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.
And here comes my standard PFF disclaimer yet again:
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 interior defensive line. According to PFF, the Steelers place three players in the top 32 across the NFL.
To nobody’s surprise, the top spot on the list belongs to Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Coming in just behind Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs is Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward in the third spot. Here is PFF’s breakdown of Heyward:
Heyward’s play has only improved with age. He has logged 3,416 defensive snaps over the last four seasons (fourth at the position), and his 91.9 PFF grade falls short of just Aaron Donald, Chris Jones and Fletcher Cox over that span. It’s difficult to find many faults in his overall game, with him posting both run-defense and pass-rush grades above 89.0 since 2017. Heyward, along with two other Steelers on this list, gives Pittsburgh one of the most formidable defensive fronts in the NFL.
Falling just outside of the top 10 comes Stephon Tuitt after registering the second most sacks on the Steelers in 2020 behind T.J. Watt. Here is the breakdown on Tuitt:
Tuitt is the second Steelers player to find his way into the top 12, coming off another strong showing in 2020. His 71 pressures last season ranked second at the position, behind only Aaron Donald. It was a continuation of the hot start he got off to in 2019 before an injury prematurely ended his season. He should continue to be a disruptive force for the Steelers in 2021 as offensive lines try to contend with Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt.
Despite getting a 2020 ranking higher of that teammate Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu lands as the third member of the Steelers in the top 32 at number 29. Here is PFF’s breakdown on Alualu:
Alualu has solidified his position as Pittsburgh’s nose tackle these past two seasons after stepping into that role when Javon Hargrave left the team. From 2010 through 2016, Alualu never recorded a PFF grade higher than 62.0 with Jacksonville. He has graded higher than that in each of the past four seasons with the Steelers, including overall grades of at least 80.0 in each of 2019 and 2020. Despite turning 34 in May, Alualu is on the upswing.
Looking at the other players from the AFC North, the Steelers landed more players on the list then the other three teams combined. The Baltimore Ravens place to Calais Campbell (10) on the list while the Cincinnati Bengals we are represented by D.J. Reader (21). The Cleveland Browns did not have a player make the list.
Surprisingly, even though the Steelers placed three players in the top 32, they did not have the most representation. The New York Jets had four players on the list in Quinnen Williams (14), Folorunso Fatukasi (27), Sheldon Rankins (28), and John Franklin-Myers (30). Although the Jets had more players on the list, they did not rank nearly as high as the Steelers.
While some fans of other franchises may not have realized this, the Pittsburgh Steelers have put together the best defensive line in the NFL over the last several seasons. The fact the Steelers were able to retain Tyson Alualu after it was believed he had departed for Jacksonville is a big win for the Steelers defensive front going into 2021. With the Steelers also investing in key reserves by re-signing Chris Wormley and drafting Isaiahh Loudermilk, the Steelers are hopeful the defensive line can continue to be a strength for years to come.