How many snaps Steelers fans expect Melvin Ingram to play in 2021?

Melvin Ingram III #54 of the Los Angeles Chargers. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
Melvin Ingram III #54 of the Los Angeles Chargers. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers made their first plash move of free agency by signing edge defender Melvin Ingram. Here’s how much we can expect him to play.

When I learned that Melvin Ingram was visiting the Steelers, I was thrilled. I’ve stated numerous times this offseason that edge depth was the biggest concern with this Pittsburgh team and that one injury to T.J. Watt or even Alex Highsmith could prevent the Steelers from being a top defense in 2021.

Now that Ingram is officially signed to a one-year, $4 million contract, I take a stab at what his role with the team might be this season in Pittsburgh. More specifically, how many snaps will he play this year?

Despite being the 18th overall pick back in the 2012 NFL Draft, Ingram didn’t start right away for the Chargers. In fact, he didn’t become a full-time starter until his 3rd NFL season in 2014. Unfortunately, he played just 9 games and missed a large stretch early in the season on IR. As a result, Ingram recorded just 6.0 sacks by the start of his fourth year in the league.

That’s when things really started to take off for the former first-round pick. Though Ingram has never boasted outrageous production, he is no stranger to making plays in the backfield and consistently providing pressure on the quarterback.

Ingram eventually made three straight Pro Bowls from 2017 to 2019. Before playing just 7 games in 2020 due to injury. The last time Ingram was fully healthy for the Chargers in 2018, he played an astonishing 915 defensive snaps (88 percent), according to Pro Football Reference. Even though he was often injured in 2019 and 2020, his snaps per game remained close to the same (51 per game in both 2019 and 2020).

How many snaps will Ingram play for the Steelers?

Ingram is now a 32-year-old football player who has combined to play just 20 games since the end of the 2018 season. Despite his former first-round status and impressive body of work in the NFL, we can’t expect him to play as many defensive snaps with the Steelers has he has in the past with the Chargers.

This leads to the question of how snaps will be distributed between edge defenders in Pittsburgh. Last season, T.J. Watt played 57 snaps per contest – a number that the Steelers would probably like to see go down in 2021 in an effort to keep him fresh. Prior to his injury, Bud Dupree played 55 snaps per game. Alex Highsmith took over as the starter in just the last five games of the season, but he managed to play just over 27 defensive snaps per game.

While many are projecting Ingram to have a small role where he chips in 12-15 defensive snaps per game, I don’t see it that way at all. Mike Tomlin loves to play veterans, and he’s well aware of how good Ingram is when he’s healthy. This is no indictment on Highsmith – who is a very good young player. However, I think Pittsburgh will take more of a balanced approach when it comes to divvying out edge snaps in 2021.

In addition to this, it’s entirely likely that Ingram turned down more money to play with other teams this year with the promise of more playing time from the Steelers. Think of it this way: more playing time on a one-year deal on one of the best pass rush units in the NFL means Ingram could earn one more big contract in 2022 with a solid performance.

Though Highsmith could still out-snap Ingram this year, it may not be by as much as you might think. Based on both his history and what Pittsburgh decided to do last year, I think it’s very reasonable to think that Melvin Ingram could earn roughly 25-30 snaps per game. Assuming he stays healthy all season in a new 17-game schedule, this could mean 425-510 snaps on the year.

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I know this seems like a big chunk for a player who is earning just $4 million with the team in 2021, but I really think the Steelers are going to do a better job of rotating their pass rushers this season. Melvin Ingram isn’t going to replace Alex Highsmith, but he will play more than expected.