The loss of Stephon Tuitt to retirement created a rather sizable hole along the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive line for the 2022 season. Without Tuitt, the likes of Chris Wormley and Isaiahh Loudermilk will be pushed back into prominent roles this fall after playing a number of snaps last season.
So, too, will rookie third-round draft pick DeMarvin Leal, who should see significant time in sub-package football due to his pass rushing abilities on the interior. Still, the loss of Tuitt is a large one, so it was a bit surprising to see the Steelers’ defensive line ranked No. 4 overall by Pro Football Focus Tuesday morning.
An important caveat that Pro Football Focus didn’t mention right away was that the outside linebackers were included in the defensive line portion for the Steelers. Adding names like T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith to the “defensive line” certainly helps the ranking for the black and gold in the “elite” tier for PFF.
Pittsburgh’s defensive line finds itself behind the Los Angeles Rams, Washington Commanders and Green Bay Packers in the “elite” tier.
“Stephon Tuitt‘s retirement hurts this group’s outlook entering 2022 and likely puts Chris Wormley back into a similar role to the one he filled in 2021 (69.3 PFF grade on over 750 defensive snaps),” PFF’s Ben Linsey writes regarding Pittsburgh’s rankings. “However, Pittsburgh still has a top-three interior defensive lineman and top-three edge defender on the roster, as T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward both rank among the top-three players at their respective position in quarterback pressures over the last three seasons while also playing the run at a high level.
“Alex Highsmith is an X-factor for the unit entering his third season out of Charlotte,” Linsey added. “Highsmith saw his pass-rushing efficiency decrease in 2021 while doubling his snap count from 459 as a rookie to 910 last season.”
It certainly makes sense for PFF to include the outside linebackers within the Steelers’ defensive line, considering they play like defensive linemen overall and work almost exclusively under defensive line coach Karl Dunbar.
Of course, if Watt and Highsmith weren’t included in the defensive line for the sake of this exercise, there’s a good chance the Steelers are well down the list, especially with the loss of Tuitt.
As Linsey writes, Tuitt’s retirement will put Wormley back into an expanded role in 2022. Though his gray was average overall in 2021, Wormley really impressed as a pass rusher, racking up 7.0 sacks in over 750 defensive snaps. However, he struggled as a run defender, especially down the stretch, as teams identified his weakness in that department and went right after him.
With Watt and Heyward in the fold though, not to mention Tyson Alualu in the trenches, things are looking up for the Steelers overall on the defensive line, even with the big loss of Tuitt still hanging over the position.