When healthy — as he was throughout the 2020 season — there are few defensive linemen more disruptive than Pittsburgh Steelers’ star defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
Trench Warfare’s Brandon Thorn, the go-to guy for offensive and defensive line play, recently dove deep into the tape of every interior defensive lineman in football that recorded two or more sacks in 2020 to determine who had the highest true sack score by, “identifying which interior rushers utilized the highest level of skill against the most difficult set of circumstances to record a sack,” Thorn writes.
Unsurprisingly, Tuitt ranked rather high in Thorn’s study, coming in at No. 3 overall in Thorn’s sack score with a score of 8.5, finishing behind Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald and New York’s Leonard Williams.
Thorn, aside from grading if the sack fell into one of four categories (rare high quality, high quality, low quality, or coverage/cleanup sack) also charted each player on eight additional categories of every sack that bring more context into the production and evaluation of the individual pass-rusher, including, “the move the rusher used, whether they forced a holding penalty, the opponent, down/distance, and if the sack ended the drive are all valuable data points to help paint a clearer picture on their impact,” Thorn writes.
Tuitt, who had a breakout season in 2020 recording a career-high 11.0 sacks, recorded six high quality sacks according to Thorn, while the other five were low quality, adding up to his score of 8.5. Donald, for reference, scored a 16 on his sack score, while Williams scored a 9.
Aside from finishing top three in Thorn’s sack score, Tuitt also finished second in most sacks per snap (minimum of 500 snaps) in Thorn’s charting, recording a sack once every 70.7 snaps, finishing behind Donald, who recorded a sack once every 57.7 snaps. Tuitt also finished fourth in the most high-quality sacks per snap rate, recording a high-quality sack once every 129.7 snaps, finishing behind Donald (66.7 snaps), New Orleans’ David Onyemata (99.8 snaps), and Williams (114.7 snaps).
Where Tuitt did come out on top in regards to Donald and Williams was in the drive-killing percentage impact his sacks had last season. Of the 11 sacks Tuitt recorded, 45% resulted in drive kills (sack ended the opponent’s drive, resulting in a punt or turnover).
Though this is certainly not the be-all, end-all when it comes to determining who the best pass rushers are in the NFL, Thorn’s charting and breakdown helps provide more context into just how great of a season Tuitt had in 2020 for the Pittsburgh Steelers.