When the Pittsburgh Steelers are ranked behind the Cleveland Browns, there’s a clear issue.
ESPN’s Ben Linsey coughed up some exclusive content today, ranking each football club by their respective Pro Football Focus grades, effectively judging each roster’s group of projected starters. In the midst of an intensely discombobulated offseason for all teams, the ranks of power have shifted greatly. In fact, neither of the teams that participated in Super Bowl LVI are found within the Top 3, and the Cincinnati Bengals have taken a sharp decline from their royal status.
Surprises aside, nothing matches the head scratching decision of ranking the Steelers so low.
Pittsburgh was ranked #22 in the league in terms of roster strength, and Linsey had a few choice words for certain lacking aspects of both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Though he does give due credit to the certified phenomenal duo of TJ Watt and Cameron Heyward, cementing them as Top 3 at their respective positions over the last three seasons. While there really is no comparison for the likes of Heyward and Watt, Linsey asserts that they alone are responsible for the cohesiveness of the Steelers defense. This might be the most solidified part of his argument, though I wouldn’t simply count out the secondary, filled to the brim with star-studded talent.
You’d have to scroll down a lot more to see the argument against the Steelers. They end up ranking last out of all AFC North teams. Every other squad is within the Top 12. According to PFF, a team that finished 2nd in their division in 2021, securing a playoff spot with a winning record, is ten teams below their nearest divisional opponent. Take that as you will, Steeler Nation.
Yes, there’s been a lot of change. But most of these changes, many in Pittsburgh would argue, have been nothing short of upgrades.
There’s a central problem with PFF’s grades of players, especially for young squads like Pittsburgh. The offense in the Steel City is young, extremely young. Of course, the grades for these inexperienced players isn’t going to rival other veteran teams like the Buffalo Bills (ranked #1 in the NFL in terms of roster strength), or the Green Bay Packers (ranked #5). Even the lowly Browns, who don’t have a current option at quarterback for Week 1 of 2022, are placed squarely at #6, eclipsing the defending AFC Champion Bengals (#8). His reasoning? The offensive line, which might be a fair assessment. No one in the league has focused on their lineman up front as much as Cleveland, but to protect who? Jacoby Brissett?
Linsey makes the opposite argument against Pittsburgh, saying that their offensive line has “Deteriorated” over the last 5 seasons.
While certainly not an upgrade from Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Ramon Foster, the 2022 offensive line is shaping up to be a cohesive unit, with a patchwork of trades and acquisitions to secure some seriously young (and therefore laden with potential) men to protect our Week 1 starter, whether that’s the newly signed Mitch Trubisky or the new kid Kenny Pickett. Either way, very few can argue that our quarterback situation is unproven, but an upgrade from the final years of the slowly aging Ben Roethlisberger.
Linsey lists the standout Ahkello Witherspoon as the deciding “X-Factor” on a roster chock-full of X-Factors for 2022. Though Witherspoon had a volatile season in 2021, his play towards the end of the year made Steelers fans’ eyes light up, showing that he was worth his 2-year, $8 Million dollar contract extension. Linsey sees him as a question unanswered, even though the front office has already made up their mind: they like this kid, and the secondary is becoming deeper by the minute.
Ultimately, this ranking takes in many factors, but leaves out a deciding few, especially for the Steelers specifically. A massive offseason re-haul doesn’t necessarily mean that the resulting changes are detrimental, or would lead to a lesser win total. Being placed behind failing squads like the Washington Commanders is a sign that the Steelers have a massive chip on their shoulder going into 2022, and Mike Tomlin and company are looking to prove absolutely everyone wrong.
Did PFF rank the Steelers fairly? Let us know below!
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