With the 2019 NFL Draft now in the rear-view mirror, it’s a lot easier to see how a good portion of the rosters of all 32 NFL teams might ultimately shake out and examine if each properly addressed and filled their perceived holes. On Wednesday, ESPN.com released their latest updated power rankings, which now includes them unveiling their first set of ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) ratings, and result is the Pittsburgh Steelers coming it at 16th overall.
According to those latest ESPN.com rankings, the Steelers projected win total for 2019 is 8.5 and their chances of making the playoffs this upcoming season is 45.8 percent. Below is what Jeremy Fowler, who covers the Steelers for ESPN.com, summarized under the team’s rankings.
Where the team improved this offseason: Pass coverage. The Steelers have shown a commitment to improving their pass defense over the past three months. The signing of free agent Steven Nelson gives Pittsburgh a legitimate starting corner alongside Joe Haden. The franchise drafted linebacker Devin Bush No. 10 overall in part because of his speed and coverage ability, areas in which free-agent linebacker Mark Barron also will help. Third-round cornerback Justin Layne was considered one of the most aggressive press corners in the draft. The back end looks stronger, which is necessary for a team that has struggled drafting cornerbacks in recent years.
When you look at the provided predicted offensive, defensive and special teams efficiency, as measured by expected points added per play that ESPN.com based their latest ratings around, you see that the Steelers offense is ranked 8th overall league-wide at (2.2). Their defensive, however, is ranked 24th overall at (-1.1). The Steelers special teams is ranked right in the middle at (0.7).
In summation, while the Steelers offense is expected to be productive again in 2019, their defense is expected to be the unit that holds them back this upcoming season and potentially resulting in them not making the playoffs. While we’ll have to wait and see just how much of that early prognostication is true, it’s important to keep in mind that the Steelers attempted to address their defensive weaknesses quite extensively this offseason by signing cornerback Steven Nelson and linebacker Mark Barron in addition to trading up 10 spots in the first-round of this year’s draft to select former Michigan linebacker Devin Bush, who figures to be a starter inside earlier than later during his rookie season.
Curiously enough, the Cleveland Browns, who seem to be the early favorites by many to win the AFC North in 2019, are ranked just one spot ahead if the Steelers at No. 15 with a combined rating of (0.9). The Baltimore Ravens are ranked one spot after the Steelers at No. 17 with a combined rating of (0.7). The Browns and the Ravens combined scores are heavily bolstered by their defensive expected points added per play of 1.6 and 2.3, respectively. How many of you expect the Ravens defense to be better than their 2018 unit with all of the offseason losses they’ve had.
My contention as we exit this years draft is that if the Steelers defense can improve some over last year and with that force more turnovers, the team should be able to easiliy compete for the AFC North title, assuming no serious injuries on offense take place.
If you would like to learn more about ESPN’s guide to NFL FPI, you read this post on their site.