Steelers fans need to pump the brakes on expectations for Markus Golden

Steelers, Markus Golden
Steelers, Markus Golden / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It didn't take long for Steelers fans to go crazy over the Markus Golden signing. Pittsburgh has been in desperate need of edge defender depth since shipping away a disgruntled Melvin Ingram before the trade deadline during the 2021 season. Now they finally have that missing piece in the form of Markus Golden.

The veteran pass rusher has had a very productive NFL career since joining the Arizona Cardinals as a second-round pick back in 2015. In 111 games (68 starts) Golden has managed 47.0 sacks, 323 tackles, 62 tackles for a loss, and a substantial 130 quarterback hits, per ESPN stats. This production includes three impressive seasons of 10 or more sacks.

Though his past production is certainly noteworthy, Steelers fans need to be careful not to overrate Golden at this stage in his NFL career.

Markus Golden is a solid, but unspectacular addition for Steelers

This isn't to take anything away from the impressive NFL career Markus Golden has had to date, but it's simply unwise to expect great things from him as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2023. There are several reasons why we need to temper expectations.

For starters, Golden turned 32 years old this offseason. Studies show that most edge rushers who are still hanging around display a drastic decline in production and efficiency at this point in their careers. Obviously, there are always exceptions to this, but there's no reason to believe that Golden should be an exception to the mold. Golden was a 24-year-old rookie when he was drafted back in 2015, and it's possible that Father Time could catch up with him at any point now.

In addition to nearing the end of his professional career, Golden isn't coming off of a particularly great season. Though he played extensive snaps in 2022 with the Arizona Cardinals, Golden could only muster up 2.5 sacks on 70 percent of the team's total defensive snaps last year.

Breaking it down a bit further, Pro Football Focus charts that 514 of his 781 total defensive snaps came in passing situations. This means that there were more than enough opportunities to tee off on the quarterback, but the veteran pass rusher only came down with 2.5 sacks and 7 tackles for a loss last year.

Obviously, it's not all about statistical production, and the film is the most important aspect to assess. However, Golden's 2022 film wasn't spectacular. This was reflected in his pedestrian 65.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (62.9 pass-rush grade).

It doesn't help that Golden didn't have great size or athletic traits, to begin with. Entering the NFL, Golden tested as just a 19th percentile athlete, according to his Relative Athletic Score. While powerful, Golden's 6'2'' frame with tiny 31 1/8'' arms doesn't help make up for his athleticism deficiencies.

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There's very little question that Markus Golden will be an upgrade over Malik Reed as the primary backup edge defender for the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, that's not a particularly high bar to clear. It's reasonable to believe that Golden's best play is certainly behind him at this point. He will serve as a quality rotational piece, but fans need to pump the brakes a bit on their overall expectations.