Pro Football Focus ranked the Steelers defensive line as the most valuable in the league. Does Pittsburgh really have the best defensive line in the NFL?
Last week, Pro Football Focus took the liberty of ranking the NFL’s top defensive line units in the NFL from the 2019 season. The Steelers were ranked number one.
No NFL team has mustered up more sacks from 2017-2019 as Pittsburgh has managed 20 more than the next highest team (the New Orleans Saints). Unsurprisingly, this surge in sack production started upon T.J. Watt entering the league. Recently, Fansided’s Adam Patrick wrote an article on why Watt could break the single-season sack record in 2020 – evidencing his historic start to his career.
In 2019, Watt and Cameron Heyward graded out among the best in the league at their positions. Here were PFF’s rankings of their top four defensive lines in 2019:
While the Steelers had an undeniable defensive emergence in 2019, is it possible that they currently have the best defensive line in the NFL?
Pittsburgh lost Javon Hargrave to free agency this offseason, but returning to full health is Stephon Tuitt. Before going down with a season-ending pectoral injury early in Week 6, Tuitt graded out as the 6th best interior defender in all of football, according to Pro Football Focus. HIs 89.1 was better than Hargrave’s 83.4 grade from last season.
The biggest difference between the two defensive linemen was their ability to get after the quarterback. While Hargrave earned a respectable pass-rush grade of 76.9, Tuitt’s 85.0 grade was 6th in the league – higher than Cameron Heyward’s grade.
As a unit, the Steelers front four are looking very solid heading into the 2020 sesaon. Here’s a look at how their projected top-five defensive linemen graded out from last season:
Owning the best unit in the league isn’t something that is easy to accomplish, and there may never be a clearcut answer. The San Fransisco 49ers have an insanely good unit as well. Though they traded former Pro Bowl defensive tackle, DeForest Bucker, they replaced him with first-round pick Javon Kinlaw in the NFL draft.
In addition, the 49ers have Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, and Defensive Rookie of the Year, Nick Bosa. After just one season, Bosa has already entered his name alongside T.J. Watt in the discussion for the best edge defender in the league.
Time will tell if the Steelers defensive lineman will be able to keep up the dominant pace they were on from 2019. If T.J. Watt can continue to improve and Stephon Tuitt can finally stay healthy, something tells me this defensive line unit is going to be even better in 2020.