The Pittsburgh Steelers might have had eight players named to the Pro Bowl in 2018, but that didn’t seem to mean much to the crew over at Pro Football Focus, nor impress them. After recently finalizing and publishing their list of the top 101 players of the 101 season, I found that only two Steelers players were on the list.
Those two were wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, coming in at 65, and defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, who finished 57th on the list. That’s it. Nobody else made it from the Steelers, and yes, that includes wide receiver Antonio Brown, who caught over 100 passes for almost 1300 yards and led the NFL with 15 touchdown receptions.
Not only did he fail to make the list, he also wasn’t even particularly close, because PFF also releases a list of the players who ‘just missed the cut’, and as you could guess from the jist of this article, he wasn’t on it. Frankly, some of their grades are awfully hard to justify sometimes, which is why I rarely attempt to do so.
There was one Steelers player on that also-ran list, however, and that was fifth-year defensive end Stephon Tuitt. “Tuitt capped off his second straight season with an 80-plus grade and took his run defense to another level in 2018”, wrote Michael Renner. “His 86.1 run defense grade was a big jump from 71.8 a year ago as he didn’t miss a single tackle all season long”.
Note the back half of that last sentence, because it is frankly a big one. If there was one issue that Tuitt needed to clean up in order to take his game to the next level, it was finishing the plays that he put himself in a position to make. That means that he was missing tackles and getting hits or hurries instead of sacks.
While converting a higher number of his pressures into sacks is still a work in progress—he had five and a half sacks in 2018, though he missed two games—the strides that he made in his tackling efficiency are a big deal. Really, the defense as a whole was much more consistent in its tackling in 2018 in comparison to recent years.
Still, Antonio Brown wasn’t one of the top 111 players in the NFL in 2018? Really? Behind DeAndre Hopkins (2), Michael Thomas (6), Tyreek Hill (25), Julio Jones (26), Keenan Allen (33), Odell Beckham, Jr. (36), Davante Adams (48), Robert Woods (49), Mike Evans (56), T.Y. Hilton, (59), Tyler Boyd (63), Smith-Schuster (65), Tyler Lockett (84), Stefon Diggs, and Kenny Golladay (just missed)?
I understand that the list is based purely on the 2018 season, but I’m having a difficult time reconciling the notion that Tyler Boyd and Kenny Golladay were better wide receivers than Antonio Brown in 2018, at least after you neutralize grades for Ben Roethlisberger’s many poor throws.