With 29 days to go until the start of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers we continue our 30 prediction in 30 days series with my first bold claim of the offseason.
Alternating daily between myself and BTSC Editor Jeff Hartman, we will offer our predictions for the upcoming season. Some will be team oriented, while others will be specific to individual players. But either way, you will be able to read the reason why we think this prediction will come to fruition, why it might not come true and you have your chance to give your thoughts in the comment section below the article!
Following on from Jeff’s prediction of a career low in interceptions for Ben Roethlisberger in 2019 on Tuesday, I turn my attention to the other side of the ball and a young defensive lineman who could be set for stardom this year.
Prediction: Javon Hargrave will lead the defensive line in sacks in 2019.
Why it will happen: Entering a contract year with the Steelers, this is likely to be the last fans will see of Javon Hargrave in the Black and Gold if he is not re-signed this offseason. Poised for a breakout year that will see him lead the defensive line in sacks, the former South Carolina State product could price himself out of contention for a return to Pittsburgh if the year goes as well as projected here.
Hargrave has come a long way from the raw MEAC prospect he once was in 2016 and was third on the team in sacks in 2018 with 6.5 quarterback takedowns. And while Hargrave’s development has been clear for all to see, the progress he made in the second half of last season was particularly noticeable.
Notable second-half improvements in overall grade on the #Steelers defense:— PFF PIT Steelers (@PFF_Steelers) May 14, 2019
All grades available with PFF Elite: https://t.co/l3pIHtzwv9
A grade of 82.7 was the team’s second highest on defense from Pro Football Focus behind only Cameron Heyward (84.9) and the improvements he made to his game as both a run defender and a pass rusher were evident last year. At one point in the season, only Aaron Donald was generating more pressure on third and fourth down than Hargrave.
Javon Hargrave was impressive in his third year as a pro pic.twitter.com/VMyfs2QnLj— PFF (@PFF) April 5, 2019
While Heyward would lead the defensive line with eight sacks in 2018, the second highest total of his career, he also saw significantly more snaps than Hargrave - 841 vs. 455. With a more equitable rotation between Stephon Tuitt (693 snaps in 2018), Heyward and Hargraves, it does not take much imagination to see the young defender pushing his sack total as high as eight or maybe 10 sacks for the group lead. Given the opportunity to play more, moments like these could become a weekly occurrence for Hargrave.
Why it won’t happen: The obvious roadblock that could doom this prediction from the outset was touched on above. If Hargrave does not get enough time in the rotation, it will hardly matter how effective he is at bringing down the quarterback.
Standing in his way are two talented veteran players on high contracts and putting Hargrave on the field on passing downs will require one of his more highly paid teammates to be watching from the sidelines. As a team captain and the leader in sacks on the defensive line for most of his eight years in Pittsburgh, sidelining Heyward is not really an option. And as the Steelers’ third highest graded defender in 2018 by PFF with 81.8, Tuitt is hardly in need of replacement either. He recorded 5.5 sacks last year from the 14 games he played in.
If Hargrave continues to improve and gets the reps on gameday, this prediction could easily come true. But if the rotation upfront fails to materialise again this year, the Steelers might have a left a lot of wasted potential on the bench.
What are your thoughts on this prediction? Do you think it will happen? Or are we crazy? Let us know by voting in the poll, and letting your voice be heard in the comment section below!
Will Javon Hargrave lead the defensive line in sacks in 2019?
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