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Do not blame T.J. Watt’s Pro Football Focus ranking on the site’s analytics

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The Pittsburgh Steelers young, budding OLB is far better than PFF’s grade might offer.

Los Angeles Chargers v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Two weeks ago one of the BTSC faithful complained about T.J. Watt’s Pro Football Focus rankings being low. It is the same line that has been bandied about the BTSC boards for a long time. The controversial site does not list its proprietary analysis on grading plays and players or how it assigns grades to individual plays. The secrecy brings out the ire of BTSC fans when PFF is brought up in discussions of its usefulness. Also, the accuracy of how they judge players is also questioned even though the plays go through a four-tiered analysis, when necessary.

Who is to blame on certain plays? If PFF does not know the defensive or offensive scheme, how can they assign blame or kudos to a certain player?

The issue with Watt is not the PFF grading, but instead his usage in the Steelers defensive scheme.

The 2017 first rounder has been having a solid 2018 season with four forced fumbles, 12 sacks, 21 quarterback hits, to go along with 61 total tackles. Watt grades out as above average but comes in at 39 as the best edge defender. PFF grades out edge rushers in four categories, overall, run defense, pass rush and coverage.

According to a PFF PIT Steelers tweet, Watt has a top 20 grade in both pass rushing and run defense but grades out as the second worst at the position in coverage at 34.6. The tweet points out that only three other edge rushers have more coverage snaps than Watt at 113. Watt has had 856 total snaps this season. So every 7.58 snaps Watt is not getting after the quarterback. Instead, he is being asked to defend against running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers. It exemplifies this in the below clips from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game when Watt was expected to cover tight end, OJ Howard.

Steelers fans have been on defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s case all season and this has to be one of the biggest head-scratching moves of them all. Why take your best pass rusher out of the equation and expect him to cover move tight ends or wideouts? How many sacks could Watt have tallied if Pittsburgh left on the line of scrimmage to rush the quarterback?

Steelers fans can point out that Pittsburgh’s inside linebackers were poor in coverage but should Butler rush them and drop Watt into coverage as a band-aid or designed scheme? No denying that Watt is a turning into a special player but why put him into positions he is not best suited for?

With the chances of making the playoffs hanging on a Cleveland Browns upset at the Baltimore Ravens, this will be one of several “what ifs” that will be talked up around the BTSC boards in the offseason. Hopefully, in 2019 Watt will be utilized in coverage like he was in 2018 when his PFF cover grade was 67.5. Wether you see PFF for true evaluation or entertainment purposes and position rank or gameday grades, defensive players are not being graded on one aspect of their game but rather multiple aspects and being graded poorly in one category can have a big impact on the overall grade.