Every great football team has a considerable amount of toughness. The best football teams are not only physically tough but also mentally tough. The Pittsburgh Steelers will have an opportunity to prove they are a mentally tough football team after a late season collapse left the team out of the postseason for the first time since 2013. While the team’s mental toughness was certainly not where the Steelers would have liked it to be last season, the team’s physical toughness was on display throughout the year.
While there is no official statistic to gauge physical toughness, one way to quickly determine the physical toughness of a player and a team is to look at the amount of yards after contact a player has registered. According to Jody Smith, three members of the Steelers ranked in the top ten for receiving yards after contact last season.
Receiving yards after contact (all positions)
George Kittle 338
Christian McCaffrey 300
Saquon Barkley 285
DJ Moore 278
Albert Wilson 273
JuJu Smith-Schuster 250
Travis Kelce 239
Michael Thomas 221
V. McDonald 213
Melvin Gordon 211
James Conner 211
— Jody Smith (@JodySmithNFL) July 16, 2019
JuJu Smith-Schuster led the team with 250 yards after contact, racking up the sixth most yards after contact in the NFL last season. With his 6’1 and 215 lb frame, Smith-Schuster is a big body to take down and often presents a big challenge for smaller cornerbacks. The Steelers’ wide receiver was able to use this to his advantage last season, bouncing off defensive backs in order to muster an additional 250 yards after contact.
Vance McDonald came in slightly behind Smith-Schuster with 213 yards after contact last season. George Kittle and Travis Kelce were the only tight ends to accumulate more yards after contact than McDonald last season. The Steelers’ tight end was able to maintain a clean bill of health last season and had his best season to date, recording 50 receptions for 610 yards. In a testament to his toughness, 34.9-percent of McDonald’s 610 receiving yards came after contact.
Tied for the final spot on the NFL’s top yards after contact performers is running back James Conner. The Steelers’ running back faced a lot of questions and sometimes even doubt early last season on how he would replace Le’Veon Bell as a running back and as a receiving threat. Conner quickly showed the city of Pittsburgh that they had nothing to worry about as he almost eclipsed 1000 rushing yards while also adding 497 receiving yards.
Conner proved to be one of the NFL’s best at tallying yards after contact as the running back showed incredible toughness. The third year back refused to go down on first contact as he pinballed off defenders last season. Like McDonald, a large portion of Conner’s receiving totals also come from yards after contact as the running back saw 42.4-percent of his receiving yards come after contact.
The Steelers are going to show the league whether they have improved their mental toughness after an offseason that had its road bumps but with the trio of Smith-Schuster, McDonald and Conner leading the way, there is no taking away the physical toughness of this football team.