Pro Football Focus recently published their rankings of all 32 secondaries in the league heading into the 2017 NFL season. You might want to sit down for this, but they ranked the Pittsburgh Steelers as having the 12th-best secondary in advance of the regular season, barring any last-minute changes.
This was actually a slight decline for how the season ended, as the site’s year-end rankings featured Pittsburgh ranked 11th. None of this will be good news for those who insist that the Steelers’ secondary from top to bottom is full of terrible players, all of whom need to be replaced as soon as Head Coach Mike Tomlin is fired. Oh, and don’t forget about Carnell Lake, too. And Keith Butler. And, you know, everybody else, too.
Anyway, the article notes that the Steelers actually featured not one, but two cornerbacks within the top 10 in the league at their position in terms of targets per snap in coverage. As I will touch on in a more elaborate article later this week, they were complimentary especially of veteran William Gay.
Both he and Ross Cockrell were the cornerbacks with very efficient target totals based on the number of coverage snaps that they played. Gay played 8.2 snaps per target in coverage, which was the fourth-lowest ratio in the league. Cockrell’s 7.8 snaps per target in coverage was the ninth-fewest in the league.
I know how big a fan everybody is of the site’s grading system, but Gay’s season grade of 82.9 was the 18th-best among cornerbacks, and Cockrell’s 79.1 grade was also in the top 30. Gay had one of the best yards per snap in coverage figures in the league as well, but as I mentioned above, I’ll have more on that later this week.
Another fan favorite, Mike Mitchell, also gets a special mention. According to their tracking, he missed only one tackle against the run during the season, and his coverage grade of 81.9 was the highest of his career in 2016. That was despite the fact that he had to adjust to playing with two rookies and other moving parts.
As they note for obvious reasons, much of the future of the secondary will hinge on the growth of those two young starters, namely cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis, both of whom had up-and-down rookie seasons, but generally saw an upward trajectory, with reason for optimism.
Also mentioned is Cameron Sutton, the Steelers’ third-round draft pick, noting that he “figures to be in the mix”, although that remains to be seen. Not mentioned was Coty Sensabaugh, signed in free agency, or Senquez Golson, who has yet to play after two years.