The Steelers have some big defensive linemen upfront, but injuries have slowed down Stephon Tuitt’s career. Here’s why he is still matching pace with Cam Heward.
Is he underrated? Is he overrated? Many fans don’t know what to make of Steelers defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt anymore. Coming out of Notre Dame in 2014, it looked like Pittsburgh was getting a steal. The 6’6”, 303-pound defender fell to the second round of the draft in large part due to the foot injury he suffered in college.
Pittsburgh clearly had high hopes for Tuitt, as he became a full-time starter by his second NFL sesaon, and earned 6.5 sacks as a 22-year-old. However, injuries have really held Tuitt back from being the player the Steelers thought he would be when they gave him a lucrative new deal.
Tuitt hasn’t been healthy for all 16 games since his rookie season in 2014 and has never starter more than 14 games in a season as a result. Despite all of this, Tuitt is still on pace with Cameron Heyward’s production mid-way through his NFL career:
Cam Heyward by age 26 (80 games):
22.0 sacks in 80 games
49 QB hits
— Tommy Jaggi (@TommyJaggi) May 15, 2020
Remarkably, Tuitt has actually managed the same amount of tackles for loss, more sacks, and significantly more quarterback hits than Heward by the age of 26. There is hope for him yet.
Comparing Steeler’s Tuitt and Heyward
If you recall, it took Heyward quite a while to really get going in the NFL – despite his former first-round status. Through his first two seasons (32 games played) Heyward managed just 2.5 sacks working in a part-time role on Pittsburgh’s defense.
In fact, it took Heyward seven seasons in the NFL to earn more than 7.5 sacks, and he has just one season over 10 sacks in his 9-year career.
There’s no doubt that Stephon Tuitt is a gifted player with a rare blend of size, length, and power to go with surprising quickness for his size. But injuries have always stood in the way of him taking the next step on the football field.
Pittsburgh lost Javon Hargrave this offseason to the Philadelphia Eagles, and while they will no doubt miss his presence in the middle of the field, the return of Tuitt from a pectoral repair could prove to be even more beneficial to the Steelers defense.
Tuitt is a versatile football player who offers flexibility across both odd and even fronts on a defensive line. When he and Heyward play alongside each other, they are tough to run against and someone is always single teamed.
Stephon Tuitt may never be Cam Heyward in the NFL. After all, we’re talking about a two-time All-Pro. However, if he can finally stay healthy in 2020 and beyond, the sky is the limit for what he might be able to accomplish in the second half of his NFL career.