Coming out of college, Stephon Tuitt was considered a first-round talent with a mid-round draft pick’s injury history. That ultimately resulted in his being taken in the second round, selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers. While his injury history has proven to be a concern, the scouting report about his on-field abilities has proven to be on the money.
When he is on the field and healthy, Tuitt has the ability to be among the most dominant and disruptive interior defenders in the NFL. He was really showing that at the start of last season, seemingly well on his way to a breakout year, before suffering a season-ending injury very early on in the sixth game of the journey.
The Steelers are greatly anticipating getting him back on the field, and not just because they threw a bunch of money at him, or because they lost Javon Hargrave, although those factors certainly don’t hurt that desire. They want him back on the field because he helps them win when he is.
And he’s also one of the most underappreciated players in the NFL, and the most underappreciated on the Steelers, according to Cynthia Frelund for NFL.com, who is the site’s analytics expert. She selected one underappreciated player for each team in the AFC, and Tuitt was the pick for Pittsburgh, one that I believe is as good as any, though others like Steven Nelson have a case to state. She writes:
Tuitt’s 14.1 pressure percentage when lined up as an interior defender ranked second in the NFL to Za’Darius Smith’s 19.4 percent (min. 100 interior rushes), per Next Gen Stats. My spatial data shows that the ability of the Steelers’ entire front to generate pressure may have resulted in T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree combining for 26 sacks, but it was caused by pressure from multiple directions simultaneously, which Tuitt was a key in generating.
One does wonder how much more effective the Steelers would have been had Tuitt been available for the final two thirds of the season. Up to the time of his injury, he was arguably the best player during the 2019 season on the team, on either side of the ball.
He returns to a defensive unit that includes Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Devin Bush, and Joe Haden, among others, coming off a season in which they led the NFL in sacks and takeaways, and were among the best in yards and points allowed.