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Finding the most underrated defensive player on the Steelers roster

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is a work in progress, but who would be considered the most underrated player on the defensive side of the football?

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike when I went on a search to find out which offensive player on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster was the most underrated, performing the same task with the defense was quite the challenge.

It isn’t to suggest the Pittsburgh defense is awful, they are a young group which seems to be growing by leaps and bounds, but when compared to the All-Star team the Steelers call an offense, it is a different set of circumstances to choose from.

When you look at the defensive side of the ball, there are some players who are immediately off the list due to the recognition they receive. Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Ryan Shazier, James Harrison and even Bud Dupree have all been given their due one way or another.

The most underrated player would be someone who consistently performs at a high level, but rarely gets the ink and publicity they deserve. I’ve narrowed it down to a short list of players who are deserving, in my opinion.

S Mike Mitchell
CB Ross Cockrell
S Sean Davis
CB Artie Burns
CB William Gay

Although the 2016 NFL Draft class was riddled with rookies who didn’t just play, but turned into starters, they all received plenty of credit for their contributions to the team. Davis was named the Steelers 2016 Rookie of the Year.

Veteran William Gay has made his share of big plays in his career, there is a reason he is called ‘Big Play’ Willie Gay. However, last year his play took a step backwards. Gay wasn’t horrendous, but showed signs of losing a step.

This leaves the underrated player between Ross Cockrell and Mike Mitchell. For me, the choice is Mitchell. Cockrell has done a tremendous job, but Mitchell does so much which isn’t usually noticed by the casual observer.

Cockrell has been solid, and despite what the public thinks of Mitchell, he has been very good since his injury plagued first season in the Steel City. Let’s start with the statistics, since they are the measurables everyone points to.

Since coming to Pittsburgh, Mitchell has had 4 interceptions, forced four fumbles, recovered three fumbles, averaged 56 tackles a season and has started in every game since donning the black and gold, despite groin and shoulder injuries in separate seasons.

Those statistics are hardly mind-blowing, but they don’t also incorporate just who is playing alongside Mitchell. Mitchell has played with everyone from Troy Polamalu, to Shamarko Thomas, Jordan Dangerfield, Robert Golden and now Sean Davis. He has been hands-down captain of the secondary, and he is constantly getting the cornerbacks and safeties on the same page pre-snap. Talk about safeties he has played alongside, the cornerbacks aren’t much better.

Mitchell is a big hitter who likes to celebrate and run his mouth on occasion. This rubs a lot of people the wrong way, and that is understood, but it also shouldn’t deter them from seeing Mitchell as a tremendous player who has been a big piece of the overall defensive puzzle since coming to Pittsburgh via free agency.

Mitchell does have his faults, but has improved each season. With a secondary which is growing, both physically and mentally, Mitchell is the glue which keeps things together. If everyone takes a step forward in 2017, Mitchell could be in for a big season, and that would move him off the underrated list...something I would be completely fine with.