Part simply because he hasn’t always had the easiest time either staying healthy or staying on the field, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt has spent a long portion of his career outperforming his recognition and notoriety.
A lot of people know about Cameron Heyward within the national football community. He’s been in the NFL’s Top 100 players list for a while now. Tuitt is ‘the other guy’ to most people if they know who he is at all. But in reality, he is just as talented as Heyward from a physical standpoint.
And Pro Football Focus would not be surprised if we saw him finally harness all of that talent into a complete, healthy, and dominant season in 2020. The website selected him as their dark horse candidate to finish the year as the highest-graded interior defensive player in the league. Ben Linsey writes:
It’s a shame that Tuitt’s 2019 campaign got cut short due to a pectoral injury because he was on his way to the best season of his career. After recording PFF grades of 80.5 in 2017 and 81.9 in 2018, Tuitt put up an 89.1 mark last season through the first six weeks. His 85.0 pass-rushing grade trailed only Aaron Donald and Calais Campbell among qualifying interior defenders.
In many ways, Tuitt’s career is following a similar arc to teammate Cameron Heyward’s career. Heyward showed significant improvement over his first five seasons in the NFL before tearing his pectoral muscle in his sixth season. Tuitt’s two (plus) best seasons came directly before a torn pectoral muscle in his sixth season. Heyward returned with a career-high 89.1 PFF grade and a first-team All-Pro appearance following his injury. Now, it’s time to see how Tuitt responds, but the tools are there for him to be a dominant force on the interior.
I think most Steelers fans who have been closely following the team over the past five or six years know about Tuitt and the potential that he possesses—and that that potential hasn’t always led to the production that you would expect.
In five-plus games last season, however, he looked to be on his way, posting 22 tackles with six for a loss, three and a half sacks, and seven quarterback hits. For his career, he has 38 tackles for loss, with 23 and a half sacks, four forced fumbles, and an interception.
Tuitt will be playing as big a role as ever this season with the Steelers losing Javon Hargrave in free agency. Hargrave has played a critical role in filling in the gaps when Tuitt has missed time. They don’t have that safety net of a great number three lineman anymore. It’s up to Tuitt to do it now, for 16 games, and healthy.