offseason over the past few years, I have comprised a list of what I believe to be the most valuable players to the future of the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is not a list of players who are currently the most valuable to the team for the upcoming season; rather a list of the Steelers’ top 10 most valuable assets moving forward.
For this list, I took into consideration the players’ ages, current level of play, predicted future level of play, and the importance of their positions. Here are my top 10 most valuable players to the Steelers’ future.
T.J. Watt (EDGE/OLB) - Age: 24
The most important player moving forward was a no-brainer to me. Not only is T.J. Watt already a Pro Bowl football player at the age of 24, he plays one of the most important positions on the field, and his upside is off the charts. He is the cornerstone building block of the Steelers future on defense.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR) - Age: 22
It’s hard to argue against JuJu as 2nd on a list of players most important to the Steelers future. The 22-year old receiver has done nothing but impress since he was drafted. He is extremely physical and comes up big in the clutch (think about the Bengals and Jaguars game this past season). JuJu possesses leadership qualities in his young age and is only beginning to scratch the surface on what should be a terrific NFL career.
Ben Roethlisberger (QB) - Age: 37
Big Ben is unquestionably the most important player to the Steelers success right now. However, if you were to ask me if I would rather have the next couple years of Ben approaching his 40s or potentially 10 or more years from Watt and Smith-Schuster, my answer would be the latter. Pittsburgh’s success hinges on Ben Roethlisberger, but his old age makes him drop just a bit on this list.
David DeCastro (OG) - Age: 29
DeCastro is an All-Pro guard and one of the best ones in the league. Though he is now 29 years old, good offensive lineman can play for a long time in the NFL. He should give the Steelers another 5-7 years of top-notch play.
Stephon Tuitt (DL) - Age: 25 & Cameron Heyward (DL) - Age: 29
Say what you want about Stephon Tuitt’s lack of production, and you could certainly argue that he’s not worth his $13.6M cap hit this year. However, the Steelers are just better when Tuitt plays. When he’s on the field, the Steelers give up significantly less rushing yards and force teams to throw the ball more. Tuitt occupies blockers and is able to play an unreal amount of defensive snaps when healthy. He hasn’t progressed as a pass rusher like we thought he would, but he’s still just 25 years old.
Heyward is a better pass rusher and overall player than his counterpart, Tuitt, but he will be 30 years old this off-season. Still very important to the Steelers defensive success, I dropped him just a little bit because of his age.
Joe Haden (CB) - Age: 29
This one is tough. You could certainly make the case for Joe Haden being above Tuitt and Heyward on this list, but I chose to have him just below. Haden is the most valuable corner on the team, but he still has his ups and downs. Haden turns 30 in April. He’s a solid piece of the puzzle for now, but one that will probably need replaced in a few years, as we’ve seen trends of older cornerbacks digressing quickly.
Javon Hargrave (DL) - Age: 26
Hargrave is probably the best pass rusher of the three defensive linemen on this list. However, he’s not as versatile across the line as Tuitt or Heyward, and he doesn’t play as many snaps. Hargrave is in his prime (26 years old), but despite being drafted two years after Stephon Tuitt, he’s the older player.
Maurkice Pouncey (C) - Age: 29
Pouncey Seems like he’s been around forever as he’s entering his 9th straight season as the Steelers center. Still, he’s just 29 years old and offensive lineman can play for a long time. We’ve probably seen his best days, but he could still be a solid piece to the Steelers offense for a while.
Josh Dobbs (QB) - Age: 24
You might be surprised to see the Steelers backup quarterback on this list over a player like Terrell Edmunds, but here is my logic: I had a 2nd round grade on Dobbs coming out of Tennessee, and a 3rd round grade on Edmunds.
While Edmunds was somewhat disappointing last season, Dobbs stepped up his game. He posted a 112.0 passer rating this preseason and showed the ability to go through his progressions and look downfield (he had 8 passes of 20+ yards).
Though he struggled in the Raiders game, his first NFL action game in Baltimore where his very first pass was a 22-yard bullet to convert a 1st down from his own endzone. Dobbs showed a ton of improvement in year two.
Dobbs still has work to do: but he just turned 24-years old and has a chance to be the eventual replacement for Roethlisberger.