As more lists of the top players at their positions are getting cycled through heading into training camp for the 2021 NFL season, we continue to scour the lists looking for members of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pro Football Focus has been shooting out their lists left and right as of late as teams are in the OTA stage of the offseason.
I have to give my regular disclaimer in regards to PFF so often, I’m simply going to cut and paste it this time:
It seems like I can’t write an article about PFF without giving the typical disclaimer of how their projections can be highly questionable. Even their grading of players after the fact can be picked apart, so expecting them to do well in the prediction business is not something which I’m ready to bet the farm on based on their conclusions.
The latest position on the list given by Pro Football Focus is offensive guard. According to PFF, the Steelers place both their projected starting guards for the 2021 season in the top 32.
Quenton Nelson— PFF (@PFF) May 24, 2021
PFF's ranks the top 32 Gs in the NFL ahead of the 2021 season ⬇️ https://t.co/ENmgbYlEtN
To nobody’s surprise, David DeCastro is not as high on the list as he has been in years past based on issues which arose during the 2020 season. Knowing if the cause was due to injury, age, or other issues from the strange 2020 season will likely come to light more as the sample size in 2021 increases. But going into the season, here is the breakdown from Pro Football Focus which places DeCastro at 15th:
DeCastro is still a very good player, but at his best, he was arguably the best right guard in football, and that is no longer the case without a reversal in the direction his play has been trending. DeCastro now has seven straight seasons with a PFF pass-blocking grade of at least 80.0, and he has surrendered just two sacks in four years, including the playoffs.
Surprisingly, Steelers guard Kevin Dotson is getting some love from PFF coming out of his rookie season despite his limited playing time. Dotson came in at 29th on the list with a breakdown as follows:
The biggest projection on the list outside of rookies, Dotson has just 358 snaps of NFL action under his belt. In those snaps, he earned a pass-blocking grade above 87.2, allowing just one hurry.
As a point of note, former Steelers guard Matt Feiler landed at number 32 on the list. Whether or not PFF has it right or not remains to be seen, but many Steelers fans felt Dotson had already moved ahead of Feiler despite the fact Dotson was left standing on the sidelines during the Steelers Wildcard game last season after Feiler’s return from injury.
Looking around the AFC North, both of the guards for the Cleveland Browns landed in the top 10 with Joel Bitonio (4) and Wyatt Teller (9). The Ravens also landed a player on the list in newly acquired Kevin Zeitler (14). The Cincinnati Bengals did not have a player on the list.
Moving on to the center position, Pro Football Focus also did a list of the top 32 players here as well. Which teams are only starting one center versus two guards, it makes it a little bit easier to end up on the list.
With this in mind, who from the Steelers would be the front runner to make it? The answer is the rookie.
The Steelers third-round draft pick from 2021 Kendrick Green, regardless of only starting for games at center in college, lands at number 23 on the list of centers.
Rodney Hudson— PFF (@PFF) May 24, 2021
PFF's ranks the top 32 Cs in the NFL ahead of the 2021 season ⬇️https://t.co/DUN4dotlR5
Here is the breakdown of Green according to PFF:
There was much talk about the Steelers’ need to address their offensive line heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. They drafted Green in the third round as a result, their first attempt to attack the unit. He spent most of his time at guard at Illinois, but he saw several starts at center, as well.
You like to see the year-to-year improvement he showed after making the switch from defensive tackle to guard in college, raising his grade from 59.0 in his first year as a starter in 2018 to 88.0 this past season. His athleticism and explosiveness should help kickstart Pittsburgh’s run game.
A player the Steelers had a chance to draft one round sooner, Creed Humphrey, landed at number 16 for the Kansas City Chiefs. Humphrey may have graded out higher, but it appears Green has more of the characteristics the Steelers look for in a center.
Making our typical rounds through the AFC North, the top player on the list was J.C. Tretter (4) of the Cleveland Browns for who is also the president of the NFLPA in case the name sounds familiar for more than just his play on the field. The Cincinnati Bengals were the next team from the AFC North on the list with Trey Hopkins (17). The Ravens’ Bradley Bozeman (18) who is making a change to center also landed on the list.
While these rankings are a good discussion point heading into the season, what ultimately will matter is the ability of these players to come together on the field to give the Steelers the best opportunity for winning. Whether or not this lands players ranked higher or not is irrelevant as the unit as a whole will ultimately be responsible for protecting Ben Roethlisberger and improving the Steelers running game.