Steelers Free Agent Additions: IOL Isaac Seumalo, Nate Herbig PFF Blocking Grades

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been busy in free agency, including double dipping on the interior offensive line with the signings of Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig. Today I wanted to provide some data context to what they have done in their career so far, and how it compares to Pittsburgh players as well. Let’s get right to it, starting with 2022 blocking grades from Pro Football Focus:

Right away, we can see Seumalo leads the group in our sights today, with the best grades in both for the 2022 season with the Eagles. He had a 79.1 pass block grade that tied for eighth-best out of 100 players with 150 snaps or more. Seumalo also had a 69.5 run block grade that tied for 16th, both very encouraging and high ranks landing him comfortably above the mean at the position on the tenth-highest snap count (1,135), with all but one of those coming at right guard. He had six penalties with three being declined or offset, and allowed only one sack.

Kevin Dotson lands second in terms of blocking grades, with a 77.6 pass block grade that ranked 11th, and a 61.1 run block grade (T-42nd) on 1,160 snaps that tied for sixth most last season. Penalties were a bugaboo though, with a whopping 12 which tied for second most with only one declined or offsetting, and allowed four sacks which gives context to the improvement Pittsburgh is expecting at left guard, where Dotson played all but two of his snaps in 2022.

James Daniels lands comfortably above the mean as a pass blocker (73.2) which ranked 20th, but had a 60 run block grade that was barely above league average (47th). He also played 1,160 snaps (T-sixth) for a uniquely healthy 2022 Pittsburgh offensive line, with all but two of his opportunities coming at right guard. Daniels had five penalties with two declined or offsetting, and impressively did not allow a sack last season.

Then we have Herbig, who was the only player we’re focused on to land below the mean in both with the Jets last season. His 58.6 pass block grade was barely under league average (60th) along with a 55.7 run block grade (61st). This was also on the fewest 707 snaps of this group (52nd) at right guard, when he had four penalties with one offsetting or declined and allowed just one sack.

Now that we have recency context, let’s look at the previous two seasons for consistency context (or lack thereof):

Seumalo tops another chart in his playing time in 2021, a season that began strong but was cut short due to a Lisfranc injury, starting and playing in just three games (168 snaps) which is important context. He graded well with an 82.9 in pass blocking that ranked sixth across both seasons, along with a 75.5 run block grade (29th) at left guard, had a high three penalties considering the lack of opportunities and didn’t allow a sack. Seumalo’s 2020 season landed much differently on the chart, when he still had a strong 77.4 pass block grade (17th) but a lower-than-expected 62.4 run block grade that bottoms the group in our sights today, which ranked 169 out of 195 qualifying players in the time frame. He played and started nine games at left guard that year (588 snaps), had two penalties, and allowed his most sacks the last three seasons (four). Very interesting context with a strong chance he could become the starter at left guard.

Daniels had the second-best 72.9 run block grade (35th) of the bunch in 2021, when he played 1,121 snaps (T-11th most) at right guard for the Bears, and also had an above-the-mean 68.3 pass block grade (T-79th). He had his most penalties (nine) and sacks allowed (three) of his career though, making improvements in both last season with Pittsburgh. In 2020, Daniels had an above-average 71 run block grade (47th), but was the only player we’re focused on to land below the mean in pass block grade (54.4, 126th). He played and started five games at left guard for Chicago that year (305 snaps), also suffering a season-ending injury tearing a pectoral muscle.

Herbig landed above the mean in both data points in ’20 and ‘21 (alongside Seumalo in Philadelphia), fairing best in 2020 which highlights a downtrend in the grades the last three seasons. That year he played his most snaps of the span (894) with 545 at right guard and 346 at left guard, posting a 72.1 pass block grade (41st) along with a 69.4 as a run blocker (55th), with four penalties and two sacks allowed which impressively was the most in his career. In 2021, Herbig had a 67.2 run block grade (T-64th) and a 63.9 in pass blocking (77th) when he played 397 snaps at right guard, 31 at left guard, and 47 at center, with three penalties and only one sack allowed.

Dotson fared well in pass block grades each season, with 2020 being his best mark (87.2) which ranked third among all players in the time frame, playing 358 snaps at both right and left guard (in David DeCastro/Matt Feiler’s final seasons with Pittsburgh) with three penalties and no sacks allowed, along with a 78.4 pass block grade in 2021 (12th) when he played 565 snaps at left guard, with five penalties and three sacks allowed, highlighting an increase in both each year. Dotson’s was the only player in our sights with run block grades below the mean each year, with a 60.8 in 2021 (110th) and 55.1 in 2020 (150th). It’s also important to recall his penalties particularly skyrocketing in 2022 along with his blocking grades basically standing pat.

The data really highlights the lack of improvement many expected from Dotson in 2022, and further justifies Pittsburgh’s motivation to address the position in free agency. Seumalo’s 2022 season, along with his encouraging start to 2021 is very encouraging for these hopes. He brings good experience to a young offense over his seven-year career to date (4,222 snaps), with 2,686 snaps at left guard which many expect to be his spot this season, 1,272 at right guard, and a bit of time across the rest of the line (149 right tackle, 34 center, five left tackle). Daniels had his best pass block grades of the span last season, and here’s to hoping his lower run block grades compared to his time with the Bears can improve, reasonable considering the strides the Steelers unit made the latter half of the 2022 season. His experience over his five-year career to this point (4,417 snaps) was more opportunities than Seumalo, with 2,281 at right guard, 1,626 at left guard, and 508 at center, and would provide a more experienced interior offensive line which could be huge for hopeful improvements, consistency, and communication out to the tackles. Herbig provides more depth at the position than the team had in 2022, with 2,085 snaps in his four seasons to date, 1,648 at right guard, 377 at left guard, and 49 at center. A downtrend in his grades over time is notable, particularly with a worse Jets team in 2022, important context. Dotson’s lack of improvement from 2021-2022 makes for an interesting future, and love Dave Bryan’s thoughts on listening for calls on him to add a draft pick in the late rounds which would be valuable.

One thing’s for sure, Pittsburgh wasn’t complacent and gave themselves options at the position for the 2023 season. It will be interesting to see how the pieces come together for Pittsburgh in 2022, and what Seumalo and Herbig’s time looks like in the black and gold.

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