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Derek Watt tops the Steelers offensive Pro Football Focus 2021 season grades

In the grades provided by PFF, it was the Steelers rarely used fullback who earned the top score.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 season has come to a close. While the Steelers come up short of the ultimate goal of winning the championship, they have lots of company as 30 other teams will come up short as well. Whether you are in the category of believing the Steelers over-performed or under-performed, there were definitely things the Steelers did well this season and other places where they need a lot of improvement.

But how did the individual players grade out?

For this exercise, we will be looking at the player grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for the entire 2021 season, including the postseason. 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. If nothing more, the grades create a discussion about how accurate, or inaccurate, they are each week.

Instead of looking at the entire team at once, we break up the scores into offense and defense. First up is the offense. Included will be all the players who played at least 50 snaps this season, and the total snap counts for each player will be included. For reference sake, the Steelers played 1,240 snaps on offense this season according to PFF.


Overall

Top 5 (regardless of position)

FB Derek Watt: 76.3 (88 snaps)
QB Mason Rudolph: 73.9 (96 snaps)
WR Diontae Johnson: 73.2 (1,046 snaps)
TE Pat Freiermuth: 72.9 (715 snaps)
G B.J. Finney: 71.4 (87 snaps)

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

C Kendrick Green: 53.4 (975 snaps)
QB Ben Roethlisberger: 53.0 (1,143 snaps)
WR James Washington: 52.9 (502 snaps)
RB Kalen Ballage: 48.6 (85 snaps)
TE Eric Ebron: 48.4 (245 snaps)


Quarterback

QB Mason Rudolph: 73.9 (96 snaps)
QB Ben Roethlisberger: 53.0 (1,143 snaps)

It is interesting that the two quarterbacks for the Steelers ended up with one in the top five and one in the bottom five. While those not wanting the Steelers to turn to Mason Rudolph in 2022 will dismiss any positive grade, remember it was not the largest sample size available and if the cutoff would have been 100 snaps Rudolph would not even be included. While his 68.8 passing score was significantly better than Roethlisberger’s 52.8, what really set the two players apart for the season was Rudolph’s 82.2 rushing grade as he had the Steelers third longest run of the season of 26 yards only behind two carries by Najee Harris in Week 17.

Running Backs

FB Derek Watt: 76.3 (88 snaps)
RB Najee Harris: 69.4 (1,008 snaps)
RB Benny Snell Jr.: 54.9 (128 snaps)
RB Kalen Ballage: 48.6 (85 snaps)

It might be disappointing to many that Derrick Watt was the top overall offensive PFF score for the Steelers in 2021, but at least Watt performed well in his limited action. What helped to score was having the second-highest run blocking grade of 71.9 only behind wide receiver Cody White. Najee Harris finished just outside the top five in the sixth position in his rookie season. As interesting as the grades are, it’s ultimately the snap counts which show exactly the Steelers division of labor at the running back position in 2021.

Receivers

WR Diontae Johnson: 73.2 (1,046 snaps)
TE Pat Freiermuth: 72.9 (715 snaps)
WR Chase Claypool: 67.1 (866 snaps)
TE Zach Gentry: 66.5 (513 snaps)
WR Cody White: 60.1 (77 snaps)
WR Ray-Ray McCloud: 58.0 (550 snaps)
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster: 58.0 (274 snaps)
WR James Washington: 52.9 (502 snaps)
TE Eric Ebron: 48.4 (245 snaps)

Although Diontae Johnson finished third on the Steelers offense, he was first for a good part of the season until scores late in the year dropped him down. In fact, Johnson was ahead of Mason Rudolph prior to the Steelers playoff game. So while his score was solid for the season overall, it did not end on the correct trajectory. Instead, rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth remained fairly consistent throughout the year and provided a great baseline for his future years. What is also interesting from this position group was how JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ray-Ray McCloud, the two players mainly playing the same alignment, finished with the exact same score.

Offensive Line

G B.J. Finney: 71.4 (87 snaps)
C J.C. Hassenauer: 68.4 (345 snaps)
G Trai Turner: 68.1 (1,150 snaps)
OT Joe Haeg: 67.2 (320 snaps)
G Kevin Dotson: 64.5 (565 snaps)
OT Chuks Okorafor: 62.6 (1,133 snaps)
OT Dan Moore Jr.: 57.4 (1,147 snaps)
G John Leglue: 54.4 (474 snaps)
C Kendrick Green: 53.4 (975 snaps)

In all honesty, I don’t know what to make of the overall scores for the Steelers linemen. None were all that outstanding while not completely awful. The biggest problem when it came to each player was more about consistency and scores that fluctuated up-and-down from game to game. It should be noted that the top pass blocking grade among offensive linemen for the season belongs to Kevin Dotson with 78.3 while the top run blocking score went to B.J. Finney with a 66.8 grade.


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