The Pittsburgh Steelers are a linebacker factory. For the last 50 years the Steelers have been churning out the best linebackers in the NFL year after year. From Jack Lambert and Jack Ham, to Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene, to James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Now the tradition has been passed on to TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith. When you play Pittsburgh, your quarterback better keep his head on a swivel.
On Friday Pro Football Focus released their latest rankings in a series that they’ve been putting out over the last week. Today’s tier rankings focused on the outside linebacker position. Known Ben Roethlisberger and Steeler hater Sam Monson authored this list.
Now before we get into the absurd lets point out that Monson does rank Watt correctly. While the players aren’t given rankings necessarily for their ‘tier’ rankings, Monson does point out that he has Watt ranked #1 because he won Defensive Player of The Year last season. But in the same breathe he says that Garrett was better. (bogus)
TIER 1: DPOY CANDIDATES
1. T.J. WATT, PITTSBURGH STEELERS
2. MYLES GARRETT, CLEVELAND BROWNS
3. KHALIL MACK, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
4. MICAH PARSONS, DALLAS COWBOYS
5. JOEY BOSA, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
6. MAXX CROSBY, LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
7. NICK BOSA, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Few NFL arguments are as explosive as the one surrounding who the better edge rusher is: T.J. Watt or Myles Garrett. Watt is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, but Garrett posted the better PFF grade and pressure rate and had several other stats go in his favor last season. Ultimately, both players are phenomenal and have been so for several years now, but Watt gets the top spot on the rankings simply for maintaining his peak for a longer run of games.
Between a suspension for hitting Mason Rudolph with his own helmet and a bout of COVID-19 blunting his effectiveness for a stretch of the 2020 season, Garrett just hasn’t been able to maintain the scintillating run of play that Watt has over as long of a span. In any given game or even season, though, Garrett is well capable of being better.
Over the past two seasons, these two edge rushers rank No. 1 and No. 2 in PFF grade, with just one-tenth of a grading point separating them (91.9 for Garrett to 91.8 for Watt). They rank first and third in pass-rush win rate, and no edge rusher has more sacks than Watt.
Now onto the absurd part. They listed 6 tiers of players with a total of 32 linebackers being listed. You know where Highsmith landed on the list?
Highsmith started 16 games last season, recorded 74 tackles, 6 sacks, 15 tackles for a loss, and registered 15 quarterback hits. Cowboys’ Randy Gregory made their tier 3 list. Which in their defense was a tier that considers players who have had injuries and other concerns? But his numbers for comparison to Highsmith’s: 19 tackles, 6 sacks, 4 tackles for a loss, and registered 19 quarterback hits.
Listed under the young rushers with huge potential tier Packers’ Rashan Gary was listed. He was a first-round pick three years ago and has 16.5 career sacks. Last season he had 9.5 of those 16.5 sacks. Last season he recorded 47 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss, and registered 28 quarterback hits. He also didn’t have Watt on the other side taking all of the quarterback hits.
There is 0 reason why Highsmith shouldn’t be ranked. After coming from Charlotte in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft Highsmith has blossomed into a budding star. The sky is the limit for him, and PFF better start showing him some respect.
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