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ESPN swings and misses, again, when ranking the Steelers’ roster

The Steelers 2018 roster hasn’t changed much, yet the world wide leader in sports sees a drop off from their 2017 selves.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There is a common misconception regarding the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers, and how they are a tough nut to crack when it comes to breaking down their roster. Major media outlets love to point out the absence of Ryan Shazier, the aging quarterback and turnover at the safety position as glaring weaknesses, but are they really?

Ben Roethlisberger has proven he can still play at an extremely high level, the safety turnover might just be a blessing in disguise and although Shazier’s absence leaves a gigantic hole in the defense, the team having a full offseason to adjust and prepare should make a big difference.

I’m not suggesting the Steelers’ roster is the best in the league, or that it should be considered in the Top 3, but when ESPN ranked all 32 NFL rosters and had the Steelers ranked 7th, it seemed like a slap in the face.

Before getting to the Top 10, let’s first explain how ESPN went about their rankings:

With the kickoff to the 2018 season just a couple of months away, it’s time to dive into the Pro Football Focus database and rank every roster as it stands now, at the end of June, focusing on the expected starters and how they look in our metrics. PFF grades every player on every play of every game of the NFL season, allowing us a comprehensive look at what each player has to offer.

Here is what they had to say about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster heading into 2018:

Biggest strength: The Steelers have a bunch of talent on both sides of the ball, but Antonio Brown is the one who stands out the most. His 2.87 yards-per-route-run average was second to only Julio Jones in 2017, with Brown ranking in the top 10 in that category every season since 2013.

Biggest weakness: Drafted with the expectation that he would become the next great Steelers outside linebacker, Bud Dupree has failed to live up to his draft billing so far. From 354 pass-rushing snaps in the 2017 regular season, he produced just 40 total pressures, and he has just 83 total pressures since he entered the league in 2015.

By the numbers: With Le’Veon Bell playing under the franchise tag once again, his workload deserves a mention. Bell led the NFL in carries with 321 in the regular season and was second behind Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey with 103 targets in the passing game. Can that workload be sustained in 2018?

Pro Football Focus (PFF), who participated in this article with ESPN Insiders, then went through their projected roster and listed players as one of the following categories:

Good/High Quality
Below Average

These are based solely on PFF’s grading system, which is always a hot-button topic among football fans. Below is where each player on the Steelers’ roster fell into the above categories:

Antonio Brown
David DeCastro

Good/High Quality:
Ben Roethlisberger
Le’Veon Bell|
Marcus Gilbert
Artie Burns
Mike Hilton
Stephon Tuitt
Cameron Heyward

Vance McDonald
JuJu Smith-Schuster
Alejandro Villanueva
Javon Hargrave
Vince Williams
Jon Bostic
Joe Haden
Morgan Burnett

Below Average:

Jesse James
Ramon Foster
Maurkice Pouncey
Bud Dupree

+ Rookies were not given a grade.

To be honest, I don’t have any real problem with where any of the above players fell on the grading scale. Sure, you can argue a player like Maurkice Pouncey shouldn’t be listed as poor, but he hasn’t been as elite since numerous injuries to his legs. Nonetheless, the underlying theme of this is where the Steelers are ranked among the other 32 NFL teams.

Check out ESPN’s Top 10:

1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. Atlanta Falcons
3. New Orleans Saints
4. New England Patriots
5. Minnesota Vikings
6. Los Angeles Chargers
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
8. Dallas Cowboys
9. Los Angeles Rams
10. Jacksonville Jaguars

With an offense which essentially brings back all of their pieces, a defense which is anchored by a tremendous defensive line and budding secondary, it is difficult for me to see a team like the Chargers and Vikings ranked above the black-and-gold.

Again, I’m not suggesting the Steelers should be in the Top 3, or atop the list, but 7th seems like a disservice to a team who finished 2017 with a 13-3 record, earned a first round bye in the AFC Playoffs and had very little turnover on their roster.

What do you think about their ranking? Are they right where they should be? Do you disagree with where players are ranked? Let us know in the comment section below and be a part of the conversation!