Who is the Steelers’ Most Underrated Player?


Joe Sargent/Getty Images Stephon Tuitt of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Okay, there isn’t a clear-cut answer to this question. The first name that comes to mind for me is Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden. But maybe Haden is more underappreciated or undervalued than underrated.

Ever since Haden arrived in Pittsburgh via free agency (thanks, Cleveland!), he’s done yeoman’s work, so much so that his play often goes unnoticed. In fact, his contributions become more evident when he’s absent; that’s when the team’s pass defense slips a few notches—or more.

But other NFL analysts have identified solid ‘most underrated player’ choices, too.

Stephon Tuitt Gets a Vote (or Two)

Consider defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated votes for Tuitt, noting that “the Steelers give up more yards per rush when Tuitt is off the field than they do when Cameron Heyward, undoubtedly their best defensive lineman, is off the field.”

Of course, Tuitt missed the last ten games of 2019 with a torn pectoral muscle. The good news is that Mike Tomlin said Tuitt “is doing really well,” referring to his recovery and rehab.

That bodes well for the Steelers defense in 2020, as “Tuitt, over six games last year, had seven quarterback hits, two quarterback knockdowns, 10 pressures and 3.5 sacks (two of which were against Russell Wilson, one of the hardest quarterbacks to bring down in the NFL),” Orr writes.

NFL Network Analytics Expert, Cynthia Frelund, has also identified Tuitt as “underappreciated.” In March, Frelund said: “My spatial data shows that the ability of the Steelers’ entire front to generate pressure may have resulted in T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree combining for 26 sacks, but it was caused by pressure from multiple directions simultaneously, which Tuitt was a key in generating.”

Steven Nelson, Too

But another good candidate for Pittsburgh’s most underrated player is cornerback Steven Nelson, who is Pro Football Focus’ choice for that distinction. According to PFF data, Nelson allowed only 33 receptions in 500 coverage snaps last season, making him the sixth-rated cornerback in the NFL.

And with the Steelers’ strong pass rush—not to mention Joe Haden on the opposite side—it’s reasonable to think that Nelson may be able to duplicate that kind of performance during the course of the next two seasons, the last two years of a three-year $25.5 million contract he signed during the offseason in 2019. Never mind the presence of other standout players in the secondary, including safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, and rising talents like Cameron Sutton, who came to Pittsburgh in the team’s top-rated 2017 draft (along with T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner).

What about James Washington?

Meanwhile, the name James Washington probably comes to mind for a smattering of Steelers fans.

The third-year wide receiver’s star seems to be rising, too. As recently noted by PFF: Washington “started to put things together towards the end of the [2019] season … earning a receiving grade of 73.4 from Week 9 through the end of the season (28th among wide receivers).”

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