Coming out of Stanford, David DeCastro was favorably compared to future Hall of Famer Steve Hutchinson. A combination of strength, athleticism, and football intelligence, DeCastro was the No. 1-rated guard in the 2012 Draft, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper. The Steelers selected DeCastro with the 24th overall pick, only to see him suffer a season-ending knee injury in the third preseason game, an injury which left him both physically and mentally unsure of how far he could trust his own body.
Nearly three years later, DeCastro finds himself at the top of his game, paving the way for more than 500 team rushing yards over the last three games. On Sunday, DeCastro held the Bengals' Geno Atkins, one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL, to only three tackles. Atkins never laid a finger on Ben Roethlisberger.
DeCastro is strong enough to hold his own against bigger players (34 reps on the bench at the combine), he's quick enough to pull off of a block and lead a run to the outside (he ran a 5.4 40-yard dash) and he possesses an above average football IQ (having played in a Pro-style system at Stanford). In fact, Roethlisberger isn't the first big, mobile QB DeCastro has been tasked with protecting. DeCastro's Stanford teammate, Andrew Luck, would go on to have the best season in school history in 2011.
Steelers ring Bell for 204 yards vs. Titans.
By all measures, DeCastro's abilities as a linemen have produced mixed results. The numbers suggest DeCastro ranks 31st out of 80 qualified NFL guards, according to Pro Football Focus, as Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review points out in a feature story Saturday. Teammates who match up with Decastro in practice, however, point out the numbers are hardly relevant.
"We got to get a body on a body, and Dave is the best guard in the league. Once you pull him, he's going open up holes," says DeCastro's teammate Ramon Foster, according to Paulk. "I like his growth and he's playing at a Pro-Bowl caliber level."
Pittsburgh already has more rushing yards this season (1,610) than they had in 2013 (1,358) or 2012 (1,537), and there's still three games left on the schedule.
As evidence of DeCastro's high level of play, the Steelers ran a counter-play more than a dozen times against Cincinnati, a play in which Decastro is responsible for pulling and leading the runner. With Le'Veon Bell collecting 185 rushing yards, it's clear DeCastro's blocks on the counter-runs helped spring the NFL's second-leading rusher to some extra yards by wearing down a talented Bengals defensive line.
The Steelers' offensive line had perhaps its best day ever in pass protection in Week 8 vs. the Colts.
DeCastro's toughness, a trait of paramount importance for an interior lineman, has enabled the third-year star to overcome his fear of injury. He also has adopted a more finesse-style of play, opting to focus on technique and footwork rather than raw physicality. He says it has helped him become mentally tougher.
More than anything, DeCastro knows there's still work to be done this season.
"We are very confident, but we're humble and realistic, too," DeCastro said. "We have been stopped, so we know how we dislike that. We have to be very detailed and on our keys this week."