The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its 28 semifinalists who will be voted upon for possible induction this year earlier this week, with former Steelers Hines Ward and James Harrison making the cut.
This is the seventh-consecutive year that Ward has made the semifinals, while Harrison is a semifinalist in his first year of eligibility.
At first glance, it would appear both will have a tough time getting elected, even though they both had worthy careers.
But when you look deeper into things, Harrison has a better opportunity than many might think.
While his overall career statistics will pale in comparison to some of the other pass rushers among this year's semifinalists – Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis among them – for a six-year stretch from 2007 until 2012, Harrison was as feared as any pass rusher in the game.
During that time, Harrison recorded 391 tackles, 78 tackles for a loss, 60 sacks, four interceptions, 29 forced fumbles and 100 quarterback hits. He was the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was third in that voting in 2010 and was voted to the All-Pro team four times. Oh, and he made arguably the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history with his 100-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
He did all of that in his age 29 through 34 seasons. And in that period, he was one of the most feared players in the game.
Freeney's best six-year run was to start his career. He had 60 sacks and 187 tackles with 31 forced fumbles in that period. For Mathis, he had 59.5 sacks, 218 tackles and 32 forced fumbles in his best six-year run.
We all know Harrison's story of being a player released multiple times early in his career, who worked his way into the rotation as a special teams player – where he was one of the best in the NFL – to becoming a starter in 2007 when Mike Tomlin was hired as Steelers head coach and inserted him into the lineup after Joey Porter was released in a salary cap-related move.
That Harrison played for some really good Steelers teams and couldn't get into the starting lineup on a regular basis early in his career shouldn't necessarily be held against him. If he had played on lesser teams, there's a good chance he would have started playing earlier in his career and his overall numbers would have reflected that.
The Hall of Fame has inducted some players over the years who were dominant for short periods of time before their careers were derailed by injuries. Gale Sayers, Terrell Davis and one of the 2022 inductees, Tony Boselli, are among that group.
Anyone who questions Harrison's potential induction need only look at Boselli's qualifications as proof Harrison has a chance. Boselli played just seven NFL seasons, and really it was only six since he appeared in just three games in his final season after suffering a torn labrum that eventually ended his career.
He was a dominant player, being named first-team All-Pro three times as a left tackle.
If Boselli can get in, so can Harrison.
Here's one more nugget on Harrison. In 14 career playoff starts, he had 11 sacks.
Yes, Harrison doesn't have the 100 career sacks of Freeney, Allen or Mathis, but his resume matches well with theirs – and is even better in some cases – when all things are considered.
• The situation with Ward is a little more complex.
Once again, there is a glut of wide receivers who are again semifinalists.
Ward has a Super Bowl MVP award in his favor and the knowledge that he was one of the most fearsome blockers at the wide receiver position the league has known.
Unfortunately for him, he also played in an era when many NFL teams began to throw the ball with much more regularity than Ward's Steelers teams did at the time.
Still, Ward finished with 1,000 receptions for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns.
Those are very good numbers across the board. He also was a three-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowl player.
Ward's numbers compare very favorably to a number of wide receivers already in the Hall of Fame.
But will that be enough to sway voters against some of the video game-like numbers put up by the likes of Torry Holt, Reggie Wayne or Andre Johnson?
That's where things get difficult.
When the final 15 players are presented to the voters, a strong argument will be made for all of those players. Making it to that point is a real honor, just as making it to the semifinals means a great deal.
• As somebody who has actually been a voter in the Hall of Fame process, I can say that it's a difficult process when it comes down to making those choices.
For example, when I was a voter and presenter in 2019, both Troy Polamalu and Alan Faneca were finalists.
I felt I made a compelling argument for both to be inducted. But you also can only vote for five.
And of the finalists that year, I found myself looking at each player after they were presented and thinking, that guy probably deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
It's not an easy process.
But 10 of those players, including Faneca, didn't make it that year. He, like several other players who were finalists that year, have made it since.
In fact, there was even some pushback on Polamalu making it as a first-time finalist. It was not that the voters didn't think he was worthy of induction, but when a first-time player gets in, it means that another deserving player, such as Faneca, could be forced to wait another year.
• In three games this season, T.J. Watt has 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and four pass defenses.
He's one of only two players in the league this season with multiple interceptions, four or more pass defenses and more than one sack.
The other is Dolphins safety Jevon Holland. Holland, by the way, has played in all 10 of Miami's games this season.
Watt also needs 1.5 sacks Monday night to reach 75 career sacks. It will be his 81st career game. If he does that, he would move past his older brother, J.J., to become the second-fastest player in NFL history to reach 75 sacks. J.J. Watt did it in 82 games. Reggie White is the record holder, having reached 75 sacks in just 65 career games.
Despite missing seven games this season, Watt still has 39 sacks since the start of the 2020 season. That's 2.5 more than the next-closest player – Cleveland's Myles Garrett – despite playing in seven fewer games.
Outside of Harrison's dominance over the course of six seasons, Watt's is the most dominant stretch for a pass rusher in Steelers' history.
• In the grand scheme of things, Steelers heads coach Mike Tomlin's 18-3 career record in Monday Night Football games going into this week's game against the Colts in Indianapolis is beyond impressive.
Even if a team is having a down season, it will have a little extra juice in a Monday night game when the players know the rest of the league is watching.
Included in Tomlin's record is a 9-3 mark on the road in Monday night games.
So, while the Steelers have been good as a franchise in Monday night games – their 51 overall wins is just one behind San Francisco for the most in league history, while their .671 winning percentage is the best by far in the NFL – Tomlin has been even better than what the team had been before in those situations.