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Checking the Pro Football Focus grades for the Steelers defense so far this season

In the grades provided by PFF, Cam Heyward has the top overall grade for the Steelers on defense this season.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off the bye week, and many are assessing how the players have performed through the first six games. As a team, the Steelers are 3-3 which is the most telling number possible. But how did the individual players grade out?

For this exercise, we will be looking at the player grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for their entire 2021 regular-season performance. Before going any further, I must give the typical disclaimer that PFF grades are subjective. While some people rely on them heavily, others are quite skeptical of the process in which they are determined. It is completely up to each person as to how much stock they put into PFF’s grades. For me, I often look at the grades to see if my own “eye test” lines up with what others viewed as how a player performed. If nothing more, the grades create a discussion about how accurate, or inaccurate, they are for the season.

Instead of looking at the entire team at once, we break up the scores into offense and defense. First up is the defense. Included will be all the players who played at least one snap this season and the total snap counts for each player will be included. For reference sake, the Steelers played 395 snaps on defense so far this season. Also, for players who meet PFF’s snap minimum, their rank at their position is included.


Overall

Top 5 (regardless of position)

DT Cam Heyward: 92.3 (314 snaps); 1st of 119
OLB T.J. Watt: 86.5 (252 snaps); 5th of 110
DT Chris Wormley: 77.1 (273 snaps); 14th of 119
CB Arthur Maulet: 76.8 (127 snaps); 9th of 120
OLB Melvin Ingram III: 73.6 (246 snaps); 34th of 110

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

*OLB Jamir Jones: 47.9 (36 snaps)
CB Justin Layne: 44.4 (9 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux: 41.2 (54 snaps)
S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 37.0 (395 snaps); 83rd of 86
CB Ahkello Witherspoon: 34.8 (4 snaps)


Defensive Front Seven

DT Cam Heyward: 92.3 (314 snaps); 1st of 119
OLB T.J. Watt: 86.5 (252 snaps); 5th of 110
DT Chris Wormley: 77.1 (273 snaps); 14th of 119
OLB Melvin Ingram III: 73.6 (246 snaps); 34th of 110
DT Isaiah Buggs: 69.5 (107 snaps); 31st of 119
OLB Alex Highsmith: 62.9 (235 snaps); 65th of 110
OLB Derrek Tuszka: 62.8 (37 snaps)
DT Isaiahh Loudermilk: 60.6 (61 snaps)
+DT Tyson Alualu: 59.7 (57 snaps)
DT Carlos Davis: 58.7 (17 snaps)
*OLB Jamir Jones: 47.9 (36 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux: 41.2 (54 snaps)

Just in case you haven’t already heard, not only is Cam Heyward the highest ranked defense of interior lineman according to PFF, he’s the highest ranked defense of player in the NFL. After having a rough game against Green Bay as he appeared to be playing through injury, T.J. Watt is back on track and I would bet his score will only continue to increase. The other most interesting trend here is that the players who have played enough snaps to qualify to rank their position are all those who have the highest scores for the Steelers.

Inside Linebackers

ILB Joe Schobert: 63.2 (342 snaps); 22nd of 87
ILB Robert Spillane: 56.8 (87 snaps)
ILB Devin Bush: 54.0 (256 snaps); 49th of 87

With these scores being fairly average, the biggest surprise may be that there are only three players who have played snaps at inside linebacker for the Steelers. Carrying six players on the roster, neither Ulysees Gilbert III, Marcus Allen, or Buddy Johnson have seen a snap on defense through six games.

Defensive Backs

CB Arthur Maulet: 76.8 (127 snaps); 9th of 120
CB James Pierre: 64.4 (212 snaps); 53rd of 120
CB Tre Norwood: 64.2 (179 snaps); 55th of 120
S Miles Killebrew: 60.6 (1 snap)
CB Joe Haden: 60.0 (329 snaps); 70th of 120
S Karl Joseph: 59.7 (2 snaps)
S Terrell Edmunds: 58.0 (385 snaps); 57th of 86
CB Cam Sutton: 57.5 (327 snaps); 82nd of 120
CB Justin Layne: 44.4 (9 snaps)
S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 37.0 (395 snaps); 83rd of 86
CB Ahkello Witherspoon: 34.8 (4 snaps)

It’s the Steelers sub package players who top the list in the secondary. Joe Haden is the highest ranked of the starters and he has a 60.0 score which is the average starting point used by PFF. Of course, Minkah Fitzpatrick‘s grade is toward the very bottom of safeties even though he has an 82.4 run defense grade for the season. Additionally, Fitzpatrick is the only player to play every snap on defense so far in 2021. At least he’s done better than what Ahkello Witherspoon has done with his four snaps so far this year.


*No longer on the Steelers roster
+On the Reserve/Injured List

So, what do you think of the above grades? Do they pass the eye test? Let us know your thoughts on the Steelers’ defensive grades in the comments below.