The Pittsburgh Steelers could look to a former Pro Bowl pass-rusher to replace injured star T.J. Watt.
According to Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine, the Steelers should sign former Pro Bowl defensive end Dee Ford. The former first-round draft selection has been limited due to injuries over the past three seasons, appearing in just 18 games in the process. However, he’s managed to still be a pass-rushing force, racking up 9.5 sacks in those 18 games.
Ballentine argues that Ford is the “most intriguing” name on the market.
“Last year, the Steelers didn’t hesitate to make a move by adding Melvin Ingram in season,” says Ballentine. “While that didn’t exactly work out, they could still look to go the veteran route. Dee Ford might be the most intriguing name on the market. Ford was released by the 49ers during training camp, but Kyle Shanahan did note that doctors gave the pass-rusher a ‘good bill of health.'”
Ford is One of NFL’s Top Pass-Rushers When Healthy
Over the past two seasons, Ford has played just 152 snaps. During his last healthy season in 2019 with the San Francisco 49ers, Ford posted an 84.4 defensive grade and a 81.7 pass-rushing grade, according to Pro Football Focus. The veteran defensive end ranked 17th among all players (with at least 100 snaps) at his position in defensive grade and 12th in pass-rushing grade.
Ballentine argues that what makes Ford “intriguing” is his ability to get to the quarterback. It also helps matters that he’s now finally healthy after dealing with neck and back injuries over the past two seasons.
“What still makes him intriguing is that he also has 9.5 sacks in those 18 games,” says Ballentine. “He could be instrumental if he can stay healthy enough to play major snaps before falling back to a rotational role when Watt returns.”
Steelers Need Viable Replacement During Watt’s Absence
Watt will be sidelined for at least four games due to a pectoral injury suffered in the season opener. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Watt will miss six weeks.
“Doctors determined this afternoon that Steelers’ LB T.J. Watt does not surgery on his torn pectoral and he now is expected to miss about six weeks, per source,” says Schefter.
With Watt on injured reserve for a short period of time, Ford could step in and relieve Alonzo Highsmith of the pressure of being the Steelers’ top pass rusher. While Watt certainly played a major role in Pittsburgh’s impressive defensive performance in Week 1, the entire unit was dominant.
During the Steelers’ 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh finished with five takeaways, seven sacks, 15 pressures and four interceptions. As noted by PFF, Pittsburgh’s 79.1 defensive grade during Week 1 was the second-highest of an team. Ensuring that they have a capable replacement of filling in for Watt during the interim will be key in carrying over that success moving forward.
Considering the Steelers’ offense was less than stellar — 63.6 grade in Week 1 ranked them 17th in the league — the defensive unit will need to continue its dominance to ensure Pittsburgh remains a contender in the tough AFC North.
When Ford is healthy, he’s one of the top pass-rushing specialists in the league. He posted 10 sacks during the 2016 season and 13 sacks during the 2018 campaign.
Signing Ford should be a move the Steelers make during Watt’s absence.