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Pro Football Focus grades for the Steelers’ special teams this preseason

Checking in on the preseason PFF grades for the Steelers’ special teams players both on the 53-man roster and those who didn’t make the cut.

Dallas Cowboys v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

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 and followed it up with a trade.

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 and defensive players. To finish up, special teams will be the focus this time. First off will be the top and bottom players currently on the Steelers 53-man roster which could include those who are currently on the Reserve/Injured List but are eligible to return. Additionally, I’ll list out the top five and bottom five from players who are not on the 53-man roster at this time. Total snap counts for each player will be included. Unfortunately, PFF does not report on the total number of special teams’ snaps for the preseason. As a team, the Steelers had an 84.7 overall grade for special teams during the 2021 preseason which was ranked 6th in the NFL.

Overall (on the roster)

Top 5 (regardless of position)

S Tre Norwood: 90.4 (46 snaps)
OLB Jamir Jones: 86.1 (69 snaps)
LS Christian Kuntz: 77.6 (27 snaps)
RB Derek Watt: 76.6 (16 snap)
RB Anthony McFarland Jr.*: 69.1 (20 snap)
*on the Reserve/Injured List

Seeing these five players on the list is somewhat encouraging as they are all hopeful to be core special teams players in 2021. Seeing a long snapper having such a high score on special teams, mainly due to him getting two special teams tackles, might help understand why Kuntz won the job. Jamir Jones led all Steelers players in special teams tackles this preseason with six, which was also the most in the entire NFL.

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

ILB Buddy Johnson: 57.1 (65 snaps)
RB Kalen Ballage: 53.5 (28 snap)
CB James Pierre: 52.5 (15 snaps)
CB Justin Layne: 51.1 (16 snaps)
S Miles Killebrew: 50.2 (17 snaps)

As much as the top five players was encouraging, please players being towards the bottom are a bit discouraging. Luckily the scores aren’t that terrible. Buddy Johnson being in the bottom five is surprising as he was second on the team in special teams tackles with three. With Miles Killebrew being one of the main special teams players to start the season, hopefully we will see higher scores from him as the season goes on.

Overall (not on the roster)

Top 5 (regardless of position)

WR Anthony Johnson: 90.0 (32 snaps)
TE Kevin Rader^: 67.4 (34 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux: 66.8 (42 snaps)
WR Tyler Simmons: 66.2 (7 snaps)
S Lamont Wade: 64.6 (25 snaps)
^on the Steelers practice squad

Unfortunately, Henry Mondeaux has to be included in this group as he was released on Friday with the trade for Ahkello Witherspoon (who had a 68.2 special teams score with Seattle this preseason). Hopefully there will soon be a mark next to Mondeaux’s name signifying he is on the Steelers practice squad. Kevin Rader is another player who performed well on special teams and could be utilized from the practice squad this season if the Steelers need to call upon him. It was quite surprising to see Anthony Johnson with such a high score and yet not even landing on the Steelers practice squad at this time for 2021.

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

WR Cody White^: 56.6 (29 snaps)
S Donovan Stiner^: 55.1 (38 snaps)
CB Lafayette Pitts: 53.6 (32 snaps)
WR Mathew Sexton: 48.9 (15 snaps)
WR Rico Bussey^: 44.4 (4 snaps)
^on the Steelers practice squad

In glancing over these names, although the majority of them are on the Steelers practice squad at this time, it might be theit lower special team score which had them on the Steelers reserve team and not on the 53-man roster. The most telling thing from this list is wide receiver Mathew Sexton who missed his opportunity to crack the Steelers lineup as a kick returner to a point where he did not even make the practice squad.

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.