Turns out, having the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in T.J. Watt and a First Team All-Pro interior defensive lineman in Cameron Heyward on the same roster and in the same overall position group in the front seven can lead to having the best defensive front in football.
That’s exactly how CBS Sports’ Jared Dubin sees the Steelers’ front seven, labeling Pittsburgh’s star-studded front the NFL’s best defensive front in his recent article highlighting the NFL’s best position groups.
The Steelers edged out the likes of the Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys to land the top spot in Dubin’s rankings.
“Want an elite edge rusher? OK, here’s T.J. Watt. Want an elite interior rusher? OK, there’s Cameron Heyward. Want a great nose tackle? OK, there’s Tyson Alualu. Want depth? Well, let’s roll out Chris Wormley, newly signed Larry Ogunjobi, Montravius Adams, and DeMarvin Leal, along with Alex Highsmith coming off the edge opposite Watt,” Dubin writes, highlighting the Steelers’ talent in the trenches for CBS Sports. “Devin Bush hasn’t lived up to his promise but still has ton of athleticism at linebacker, and pairing him with Myles Jack gives Pittsburgh one of the freakiest linebacker duos in the league. There are arguments for other teams, of course, like quality edge depth (Bills), top-end talent (Chargers, Rams, Cowboys), versatility (Ravens), and the lack of clear weak points (49ers, Saints), but the Steelers still stand out.”
After losing Stephon Tuitt to retirement this offseason, the Steelers did about as good of a job as they could replacing the former standout defensive end, adding Larry Ogunjobi to the mix, while also drafting rookie DeMarvin Leal. Pittsburgh also brought back Montravius Adams as sound depth, and will see Tyson Alualu return to health next to Cam Heyward.
Chris Wormley also appears in line for significant snaps again, especially after racking up a career-high 7.0 sacks in 2021. Heyward is the key cog in the defensive line though, as he’s an All-Pro player at this point in his career, one that can’t be blocked one-on-one and is arguably the strongest interior defensive lineman in football.
On the edge, Watt is the face of the group, coming off of the 2021 DPOY and another All-Pro and Pro Bowl trip, all while tying the NFL’s single-season sacks record with 22.5. He’s quickly become arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, and one of the best players in the league overall. Opposite Watt, Alex Highsmith is coming into his own as an outside linebacker, pairing with Watt to give the Steelers to solid bookends at outside linebacker.
The only real question with this front seven at this point in the offseason is the inside linebacker play. Pittsburgh brought in Myles Jack in free agency just days after the Jacksonville Jaguars cut him, signing him to a two-year deal. He’ll slot in next to Devin Bush, who is aiming to bounce back from a disastrous 2021 season and attempt to regain the form he showed as a rookie.
Though there are questions with Bush and Jack, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more athletic linebacker duo in the league at this point. Bush and Jack possess real sideline-to-sideline range, and a great first step and burst as blitzers. If the defensive line can remain relatively healthy in front of the two, Bush and Jack should see their play bounce back in a big way, which will make the Steelers’ front seven all that more formidable.