Steelers Possess Top 10 Lineup, 1 Player a ‘Weak Link’: Analyst


Sarah Stier/Getty Images James Washington #13, JuJu Smith-Schuster #19, and Diontae Johnson celebrate after a touchdown against the New York Jets in 2019.

According to Pro Football Focus2020 NFL roster rankings for all 32 teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the 10 best starting lineups in the NFL—tenth in the league, in fact. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the Baltimore Ravens have been judged to have the single-best starting lineup in the NFL.

PFF developed its rankings using its player grades from the 2019 season, while also taking into account each player’s career performance using PFF grades and statistics.

Pittsburgh’s Biggest Strength

Reviewing PFF’s analysis, we learn that Pittsburgh “had the NFL’s highest-graded pass rush last season and it was a well-rounded pass rush,” notes writer Ben Linsey.

It should remain a difference-making strength, with PFF having identified T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward among the Top 50 Players in the NFL entering 2020.

Linsey also believes that the return of Stephon Tuitt will more than offset the loss of Javon Hargrave in free agency, noting that Tuitt “was off to a terrific start last season before going down with an injury in week 6, [which] should ensure this remains one of the league’s most dangerous rushes.”

Pittsburgh’s Greatest Weakness

As for Pittsburgh’s biggest weakness, PFF singles out third-year safety Terrell Edmunds as “the weak link among the starters.”

Linsey frets that when it comes to Edmunds “there haven’t been many signs of growth to this point,” and that “his time might be running out” with the likes of Cameron Sutton and rookie sixth-round pick Antoine Brooks Jr. potentially pressing him for playing time.

Adding to the indignity, Edmunds was recently described as a good candidate for a hypothetical NFL ‘All-Average Team,’ as was Steelers’ center Maurkice Pouncey, who took offense—on Twitter—to being called “average” and “overrated.”

In fact, Pouncey is, by far, the lowest-rated player in Pittsburgh’s starting lineup; more remarkable still, is that Pouncey’s rating is akin to Pittsburgh’s lowest-rated defensive starter, career backup Dan McCullers, who is listed as a starter because he’s the only true nose tackle on the roster. This explains why answering the question: What’s the Steelers’ plan at nose tackle? is so pivotal heading into the regular season.

Hype Train

Last but not least, PFF believes that the Steelers player most likely to have a breakout season in 2020 is second-year wide receiver Diontae Johnson.

“Johnson was one the best separators in college football during his time at Toledo,” notes Linsey, “and [he] showed last season as a rookie that he is a hard man to bring down in the open field.”

Johnson’s rookie season was particularly impressive in light of the fact that he played most of the year with a sports hernia; his recovery from that injury is one reason I said he could emerge as the Steelers’ No. 1 receiver.

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The Rest of the AFC North

As for the other teams in the AFC North, PFF rates the Cleveland Browns as having the eleventh-best starting lineup in the NFL, in part because “the offensive weapons surrounding quarterback Baker Mayfield are among the best in the NFL.”

As for the Cincinnati Bengals, their lineup is rated No. 26 in the NFL. Most concerning from Cincinnati’s perspective is that the team’s offensive line is its biggest question mark, hardly ideal for the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, QB Joe Burrow.

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