Eckert’s Stats: Steelers 2021 Mid-Preseason Datapoints

Today I wanted to look at some data points from Pro Football Focus (PFF) regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers preseason so far. Something important before we dive in, the sample size here is small but these numbers are still valuable for measuring players against their peers so far and getting a feel for what the roster might look like as the rest of the preseason unfolds. I also will share some of my takeaways and pose some questions for you the readers to answer in the comments. With that in mind, hope you enjoy.

Quarterbacks: ADOT (Average Distance of Target) and ADJ% (Adjusted Completion %).


Both graphs highlight Rudolph’s ability to lead the quarterback room in ADOT and ADJ%. While it is the preseason, this still gives us some perspective on the backup quarterback battle so far. Do you agree with a depth chart order of Ben, Rudolph, Haskins, then Dobbs so far? How do you think Roethlisberger and the rest of the quarterbacks will perform moving forward?

Running Backs: YPA (Rushing Yards per Attempt) and YCO/A (Yards After Contact per Attempt)

I will especially be interested to see how these numbers trend moving forward, especially in the next preseason game against the Lions where most starters are projected to play. The ideal average is around four yards, what will Najee Harris’ YPA look like against the Lions?

Ballage has only five attempts so far, but it’s important to see that he created yards on those attempts. Najee also has been as advertised in this regard, creating extra yards even in less-than-ideal situations. What are your thoughts on how these stats will look by the end of the preseason? How do you see the depth chart playing out through the rest of the preseason?

Fullbacks: RBLK (Run Blocking Grade)

Trey Edmunds has been impressive in the receiving game, but Watt hasn’t played much (six offensive snaps, no catches). I’m really hoping he gets most of the fullback snaps this week, and hopefully see if he is used more in Matt Canada’s offensive scheme as I was excited to hear about this offseason. Do you think Watt will have an important role in the offense in the regular season?

Wide Receivers: ADOT (Average Distance of Target) and YAC/REC (Yards After Catch per Reception)

I was really looking forward to tracking Claypool’s ADOT number through the rest of the preseason, but the ankle injury he suffered in practice this week puts a hamper on that. More importantly, it’s great to hear it will not sideline him for a significant amount of time. Will Matthew Sexton and Anthony Johnson continue to provide value in this regard? What will these numbers look like after Roethlisberger plays in his first preseason game on Saturday?

While we are used to seeing Diontae Johnson’s great YAC ability, it’s also great to see Rico Bussey has matched in YAC so far. We also get to see who has not provided YAC opportunity so far (no color bar). McKoy was cut to trim down to 85 players on Tuesday, and in retrospect makes sense with communication issues in the pass game with Haskins, and effort issues run blocking (highlighted by Dave Bryan). Is Simmons the next wide receiver cut due to his low ranks in both graphs and other players providing more value so far? What will these numbers look like with Roethlisberger at quarterback?

Tight Ends: Reception % and Run Blocking Grade

Even though it’s a small sample size, it is encouraging seeing the starting tight ends catching their targets so far. Can the top two tight ends keep this up against the Lions? NOTE: Marcus Baugh does have one target, so his result is 0%.

Interesting results here, I am especially interested to monitor this moving forward. Will Freiermuth improve from some of his struggles so far? Do you agree with Gentry above Rader in run blocking through two games?  Who is your favorite to be the number three tight end so far? How do you see these numbers playing out the rest of the preseason?

Offensive lineman: Run and Pass Blocking Grades

I am very interested to continue to monitor this through the rest of the preseason since this is the position group with the most uncertainty on offense. Also, I wanted to note that Brandon Walton was a casualty of the trim down to 85 players on Tuesday. Trai Turner being at the bottom of the graph is concerning, do you think he can improve this in the second half of the preseason? What are some of your takeaways from the results? How do you think the projected starting line (Okorafor, Dotson, Green, Turner, and Banner) will do in their first preseason game together?

Very encouraged to see all the names with strong grades thus far. Shout out to the top five: Finney, Leglue, Hassenaur, Turner, and Moore. Additional props to Moore and Finney, who PFF graded top five in run blocking as well. It will be very interesting to see how the entire position group finishes out the preseason. What players or battles are you most interested in following through the rest of the preseason?

Now let’s shift over to the defense:

Defensive interior: Run Defense and Pass Rush Grades

First thing to remember is Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Tyson Alualu have not made their preseason debuts yet. The first half of the preseason has been great to see the rest of the guys, and really enjoyed the top three on the graph so far: Loudermilk, Wormley, and Buggs. Which players at this position have you enjoyed the most so far? How do you see the depth chart playing out?

Abdullah Anderson leads the way on this graph and paired with Alex Kozora’s training camp reports highlighting his work ethic, it was a surprise to see him on the Steelers first roster cutdown to 85 players (considering his strong play relative to others). Chris Wormley has provided solid play in both the run and pass game, do you think he can continue this? What do you think these numbers will look like after the next game?

Edge rushers: Run Defense and Pass Rush Grades

Cassius Marsh and Alex Highsmith have shown some good ability in the run game so far. How will these numbers look with a larger sample size the next two games? Do you think any of the other names can provide more value in the run game moving forward? How do you think the depth chart will play out?

I really think Jamir Jones deserves a higher grade in this category. He leads the team in total pressures (six) and quarterback hits (four). Alex Highsmith gets credit here for his strong play so far. I also want to see what Melvin Ingram’s results look like with more playing time. What do you think these numbers will look like through the rest of the preseason? When do you think we will see T.J. Watt?

Linebackers: Run Defense and Coverage Grades

Buddy Johnson leads the way so far on both graphs, especially having a good Hall of Fame Game. It is also telling to see the names at the bottom of both graphs, all grades in the 60 or below range. This highlights the important move the Steelers made to get Joe Schobert. I am very excited to see how he looks in a Steelers uniform. How do you think the position group will fare next game?

Cornerbacks: Coverage and Tackling Grades

This position is similar to the offensive line, lots of turnover in personnel and has been good to see everyone play. Stephen Denmark showed some good things in coverage but was cut as the team moved down to 85 players. I’m especially interested to see what this looks like moving forward the next two games. Will Antoine Brooks be able to return next game, and how do you see the slot corner position playing out? There also are some discouraging names at the bottom of the list, can Sutton, Layne, or Maulet improve their play in coverage the second half of the preseason?

Some of the strong grades are correlated with poor coverage grades. For example, Maulet has allowed plays in coverage then made tackles. So, context is important (as it is with all stats). Seeing Cameron Sutton low on both lists is definitely concerning, do you think he will play better next game? How do you see the depth chart playing out moving forward? NOTE: Pitts has had no tackling opportunities, so his result is N/A.

Safeties: Coverage and Tackling Grades

Miles Killebrew has had a good preseason so far, with Lamont Wade a close second on the graph. I will especially be interested to layer this info with the rest of the preseason, do you think Edmunds will have a better coverage game after his debut performance? Will Stiner be on the next list of cuts with his poor coverage play?

Tre Norwood jumps out at the bottom of the list, with a very low tackling grade. This has been a concern with him, will he be able to make some improvements the rest of the preseason? Can the other guys keep up their strong tackling grades? How do you see the depth chart playing out behind Minkah and Edmunds?

Kickers: Field Goal Grade

While some thought the team would keep him longer to take more snaps through the preseason, seems the Steelers had seen enough and cut Sloman and I agree.

Punters: Punt Grade and Punts inside 20 yardline

I agree with many people regarding the excitement for Harvin’s potential, but both guys have done well. The next two games will be very interesting to track, and I’m very excited to see what happens. Who do you think will win the job?

This graph highlights Harvin’s ability in the Cowboys game to be a factor in the field position game. Can he continue to have some consistency, or will we see some inconsistency like his college tape?

Returners: Return Grade

Matthew Sexton has shown us some return potential, and friendly reminder Isaiah McKoy was cut, so this graph will be interesting to track moving forward. How do you think the returner positions will play out? Who will get opportunities the rest of the preseason?

This is definitely a small sample size, but is important as we track this info and see who can provide value here and in most cases increase their likelihood of making the roster. Who are your favorite special teamers so far, and how do you see those roles playing out through the rest of the preseason?

While we still have many questions to answer regarding the 2021 Steelers, today’s goal was to use datapoints we have so far to form some opinions of where guys are at currently and discuss things we want to look for the rest of the preseason. I really hope you enjoyed the article and look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

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