Now that Pro Football Focus has finished their top players at each position lists for the 2021 offseason, the shift has come to position unit rankings. Rather than looking at just the individual players, they are looking at the group which makes up the position and how they compare to the rest of the NFL.
As usual, here comes my standard PFF disclaimer regardless of where the Steelers are ranked:
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 next position unit listed by Pro Football Focus is the linebackers. Because edge rushers are included in the defensive line with these rankings, this unit is comprised completely of inside linebackers for teams who play a 3-4 defense. According to PFF, the Pittsburgh Steelers come in at number 13 in the NFL and are the top team in the AFC North.
Since this unit is comprised of only one position for the Steelers, it comes down to only two or three players who factor into the equation. Why the Steelers ended up in the 13th position is described below according to PFF:
The Steelers ask a lot of their inside linebackers, and because of that, we are waiting on Devin Bush to earn the kind of grades his talent suggests he should. The best endorsement of his impact thus far has arguably come from what happens when he isn’t in the lineup. Vince Williams returns for 2021, but he is coming off a career-low 50.3 overall grade and has never been a plus player in coverage.
Much like the majority of Steelers fans, Pro Football Focus is high on inside linebacker Devin Bush. After missing 11 games in 2020, Bush coming back into the lineup gives the Steelers an instant upgrade at the position. Whether or not Bush returns as the same player following his ACL injury will be the biggest factor for the 2021 season when it comes to the Steelers inside linebackers.
Not mentioned in the PFF breakdown was Steelers inside linebacker Robert Spillane who filled in admirably in Bush‘s absence. Based on the defensive game plan, look for instances where it is both Bush and Spillane on the field together to fill out the defensive unit. In fact, don’t be shocked if in some packages there are three inside linebackers for the Steelers who could end up on the field at the same time.
Doing our usual trip around the AFC North, the Steelers were the top team in these rankings. In fact, the NFC dominated the top of the linebacker rankings with eight of the top 12 spots. The next team from the AFC North on the list was the Baltimore Ravens in the 19th position. Coming in towards the bottom of the list was the Cleveland Browns at 27th and the Cincinnati Bengals at 31st.
With Devin Bush commenting on Wednesday that his knee is somewhere between 80% and 90%, he is hopeful to be 100% by training camp at the end of July. Actually having preseason games in 2021 will help a player like Bush who is coming off an injury to where he can get some snaps on the field but won’t be thrown into a full 60 minutes of game action. Hopefully the Steelers can manage Bush’s preseason playing time in order to have him ready to play the majority of snaps come September 12 in Buffalo.