Arguably the most notable thing about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense right now is how good some of the players who get talked about less are. The bulk of the attention that Steelers defender receive revolve around names like T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Devin Bush, and of course, Cameron Heyward. Bud Dupree and Joe Haden, to a lesser extent, also get mentions.
The Steelers also have two more legitimately very good to great players on defense who don’t get talked about enough on the national market: cornerback Steven Nelson, who was a prized free agent signing last year, and defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who has been held back by injuries in recent years but is every bit as physically gifted as Heyward.
Both Nelson and Tuitt have been singled out, admittedly, as underrated or overlooked multiple times this offseason, specifically in articles that seek to find these underrated and overlooked players. A more recent one came from Sports Illustrated in recent weeks in which it was Tuitt’s turn to bear that distinction.
“The Steelers give up more yards per rush when Tuitt is off the field than they do when Cameron Heyward, undoubtedly their best defensive lineman, is off the field”, wrote Conor Orr for Sports Illustrated.
“Tuitt, over six games last year, had seven quarterback hits, two quarterback knockdowns, 10 pressures and 3.5 sacks (two of which were against Russell Wilson, one of the hardest quarterbacks to bring down in the NFL). A torn pec cost him 10 games”.
The big man’s return in 2020 is one of the most significant reasons that people should be excited about this defense in 2020—at least assuming that the rest of the defense is healthy as well, because outside of his injury, they were pretty stable (ignoring the fact that Sean Davis’ season-ending injury helped prompt the acquisition of Fitzpatrick).
His return is a bigger deal than the loss of Javon Hargrave, which make no mistake, is significant, and should not be undersold. But the point is, the significance of Tuitt coming back should not be undersold, either. That’s better a Pro Bowl-level player back, and 2020 might be the year he actually gets there.
Originally drafted in the second round in 2014 out of Notre Dame, Tuitt emerged as a starter by the end of his rookie year, and posted his best statistical season the following, with six and a half sacks, 54 tackles, and eight tackles for loss. He even managed an interception. He was on pace to better those numbers five games into the 2019 season, already with six tackles for loss and 22 tackles in addition to his three and a half sacks.