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Heyward and Watt top the Steelers defensive Pro Football Focus 2021 season grades

In the grades provided by PFF, the two Steelers All-Pro players unsurprisingly top the list.

Detroit Lions v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

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. Next up is the defense. Included will be all the players who played at least 50 defensive snaps and the total snap counts for each player will be included. For reference sake, the Steelers played 1,232 snaps on defense this season according to PFF.


Overall

Top 5 (regardless of position)

DT Cam Heyward: 90.8 (1,000 snaps)
OLB T.J. Watt: 89.6 (814 snaps)
CB Ahkello Witherspoon: 75.8 (410 snaps)
OLB Melvin Ingram: 73.1 (246 snaps)
DT Chris Wormley: 69.3 (769 snaps)

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

S Tre Norwood: 50.4 (402 snaps)
ILB Robert Spillane: 46.3 (381 snaps)
DT Isaiahh Loudermilk: 44.9 (309 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux: 42.0 (256 snaps)
ILB Devin Bush: 32.5 (795 snaps)


Defensive Front Seven

DT Cam Heyward: 90.8 (1,000 snaps)
OLB T.J. Watt: 89.6 (814 snaps)
OLB Melvin Ingram: 73.1 (246 snaps)
DT Chris Wormley: 69.3 (769 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 65.5 (910 snaps)
OLB Derrek Tuszka: 63.7 (258 snaps)
OLB Taco Charlton: 62.3 (221 snaps)
DT Tyson Alualu: 59.7 (57 snaps)
DT Isaiah Buggs: 59.1 (227 snaps)
DT Montravius Adams: 58.1 (198 snaps)
DT Carlos Davis: 58.7 (50 snaps)
DT Isaiahh Loudermilk: 44.9 (309 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux: 42.0 (256 snaps)

I must admit having to put Melvin Ingram on his list, let alone in the top five, made me throw up in my mouth a little bit. I will say his grade is strictly from his time with the Steelers. Cam Heyward grabbed the top overall score regardless of which side of the ball, barely edging out a special teams score (that list to come soon). As much as T.J. Watt gets ridiculed by PFF, they still can’t deny him a high score although they kept him just under 90.0 for the season. Overall, the position group had the majority of the scores at the top of the list with seven of the nine grades above the standard 60.0 coming from the defensive front.

Inside Linebackers

ILB Marcus Allen: 56.5 (77 snaps)
ILB Joe Schobert: 53.2 (956 snaps)
ILB Robert Spillane: 46.3 (381 snaps)
ILB Devin Bush: 32.5 (795 snaps)

Yeah, this position group struggled throughout the season. It’s sad that only four players qualified, and one was barely with Marcus Allen only getting 77 snaps this season. Nobody sniffed the top five from this group yet half of the players were in the bottom five. In all, everyone had a season score below the 60.0 standard. Whether or not it’s different players, the overall play at inside linebacker needs to improve in 2022.

Defensive Backs

CB Ahkello Witherspoon: 75.8 (410 snaps)
CB Joe Haden: 62.1 (695 snaps)
CB Cam Sutton: 59.3 (1,153 snaps)
S Terrell Edmunds: 58.7 (1,209 snaps)
CB James Pierre: 58.1 (415 snaps)
CB Arthur Maulet: 57.5 (380 snaps)
S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 57.2 (1,148 snaps)
S Tre Norwood: 50.4 (402 snaps)

I find it interesting that through the first nine games of the season Ahkello Witherspoon had the lowest defensive score on the Steelers with a 34.8 with only four total snaps. But over the final nine games, including the postseason, Witherspoon had one of the highest scores for the Steelers at 77.7 overall. Other than the pleasant surprise of Witherspoon coming on strong to finish the season, the Steelers didn’t really make much of a splash with their grades from this position group. More than anything, the score consistency was all over the place from game to game. For example, Tre Norwood turned in an outstanding 92.9 overall score in Week 6 against Seattle but had three games below 40.0 in the second half of the season. Minkah Fitzpatrick was all over the place with his PFF scores as well, ranging from a 29.1 in Week 2 to an 89.9 in Week 12. Whether or not it was inconsistent play from this position group or PFF not being an accurate gauge is ultimately a conclusion each person can draw for themselves.


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’ defensive grades in the comments below.