Pittsburgh Steelers secondary ranks surprisingly high by Pro Football Focus

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 02: Artie Burns /

The Pittsburgh Steelers dealt with a young and struggling secondary last season, but after a year of development, have they become a top tier defense?

Pro Football Focus finally released their secondary rankings for all 32 NFL teams heading into the 2017 season. For Pittsburgh, expectations should have been that they fell to the bottom half of the league.

However, PFF shocked everyone, ranking the Steelers 12th overall, and as the second best AFC North secondary behind the Baltimore Ravens. Although this defensive backfield has certainly made some adjustments, nothing significant has changed, leaving question as to how high expectations are for returning starters like Artie Burns and Sean Davis.

By adding Cameron Sutton in the third round of the NFL Draft, hopefully having Senquez Golson healthy, and adding Daimion Stafford this offseason, this secondary has certainly upgraded. But while some still believe they have a lot of work to do before their in the top half of the NFL, PFF feels they may already be there.

"William Gay had a solid year at cornerback for the Steelers in 2016, finishing with the 18th best grade at the position (82.9), and allowing the third fewest yards per cover snap (0.57). Ross Cockrell was also solid, finishing top 30 with an overall grade of 79.1 while both corners finished the season in the top 10 in cover snaps per target, 8.2 for Gay (fourth-best) and 7.8 for Cockrell (ninth best). Veteran starting safety Mike Mitchell missed just one tackle against the run last season while setting a career-high with his coverage grade of 81.9. The development of their top draft picks from 2016 in Artie Burns and Sean Davis will be key as they are projected as starters for the upcoming seasons. Exciting third round draft pick from Tennessee – Cameron Sutton also figures into the mix."

If Burns and Cockrell can improve this year, Pittsburgh’s secondary gets a major boost. Cockrell, who was named the Steelers’ secret weapon by PFF this summer, may be an under-the-radar guy, but his productivity is just as impressive as Burns’.

As long as the younger players like Davis, Burns, and Sutton can feel comfortable enough where veterans like Mike Mitchell don’t need to help them, this backfield will take a significant step in the right direction.

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Maybe this secondary isn’t going to win Pittsburgh a Super Bowl by itself, but they have certainly come a long way since 2016. If Pro Football Focus is correct, this could be a major key in Pittsburgh’s efforts to find Super Bowl LII.