An In-Depth Look at the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers – Power Ranking 4by Mason Thompson July 9, 2020
Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers came in with extremely high expectations. Ben Roethlisberger was poised for another strong season and the offense as a whole had many young superstars. Early on though, the season was derailed following a blowout loss to the New England Patriots in week one. Then Roethlisberger going down with a season-ending injury in week two. Pittsburgh would start 1-4, but the addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick made the defense one of the best in the league. If it weren’t for the disaster at quarterback led by Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, the Steelers would’ve made the playoffs. With Roethlisberger returning and the defense remaining mostly intact, the Steelers have a chance to make some noise in the AFC Playoffs.
Make sure to check out all of our in-depth power rankings here.
- Overall – 84.953 (4th)
- Offense – 85.36 (5th)
- Defense – 84.685 (3rd)
- Coach and Culture – 84.75, (7th)
- Home Field Advantage – 85.5, 7th (4% Defense, 2% Overall)
Quarterbacks – 83.5, 10th (36% Offense, 27% Overall)
Roethlisberger threw for 351 yards and an interception last year in his game and a quarter. From then on, it was a disaster last year at the position. The Steelers are hoping that he can get back to his high-caliber play. They hope the injuries he has sustained don’t hamper his abilities as much this year. The combination of Rudolph and Hodges did enough to put the Steelers in contention to win games but couldn’t do much else besides that. Rudolph did the better of the two but still couldn’t manage to bring the offense from the depths.
Hodges had some flashes here and there but ultimately showed he isn’t anything more than a backup. He also threw his own four-interception game against Buffalo in week 15. Paxton Lynch is well, on the roster I guess and has to prove he has any sort of promise as a starter in the league after being a first-round bust for Denver. J.T. Barrett spent all of last year on the practice squad and will have a difficult time making the roster due to the lack of preseason games this year.
Running Backs – 82, 17th (4% Offense, 3% Overall)
With the offense struggling, James Conner‘s production plummeted. In 10 games he only totaled 464 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He added three touchdowns through the air as well. Conner has missed 11 games in his three years in Pittsburgh and is entering a contract year. Despite playing in Pennsylvania his whole collegiate and professional career, he could find himself elsewhere next year.
Benny Snell had a few games where he was the lead back. He finished with 426 yards and three touchdowns and will factor into the rotation behind Conner. Jaylen Samuels wasn’t very productive with his carries as he only managed to find 175 yards on 66 attempts for a touchdown. He was very productive in the receiving game acting as a safety valve for the two backup quarterbacks. He had 47 catches for 307 yards and a touchdown and will have a role this season as a tight end/running back hybrid like he was in college.
Anthony McFarland was added during the draft from Marland and he could be the feature back as Conner will likely be gone next year. For now, McFarland will take a backseat in the rotation and be more of a change of pace back in the offense. Kerrith Whyte was added during the middle of the season last year and could actually push Samuels off the roster if he has a strong camp. Whyte was the return man last year and showed some promise with limited snaps on offense. With Roethlisberger getting older, the Steelers could focus on becoming more of a run-oriented team and their stable of running backs as well as the addition of Derek Watt shows that they could be putting an emphasis on running the ball more.
Pass Catchers – 85.5, 7th (17% Offense, 8% Overall)
Pittsburgh is one of the best, if not the best team in the league at developing wide receivers. The Steelers haven’t selected a receiver in the first round since 2008. However, they use several day two selections on receivers such as JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson. Smith-Schuster had a phenomenal rookie season but took a step back last year with Roethlisberger being down.
His stats plummeted down to only 42 catches for 552 yards and three touchdowns. Washington took a step forward in his second year as well where he caught 44 passes for 735 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson finished with 59 catches for 680 yards and five touchdowns. Johnson will line up all over the field while Washington is a deep threat, and Smith-Schuster is a nightmare to cover in the slot.
Even with the young trio of receivers on the roster, the Steelers decided to add another young option by selecting Chase Claypool. Not only does he have size, but he also ran in the 4.4s at the combine for his 40-yard dash. Ryan Switzer was acquired in a trade with the Raiders during the draft in 2018 and was incredible as he played all over the field in 2018. Last year though, he took a major step back (sensing a trend yet?). With another year in the offensive system and getting his quarterback back, Switzer is hoping he can get back to his 2018 form.
Vance McDonald missed time with injuries last year and didn’t have the season many expected him to have after a great 2018 season. McDonald finished with 38 catches for 273 yards and three touchdowns. Similar to McDonald, Eric Ebron suffered injuries last year and was added in free agency to team up with McDonald. The two will rotate in to stay fresh. The two on the field at the same time could cause problems as they offer completely different skill sets from one another. Zach Gentry will most likely be the third tight end on the roster and has great athletic ability but needs help blocking.
Offensive Line – 88.5, 4th (24% Offense, 12% Overall)
Despite losing Ramon Foster due to a surprise retirement during the offseason, the Steelers still have one of the league’s best offensive lines. Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler are two successful undrafted players that have had strong NFL careers. Villanueva is one of the league’s best pass blockers and Feiler has been strong since sliding into the starting role in 2018. David DeCastro is still going strong as the team’s right guard and Maurkice Pouncey needs to show that last year was just one bad year instead of a sign of things to come. Stefen Wisniewski was signed as a replacement for Foster and should be serviceable.
If Wisniewski struggles though, rookie, Kevin Dotson could be in line to replace him as the left guard. Chukwuma Okorafor, Derwin Gray, and Zach Banner are all young players who need time to develop but could get chances sooner rather than later especially due to injury.
Run Defense – 83, 13th (6% Defense, 2% Overall)
The Steelers defensive line took a hit as Javon Hargrave signed with Philadelphia during free agency. Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward return from last year as starters and will be joined by the up-and-coming Chris Wormley who will take Hargrave’s slot. Wormley will likely be in a battle with Isaiah Buggs and Tyson Alualu for the third role on the interior but Wormley has the most upside of the other two. Buggs and Alualu are reliable depth and Alualu has a veteran presence who has been solid in a rotational role since coming to Pittsburgh. Carlos Davis was a steal in the seventh round who will fight for a role as a depth piece.
Pass Rush – 87, 2nd (21% Defense, 10% Overall)
T.J. Watt was the sack-leader on the Steelers last year with 14.5 sacks. Bud Dupree was slapped with the franchise tag following a season where he had 11.5 sacks. The Steelers look to have planned for life after Dupree as they used their third-round pick on Charlotte’s Alex Highsmith. He exploded for 15 sacks this last year at Charlotte. He will fill in great for Dupree if they elect to not retain him. Heyward had nine sacks from the interior last year and is a menace against the pass. Tuitt had 3.5 sacks last year and has teamed up with Heyward on the interior.
Linebackers – 83.5, 9th (15% Defense, 4% Overall)
Devin Bush had an excellent rookie season where he totaled 109 tackles, a sack, nine pass deflections, and two interceptions last year. Bush is the do-it-all linebacker who can read the offense and diagnose where running plays are going as well as be great in coverage. Vince Williams is more of the run stopper as he had 55 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Ulysees Gilbert, Christian Kuntz, and Robert Spillane are the depth pieces at linebacker and will need to fill the role with Mark Barron, Anthony Chickillo, and Tyler Matakevich going elsewhere.
Secondary – 84.5, 5th (26% Defense, 17% Overall)
The Steelers secondary was ranked as one of the worst in the league a few years ago. Pittsburgh ranked second in the league in interceptions as well as the second-lowest passer rating. Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson have proved to be a great trio of cornerbacks for the Steelers and they even have Cameron Sutton and Justin Layne as depth now. Haden was one of the best cornerbacks in the league last year. He compiled 17 pass deflections and five interceptions. Haden had five interceptions that went for 130 yards and a touchdown. He also returned a fumble for a touchdown. Terrell Edmunds is very much a box safety as he had over 100 tackles last year. Edmunds is quite possibly the biggest liability at the safety position on any team in the league. 2020 is a make-or-break year for Edmunds and he now has competition as the Steelers took Antoine Brooks in the draft.
Coach and Culture – 85.5, 7th (19% Offense, 28% Defense, 15% Overall)
The offense was awful with Roethlisberger and Conner missing time. With all of their playmakers healthy this year, the Steelers offense returns as one of the best in the league behind a great offensive line. The additions of Claypool and Ebron give the Steelers two reliable red-zone targets. Most of the starting lineup returns and that’s why Pittsburgh ranks ninth in the league.
Keith Butler‘s defense transformed into one of the best in the league last year with the addition of Fitzpatrick. The loss of Hargrave is big on the defensive line. Edmunds needs to make a massive leap forward or else his spot could go to Brooks early. The secondary is great, besides Edmunds. It has the tools to become one, if not the best in the league again this year. The Steelers defensive coach and culture ranks tied for fifth.
Pittsburgh has one of the most well-rounded rosters in the league. It will once again be in contention to make a deep playoff run if most of the playmakers stay healthy. The offense should look of old with Roethlisberger returning and the defense should continue its massive step forward. Many will think this ranking is too high but the Steelers. I think they have all the tools to make one last Super Bowl run with Big Ben.
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