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, especially after the shot they took at Ben Roethlisberger on Wednesday:
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 positions on the list given by Pro Football Focus are edge rusher and linebacker. According to PFF, the Steelers have the top player in the AFC North at both positions.
Despite being the other member in the two-horse race for NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2020 along with Aaron Donald of the Rams, T.J. Watt did not end up as the top ranked player when it comes to edge rushers. Here is the breakdown from PFF placing him at number two:
Going purely off of pass-rushing production, it’s difficult to top what Watt has been able to do over the past two seasons in Pittsburgh. He leads all edge defenders in sacks (29.5) and quarterback hits (46) since 2019, falling just short of Shaquil Barrett in total pressures. Watt turned in PFF grades of 91.3 and 91.6 in those two seasons; he has developed into a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate and one of the premier edge rushers in the NFL.
So who would possibly be in front of Watt in the rankings? PFF basically had to talk themselves into selecting Khalil Mack in the top spot. What do I mean by that? You can judge for yourself:
Mack falls outside the top 10 edge defenders in the NFL in total sacks over the last two seasons, but that is just one number that doesn’t reflect how dominant he has been on the field. PFF’s wins above replacement metric, PFF WAR, pegged Mack as the league’s most valuable edge rusher in 2020, and that dominance extends back to his rookie season in 2014. Mack has recorded an overall grade above 85.0 in each of his first seven NFL seasons.
To compare to the rest of the AFC North, Watt obviously has the top spot compared it to anyone else and division. The Cleveland Browns landed both Myles Garrett (4) and newly signed Jadeveon Clowney (20) on the list. Keeping with the newly signed players theme, the Cincinnati Bengals landed Trey Hendrickson (29) on the list after coming over from the New Orleans Saints. Getting away from the trend of quality Ravens pass rushers, Baltimore failed to put land a player in the top 32 for 2021.
One other player of note is former Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree. Despite getting very little love from PFF during his time in Pittsburgh, Dupree lands at 27th on the list.
Along with edge rusher, PFF also ranked the top 32 linebackers. Dominated by NFC players at the top of the list, Devin Bush ranked 17th.
Here is the breakdown on Bush which lands him on the list despite missing the majority of the 2020 season:
We have yet to see everything Devin Bush is capable of at the NFL level. His rookie season for the Steelers was solid but not spectacular, and then injury robbed us of seeing his sophomore improvement after just a few games. Bush has flashed impact playmaking ability, but he needs to show clear improvement in consistency in Year 3.
When it comes to the AFC North, not only was Bush the highest player on the list out of the division, he was the only one. Another interesting player to compare Bush to is his 2019 draft counterpart Devin White of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who finished behind bush at number 25.
While the Steelers were well represented by one player at each position, there is plenty of opportunity for others at the position to make a splash in 2021. Although these rankings going into the season can either give encouragement or act as motivation, being able to say a player was at the top of their position after this season when assessing their performance is the ultimate goal.