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Pro Football Focus ranks the Steelers defensive line as the top unit in the NFL

The Steelers front five defensive players are the best in the NFL entering the 2021 season.

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Pittsburgh Steelers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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, even if they did give the Steelers a high score:

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 defensive line, including both interior defensive linemen and edge rushers. According to PFF, the Pittsburgh Steelers come in at at the top spot in the NFL.

With the Steelers retaining four of their five starters up front on defense for 2021, it is not surprising to see them ranked as the top unit. Why the Steelers ended up in the number one spot is described below according to PFF:


One would think that Pittsburgh’s defensive line is slated to take a step back after replacing Bud Dupree with Alex Highsmith. But that step might not be as large as many expect. Highsmith finished his rookie season with a higher pass-rush win rate (16.5%) than Dupree (13.7%) last year. He joins a group that already features T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, all of whom made PFF’s list of the top 32 players at their respective positions entering the 2021 NFL season. That group will look to match a league-leading 45.1% pressure rate in 2020.

Even with the loss of Bud Dupree to the Tennessee Titans (23rd on the list) for the 2021 season, the Steelers aren’t completely going into the unknown as Alex Highsmith started the last five games of the 2020 season as well as the Wild Card Game before leaving with an injury. Being able to play next to such great talent that the Steelers have collected on the defensive front is only going to help HIghsmith as he looks to make a big jump in his second NFL season. As for T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Tyson Alualu, there’s not much more that could be said about these players as they had a fantastic year with the black and gold in 2020.

Taking our typical look around the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns were the next team on the list in the 11th spot. While PFF is really looking highly on the addition of Jadeveon Clowney, time will tell as he has not seen an NFL sack since Week 10 of the 2019 NFL season. As for the rest of the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens came in at number 21 while the Cincinnati Bengals checked in at the 25th position.

With the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive front five getting the recognition around the NFL they deserve, ultimately finishing the season as the top unit is much more important than starting in that position. If the Steelers defense is going to lead this team back to the postseason in 2021, the guys upfront are going to be called on constantly to get the job done.