Devil’s Advocate: D-Line Sack Leader

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Which defensive lineman will finish the 2017 regular season with the most sacks?

The Steelers actually have some options this time around for this question: which Steelers defensive lineman is going to produce the most sacks during the 2017 regular season? While the team has leaned upon Cameron Heyward and the young Stephon Tuitt over the past two years, we also saw the emergence of a new force in rookie defensive tackle Javon Hargrave.

Obviously, the case to be made for Hargrave really hinges on how much playing time he will get, but the Steelers have talked about getting him time in the nickel, and as we talked about yesterday, it would also benefit them to perhaps stay in the 3-4 a bit more.

From a physical standpoint, the reality is that Hargrave has the shortest path to the quarterback, right through the A gaps most of the time. He also may have the best hand usage on the line already, and generally goes up against interior linemen less so than tackles.

But Cameron Heyward has the most pass-rushing experience and certainly shouldn’t be dismissed. He had a three-sack game just last year during an injury-shortened campaign, and he had seven sacks or more the previous two seasons. He should be good to go this year.

Stephon Tuitt is probably the most physically gifted of all three of them. He has struggled to play consistently, however. If he can improve his ability to convert pressures into sacks, then he has the potential to be a 10-sack player.

I don’t know who will get the most sacks this year—and depending on playing time, I do believe Hargrave has a legitimate case to make—but the simple fact that we can even have this discussion is a pleasant change of pace.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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