The Pittsburgh Steelers have invested a lot in their trenches. Over the past 11 drafts, they have used six first-round picks on offensive or defensive linemen (including edge defenders), plus a few more with second-round picks, and a couple of thirds mixed in on top of that.
It shouldn’t be particularly surprising, then, that Pro Football Focus’ recent list of the top 50 linemen in the NFL includes four Steelers, including three on defense. T.J. Watt was the highest-ranked, to nobody’s surprised, at three, with Cameron Heyward also making the top 10. Stephon Tuitt and David DeCastro also made the cut.
I took only a quick peak, but it doesn’t look as though any team had more than four players make the cut, with the Cleveland Browns and the Green Bay Packers also joining the Steelers in having four. The Philadelphia Eagles also had four, but that includes Brandon Graham, on injured reserve.
“Watt has earned a 92.6 PFF grade since the start of the 2019 season, two points more than any other edge defender over that span, and he has started 2020 with three consecutive game grades above 90.0”, T.J.’s entry reads. “Through four weeks of the season, no edge defender has a higher pass rush win rate than Watt’s mark of 29.3%. His older brother J.J. was once considered the best edge defender in the NFL, but now it looks like it’s T.J.’s time”.
The Steelers were the only team to feature two players in the top 10 on the list, with Heyward checking in at the 10th spot, one of four interior defensive linemen to make it, behind Aaron Donald (1), Fletcher Cox (8), and Chris Jones (9).
“This might be Heyward’s 10th NFL season, but he is still producing as though he is in his prime”, his entry reads. “He has already tallied one sack, four QB hits and nine hurries across 99 pass-rushing snaps, while his 18.2% pressure rate is tied with Fletcher Cox for the sixth-best mark at the position”.
Stephon Tuitt checked in at 31. “His 17 quarterback pressures in 2020 are fewer than only Aaron Donald among interior defenders”, the list notes of him, “building on what looked to be a career year in 2019 before a season-ending injury”.
The only offensive lineman for Pittsburgh to make the list was DeCastro, who ranked 44th on the list, the entry noting that his run-blocking performance has declined in recent years. But “he remains a wall in pass protection. He joins Zack Martin and Brandon Brooks as the only two other active guards with at least 1,000 pass-blocking snaps and a pass-blocking grade of 90.0 or higher since 2015”.
Unfortunately, it is getting time that the Steelers being to reinvest in the trenches. The careers of Heyward, DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, and Alejandro Villanueva are potentially winding down, and you don’t want to have a big drop-off in play quality.