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Pro Football Focus ranks the Steelers secondary around the middle of the NFL

On the defensive side of the ball, the secondary is looking at the most change for the Steelers in 2021.

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Denver Broncos vs Pittsburgh Steelers

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 ended up:

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 (and possibly last) position unit listed by Pro Football Focus is the secondary which consists of cornerbacks and safeties. According to PFF, the Pittsburgh Steelers come in at number 12.

Five seasons ago Steelers fans would have been ecstatic to have the secondary ranked this high. But with the additions of Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick over the last four seasons, the Steelers’ secondary had turned into a defensive strength rather than a weakness. Why the Steelers ended up in the 12th position going into 2021 is described below according to PFF:

12. PITTSBURGH STEELERS

The Steelers will be relying on several younger players to step up following the offseason losses of Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton in the secondary. Cameron Sutton is one of them, and he will likely start opposite Joe Haden at cornerback. Sutton has ranked in the 94th percentile in coverage grade on a per-snap basis among all cornerbacks since 2019, though much of that grade stems from his work in the slot.

Minkah Fitzpatrick has been excellent since taking over as the team’s free safety in 2019. No defense has allowed fewer completions on passes 20-plus yards downfield than Pittsburgh (32) over that stretch.

Not to the same degree as the offensive line is seeing change going into 2021, the Steelers secondary looks to have the biggest shake up of any position group on the defense. Losing Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton, although somewhat by choice, does leave some uncertainty with things going into the season. Exactly how things will pan out in training camp as to who will earn the starting outside cornerback position as well as a slot cornerback remains to be seen.

Even with the quality of play from both Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick, a defensive unit needs to be complete in order to be effective. Adding in the fact the Steelers did not choose to exercise the fifth-year option on starting strong safety Terrell Edmunds, it could make some wonder how much confidence the Steelers have in their other pieces.

What is interesting with the secondary units around the AFC North is that they all land in the top half of the NFL. The top team from the North is the Baltimore Ravens coming in at the second position followed closely by the Cleveland Browns in third. Rounding up the bottom of the AFC North is the Cincinnati Bengals, although they managed to land in the 15th position.

When looking at how the Steelers handled their business this offseason, they obviously felt they had other options in order to make Steve Nelson a cap casualty of the reduced salary cap for 2020. Whether or not these players are at the same level of ones that they lost remains to be seen. While l the players in the Steelers’ secondary may not be the best they could have assembled compared to 2020, they are what they were able to do for the price they were able to pay. With some interesting young undrafted players coming to training camp, as well as 2020 undrafted free agent James Pierre getting into the mix, the Steelers’ secondary has the potential to be a unit which could surprise teams around the NFL.