The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will have at least two defenders record double-digit sacks in 2021.
Explanation: The Steelers currently have three players on their roster who have recorded 10 or more sacks in a single season. T.J. Watt seems like a sure bet, but neither Cameron Heyward nor Stephon Tuitt are guarantees. Combined, they have hit the mark three times. Alex Highsmith, who had two sacks as a rookie, is entering his first season as a starter on the edge opposite Watt.
I would be impressed if anybody predicts that T.J. Watt will not record at least 10 sacks. He is one of few players to ever record at least 13 sacks in three consecutive seasons, and has 42.5 over the course of just the past three years. He will obviously get there.
And especially with Bud Dupree gone, somebody else will. The Steelers had three players hit triple figures in 2019 with Watt, Dupree, and Heyward. Heyward is still here, and Tuitt just did it last year, coming off of his best season. If he stays healthy, he should go it again.
And it doesn’t hurt that there’s a 17th game now. That will especially benefit Alex Highsmith as he feels out what it’s like to be a full-time starter. He has the potential to be a 10-sack player. His pressure rate last year was indicative of higher sack production than what he actually achieved.
Is it more likely than not that Watt records at least 10 sacks? Yes. But there is also such a thing as setbacks and regression to the mean. Now, Watt’s mean is above 10 sacks, so a mere regression wouldn’t be enough, but you never know what can happen. You can still have an excellent season with nine sacks. Jadeveon Clowney has made multiple Pro Bowls while never recording 10 or more sacks.
And Heyward has been in the league 10 years. He’s hit double digits twice. He only had four last year. The odds of him getting 10 again are low. He’s in his 30s and isn’t going to be an elite sack producer anymore. Tuitt has one healthy season to his credit, and his output last year remains an outlier. As for Highsmith, putting it all together in one offseason is unlikely, if he ever does at any point in his career.