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Game-changing plays a big factor in the Steelers 2021 special teams Pro Football Focus grades

In the grades provided by PFF, it was splash plays on special teams that affected the grades the most.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/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.

We already broke up the scores into offense and defense. To finish up, we’ll now take a look at the special teams. 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 player on the Steelers who played the most snaps on special teams this season is 358 according to PFF.


Top 5 (regardless of position)

S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 90.7 (81 snaps)
S Miles Killebrew: 87.6 (356 snaps)
ILB Ulysees Gilbert III: 87.6 (358 snaps)
OLB Derrek Tuszka: 87.2 (217 snaps)
TE Kevin Rader: 74.9 (50 snaps)

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

ILB Marcus Allen: 49.4 (322 snaps)
WR Ray-Ray McCloud: 47.6 (171 snaps)
CB Cam Sutton: 45.3 (107 snaps)
CB Justin Layne: 41.7 (259 snaps)
RB Benny Snell Jr.: 36.9 (347 snaps)

Field Goals

K Chris Boswell: 82.3 (73 FG snaps); 61.0 (163 overall snaps)

I thought it was only fair to give the specialists their own groups and give their score in their specialty along with their overall grade for special teams. As you can see, Chris Boswell’s field goal/extra points grade was fantastic and ranked him sixth in the NFL.


P Pressley Harvin: 54.4 (77 punt snaps); 63.8 (143 overall snaps)
P Corliss Waitman: 53.3 (7 punt snaps); 61.1 (16 snaps)

I know I broke the rule of including someone with less than 50 snaps, but I felt Corliss Waitman’s punting score should be included along with Pressley Harvin’s. The two grades were fairly close and you can take from it whatever you like.

Long Snapper

LS Christian Kuntz: 53.6 (157 snaps)

I don’t know how Christian Kuntz graded below a 60.0, especially since he was a factor on coverage after snapping the ball. The fact that his name was rarely mentioned and a bad snap didn’t seem to be the cause of any problems this season, I expected him to score much higher.

Defensive Front Seven

OLB Derrek Tuszka: 87.2 (217 snaps)
DT Chris Wormley: 59.4 (117 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux: 59.3 (62 snaps)
DT Cam Heyward: 59.2 (109 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 59.1 (66 snaps)

The scores were separated by a fraction of a point with the stand out being Derek Tuszka. He had the highest grade of any player not associated with the block of a kick.

Inside Linebackers

ILB Ulysees Gilbert III: 87.6 (358 snaps)
ILB Buddy Johnson: 72.7 (59 snaps)
ILB Robert Spillane: 69.1 (255 snaps)
ILB Devin Bush: 59.9 (64 snaps)
ILB Joe Schobert: 58.9 (82 snaps)
ILB Marcus Allen: 49.4 (322 snaps)

Gilbert obviously gets a boost from scoring a touchdown on the blocked punt in Week 1. It was also nice to see Buddy Johnson get a good score in his limited action this season. Exactly why Marcus Allen landed so low, I couldn’t really tell you other than having two penalties.

Defensive Backs

S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 90.7 (81 snaps)
S Miles Killebrew: 87.6 (356 snaps)
CB James Pierre: 71.7 (243 snaps)
CB Arthur Maulet: 65.2 (183 snaps)
S Terrell Edmunds: 60.9 (87 snaps)
S Tre Norwood: 56.9 (213 snaps)
CB Cam Sutton: 45.3 (107 snaps)
CB Justin Layne: 41.7 (259 snaps)

If you’re wondering why Minkah Fitzpatrick has a score through the roof, you should know that PFF still grades plays that go through to completion even if they ultimately don’t count due to a penalty. So Fitzpatrick’s field goal block in return for a touchdown against Green Bay still affected his score. In looking at his 81 snaps on special teams, three of them came as part of the hands team on kickoff return and all the rest were as part of the field goal block team. Of course, Miles Killebrew also scored high by blocking two punts this season. Justin Layne led the team in special teams penalties with five which landed him at the bottom of the list.

Running Backs

FB Derek Watt: 71.7 (353 snaps)
RB Kalen Ballage: 55.1 (105 snaps)
RB Benny Snell Jr.: 36.9 (347 snaps)

Derek Watt is the special teams captain for a reason— he makes plays when given the opportunity. Benny Snell comes in at the bottom of the team most likely because he had four penalties called against him.


TE Kevin Rader: 74.9 (50 snaps)
TE Zach Gentry: 65.7 (141 snaps)
WR Cody White: 58.2 (105 snaps)
WR Ray-Ray McCloud: 47.6 (171 snaps)

Kevin Rader barely saw enough snaps to qualify, but mainly playing on kick return and kick coverage earned him scored high enough to land in the top five. As for Ray-Ray McCloud, he had a decent returning scores (66.4 kickoff, 55.1 punt) but a poor overall score.

Offensive Line

C J.C. Hassenauer: 64.1(53 snaps)
OT Chuks Okorafor: 63.6 (69 snaps)
OT Dan Moore Jr.: 63.2 (67 snaps)

I had to include these guys because they played more than 50 snaps, but they were the only three lineman who made the cut. Used only on field goal and extra points, there had to be four other players out there on the line other than the long snapper. The fact that they all scored over 60.0 means that they did their job.

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’ special teams grades in the comments below.