If there is anybody on the Pittsburgh Steelers defense that played a great game on Sunday, it would be third-year ‘nose tackle’ Javon Hargrave, who recorded the first multi-sack game of his career, bringing down Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles twice. He narrowly allowed Bortles to escape a third sack as well, but it was a clear ‘win’ as a pass rush.
He not only played well against the pass—primarily in the nickel defense—on Sunday, he was also a very important piece of the puzzle against the run following the Jaguars’ initial success on the ground, which often came with Daniel McCullers in the game. This is something that our Daniel Valente has already highlighted this week.
But Hargrave isn’t just getting attention from us. Pro Football Focus put the spotlight on him recently, singling him out as one of the best and most improved players over the course of the past five weeks. As Austin Gayle writes, “Hargrave is seemingly hitting his stride with the Steelers and could very well finish the year as one of the NFL’s best at the positioni”.
One of the first things Gayle points out is just how ‘normal’ players such as Hargrave have become, beginning in earnest with Geno Atkins with the Cincinnati Bengals, and highlighted by Aaron Donald’s absolutely dominance with the Los Angeles Rams.
Players like him are no longer regarded as undersized, both because of the way that the game has changed and because of the concrete, tangible success that they have seen in the league. Had Atkins not had the success he did, Donald wouldn’t have been a first-round pick. Likewise with small-school Hargrave being taken within the first two days of the draft.
And he is just one of the latest players of his body type proving that they are by no means playing short-handed, as Gayle highlights. According to the website’s charting, he also has the ninth-highest ‘win’ rate on his pass rushes at his position over the course of the past four games.
And they have him graded out even better against the run than as a pass-rusher. “He has just eight defensive stops in Weeks 7-11”, Gayle writes, “but his improved ability to win one-on-one blocks and force opposing backs to pivot their original point of attack can’t be overstated”.
Interestingly, Hargrave has the 13th-most defensive stops among interior defenders with 19, but he has played significantly fewer snaps than everybody ahead of him. He has only played 260 snaps on the season to date. The fewest among players ahead of him is Kawaan Short with 414, and he has just one more stop.