Earlier this week Pro Football Focus released its list of the Top 50 Linemen in the NFL (Offense and Defense) and lo and behold the Pittsburgh Steelers have four players on the list, including two in the Top 10.
Headlining the list of Steelers players on the list is edge rusher T.J. Watt at No. 3 overall. (Okay, Watt isn’t technically a defensive lineman in Pittsburgh’s scheme, but for PFF’s purposes he is.)
“Watt has earned a 92.6 PFF grade since the start of the 2019 season, two points more than any other edge defender over that span, and he has started 2020 with three consecutive game grades above 90.0,” notes PFF’s staff. “Through four weeks of the season, no edge defender has a higher pass rush win rate than Watt’s mark of 29.3%. His older brother J.J. Watt [No. 12 overall] was once considered the best edge defender in the NFL, but now it looks like it’s T.J.’s time.”
The other Steeler in the Top 10 is defensive end Cameron Heyward, who comes in at No. 10 overall and is “still producing as if he’s in his prime,” according to the analysts.
Further down on the Top 50 list is defensive end Stephon Tuitt at No. 31, thanks in part to his 17 quarterback pressures in 2020 (“fewer only than Aaron Donald among interior defenders”).
Finally, longtime Steelers offensive guard David DeCastro is No. 44 on the list. DeCastro may not run block as well as he used to, according to PFF, “but he remains a wall in pass protection,” advise the analysts.
Meanwhile, the only two players above T.J. Watt on PFF’s list are No. 1 ranked Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams) and No. 2 ranked Quenton Nelson (Indianapolis Colts).
The Linemen of the AFC North
Also worth noting is that there is a lot of offensive and defensive line talent in the AFC North, as 20% of the players on the list come from that division.
The Cleveland Browns are represented by edge rusher Myles Garrett (No. 5), guard Joel Bitonio (No. 30), tackle Jack Conklin (No. 32) and center JC Tretter (No. 50), while the Baltimore Ravens have tackle Ronnie Stanley (No. 8) and defensive tackle Calais Campbell (No. 21).
The list is also a reminder that there will be some serious line talent participating in Sunday’s Eagles-Steelers game, as the Eagles have four linemen on the list: Fletcher Cox (No. 7), Brandon Graham (No. 23) Lane Johnson (No. 24) and Jason Kelce (No. 47).
That’s eight of the 50 best linemen in the league playing in a single game.
The game will feature a particularly interesting matchup as Eagles DT Javon Hargrave goes up against his former teammates, including Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey. The outcome figures to hinge on the play of each team’s offensive and defensive lines; in particular, Philadelphia has to be concerned with its ability to protect QB Carson Wentz from Pittsburgh’s fierce pass rush, which has recorded 15 sacks in three games and is working toward a new franchise record for sacks in 2020.
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