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Cumulative Pro Football Focus grades for the Steelers’ defense this preseason

Checking in on the preseason PFF grades for the Steelers’ defensive players on the 53-man roster.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have concluded the 2021 NFL preseason and have made their first series of moves in regards to their 53-man roster. As fans have learned, the first 53-man roster may not last much longer than 24 hours as the Steelers made three moves a day after their final cut downs.

Now that we know what players are on the Steelers’ roster (for now), how did those players perform throughout the preseason?

For this exercise, we will be looking at the player grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for the entire 2021 NFL preseason. Before going any further, I must give the typical disclaimer that PFF grades are subjective. While some people rely on them heavily, others are quite skeptical of the process in which they are determined. It is completely up to each person as to how much stock they put into PFF’s grades. For me, I often look at the grades to see if my own “eye test” lines up with what others viewed as how a player performed.

Instead of looking at the entire 53 man roster at once, first we looked at the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive players. Next up is the defense Included will be all the players currently on the Steelers 53-man roster as well as those who are currently on the Reserve/Injured List but are eligible to return. Total snap counts for each player will be included. For reference sake, the Steelers played 254 snaps on defense this preseason.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was set to appear on Friday but was moved due to the Steelers’ trade for Ahkello Witherspoon. For this reason, Henry Mondeaux was still included and Witherspoon’s score was also added.


Overall

Top 5 (regardless of position)

OLB Alex Highsmith: 90.1 (61 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux*: 83.1 (112 snaps)
OLB Melvin Ingram III: 77.7 (33 snaps)
CB James Pierre: 74.1 (147 snaps)
DT Carlos Davis: 71.8 (106 snaps)
*released on Friday

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

DT Cam Heyward: 53.7 (19 snaps)
S Tre Norwood: 52.4 (154 snaps)
ILB Ulysees Gilbert III: 42.8 (120 snaps)
ILB Devin Bush: 42.7 (35 snaps)
ILB Robert Spillane: 30.9 (142 snaps)

Defensive Front Seven

OLB Alex Highsmith: 90.1 (61 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux*: 83.1 (112 snaps)
OLB Melvin Ingram III: 77.7 (33 snaps)
DT Carlos Davis: 71.8 (106 snaps)
DT Chris Wormley: 71.4 (96 snaps)
DT Tyson Alualu: 70.0 (18 snaps)
DT Isaiahh Loudermilk: 68.9 (131 snaps)
DT Isaiah Buggs: 66.6 (45 snaps)
OLB Jamir Jones: 65.1 (123 snaps)
DT Cam Heyward: 53.7 (19 snaps)
*released on Friday

When looking at the Steelers’ top 5 defensive scores, four of them come from the defensive front seven. Both Alex Highsmith and Melvin Ingram were highly impressive in their limited action in the preseason. What many Steelers’ fans may have missed was how well Henry Mondeaux played on the defensive line while starting three of the four games. Unfortunately, the Steelers released Mondeaux on Friday to make room for Ahkello Witherspoon. Had the Steelers kept Quincy Roche, who had a score of 73.0 on 101 snaps, he would have been in the overall top five for the Steelers defense this preseason. While it is strange to see Cam Heyward at the bottom of the list, only playing 19 snaps may not give the best indication for what we can expect in the regular season.

Inside Linebackers

ILB Buddy Johnson: 63.5 (71 snaps)
ILB Joe Schobert: 61.6 (25 snaps)
ILB Marcus Allen: 57.5 (90 snaps)
ILB Ulysees Gilbert III: 42.8 (120 snaps)
ILB Devin Bush: 42.7 (35 snaps)
ILB Robert Spillane: 30.9 (142 snaps)

Steelers inside linebackers struggled the majority of the 2021 preseason. Some of their best scores came in the Steelers third game when some of the secondary starters saw some snaps and kept the inside linebackers from some unfavorable matchups in the passing game. Four of the six inside linebackers had their score brought down due to pass coverage with the exceptions being a Buddy Johnson and Marcus Allen. With scores down across the position group, there’s a good chance they will be utilized different in the non-vanilla defense many expect come the regular season.

Defensive Backs

CB James Pierre: 74.1 (147 snaps)
S Miles Killebrew: 70.4 (136 snaps)
CB Joe Haden: 68.8 (5 snaps)
S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 67.1 (21 snaps)
S Terrell Edmunds: 63.2 (46 snaps)
CB Justin Layne: 62.8 (132 snaps)
CB Arthur Maulet: 57.2 (54 snaps)
CB Ahkello Witherspoon^: 57.2 (66 snaps)
CB Cam Sutton: 55.8 (69 snaps)
S Tre Norwood: 52.4 (154 snaps)
^acquired via trade from Seattle

James Pierre landed on top of this list after an outstanding performance the final game of the preseason with his 90.0 score against the Panthers. Pierre was sitting at a 61.8 score through the first three games which would have had him seventh on the position list. Just to show how things go both ways, rookie Tre Norwood was fourth through three games with a 64.5 overall score before his 36.2 in the final game dropped him to the bottom of the list. Even though they had very limited snaps, getting a good performance from Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick was encouraging. If Cam Sutton is going to be used extensively, either outside or inside, hopefully he can get settled in as his role gets more defined.


So, what do you think of the above grades? Do they pass the eye test? Let us know your thoughts on the Steelers’ defensive grades in the comments below.