While the Pittsburgh Steelers suffered some losses to their starting lineup this offseason on both sides of the ball, they still have some household names on their roster, particularly on defense, who are recognized as being among the best at their position.
For example, they have a trio of defenders who have made the All-Pro list in at least each of the past two seasons, including 11th-year veteran Cameron Heyward and fifth-year T.J. Watt, whom Pro Football Focus deemed “The NFL’s top DL duo”.
Cameron Heyward + T.J. Watt: the NFL’s top DL duo 😤💪 pic.twitter.com/4VSQxINrCp
— PFF (@PFF) May 25, 2021
The outlet recently ranked Watt second in the NFL among edge defenders, behind only Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears. Heyward was ranked third among interior defensive linemen, with only Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams and Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs ahead of him.
As we noted, the Steelers were well-represented on the second list. Both Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu cracked the top 32 interior defenders in the NFL. Impressive when you consider that teams have either two or three of them, so roughly 80 if you assume half of the league plays in 3-4 fronts and thus has three interior starters.
Tuitt is coming off of his best and most complete season, even if he failed to make the Pro Bowl. Heyward and particularly Watt also played exceptionally well. The latter was the runner-up for the Defensive Player of the Year Award, the second year in a row in which he was a top finalist, leading the NFL with 15 sacks in 15 games and becoming the rare player to lead in sacks, QB hits, and tackles for loss.
As for Heyward, he was technically down statistically last season, recording only four sacks with seven tackles for loss. As always, the statistics don’t tell the full story. His performance of the 2020 season pales perhaps only to his own recent showings.
Both Watt and Heyward have established themselves as among the best players at their respective positions in the NFL. PFF is right to offer them distinction as the best defensive line combination in the entire league. That is precisely what they are, and have been for the past three seasons.
And they will, hopefully, have at least a few more years together. Heyward is signed through the 2024 season, though he is already 32 now. Watt is due to sign a massive contract extension later this summer, which will possibly make him the highest-paid defender in NFL history, and will undoubtedly extend him to at least the 2025-2026 seasons. He’s still 27 years old, so there is some healthy tread left on those tires, for certain.