The Pittsburgh Steelers felt that they had one of the best nose tackles in the league over the course of the previous four seasons in Javon Hargrave, a man they drafted in the third round in 2016 from a small school and who immediately stepped into the lineup with an impact from a position not known for having one.
He had such an impact that he got a big payday in free agency from the Philadelphia Eagles, signing a three-year, $39 million contract. Despite losing such a significant player in their system, however, the Steelers did not address the position until the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft with Carlos Davis.
That was, in part, because they knew that they had veteran Tyson Alualu, a player whom when they first signed him in 2017 they felt had the ability to play inside if it were necessary. Up to this point, he had been needed at end. But now he is their starting nose tackle, and he has played at a high level so far, which hasn’t surprised any of his teammates.
“Tyson can play every position on the defensive line”, one of them, Stephon Tuitt, told reporters this week, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Tyson is a very stout player and I knew that position would be very good for him. I’m not surprised at all what he’s doing and the production he’s having. He is a great defensive lineman”.
Through three games, Alualu is sixth on the team in tackles with 10 so far, more than everybody else on the front line: T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Cameron Heyward, and Tuitt. His three tackles for loss are more than everybody on the team except for Vince Williams and Watt. He also has two batted passes, a sack, and three hits on the quarterback.
Originally a top-10 draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2010, Alualu was given a second life in the NFL when he signed with the Steelers four years ago. understanding that he would no longer be viewed as an every-down player, he also relieved himself of the burden of expectations that came with his pedigree.
Over time, he has really settled into his role and the Steelers way, and has truly been one of the team’s most underrated free agency moves under Kevin Colbert as general manager. He has played over 1200 snaps for the Steelers during his time on defense.
And he has produced, as well. He has 112 tackles, with 15 going for lost yardage. He has six sacks and 14 quarterback hits, five passes defensed, and a forced fumble. Alualu has saved the Steelers’ bacon numerous times filling in for Tuitt due to injuries. Now he’s completely salvaged the nose tackle position, while still playing end, in the wake of the loss of Javon Hargrave in free agency.