By Alan Robinson
So how did they rank?
Passing yards, rushing yards, sacks and interceptions provide some insight into an NFL player’s performance. But such numbers certainly aren’t the only measure of how well or how poorly a player performs during a 16-game, four-month season.
Pro Football Focus grades every player on every play during a season, thus providing an objective analysis of every NFL player compared to the others at his position. The grades are subscribed to by multiple NFL teams and player agents.
While Pro Football Focus’ grades might not mirror a team’s own grades (those commonly are made by the position coaches), they do provide a non-biased view into a player’s season.
Now that their season is complete, here’s how the Steelers graded out:
Not surprisingly, record-breaking wide receiver Antonio Brown was the highest-graded player on offense with a 23.2 rating. (PFF’s grading system is too complicated to explain in a few sentences, but the higher the rating, the better.) He also graded out third among all NFL wide receivers, trailing only Brandon Marshall of the Bears and Calvin Johnson of the Lions. (One surprising number: While Brown went out as a receiver on 631 of the 968 snaps he played, he was used as a run blocker on 330 plays.)
Ben Roethlisberger’s 12.1 rating was the second highest among the Steelers and was 10th among all NFL quarterbacks. He was the only player who was on the field for every one of the 1,067 offensive snaps; Brown was second with 968 snaps and right tackle Marcus Gilbert was third with 965 snaps.
Gilbert allowed the most sacks (11) and quarterback hurries (30) of the offensive linemen, left tackle Kelvin Beachum was second with seven sacks allowed.
Left guard Ramon Foster (13.2) and right guard David DeCastro (11.8) were the highest-rated offensive linemen. DeCastro was much higher as a run blocker (8.1) than he was as a pass blocker (minus-0.1), yet still allowed only two sacks, the same as Foster. Foster graded out at 9.9 as a run blocker.
Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (10 TD catches) also graded out well at 10.3. Emmanuel Sanders, the other starting wide receiver, had a 1.5 grade.
The lowest-rated players on offense were left tackle Mike Adams (minus-7.3 rating, 4 sacks allowed plus 24 QB hurries, the second most of any lineman although he played only 485 snaps); tight end Heath Miller (minus-6.8), backup lineman Guy Whimper (minus-6.0) and center Fernando Velasco (minus-4.9).
Miller’s grade might seem surprisingly low, but he returned early in the serious from a major knee injury that occurred in December 2012, and his blocking execution was far lower at the start than it normally is for him. His minus-9.2 rating as a run blocker was the second lowest on the team to Beachum’s minus-9.8. (Overall, Beachum graded out at minus-3.2). Last season, Miller was 6.8 overall.
Running back Le’Veon Bell graded out at 4.3, a good rating for a rookie. (Former Steelers first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall, allowed to leave as a free agent after the 2012 season, was a minus-3.5, by the way. And the league’s lowest-graded running back was Ray Rice of Baltimore at minus-16.2.
An interesting Roethlisberger statistic. His “true” pass completion percentage was 68.1 percent (375 of 550), discarding passes that were intentionally thrown away, batted down or spiked. Also, 36 of his passes were dropped.
Troy Polamalu and Lawrence Timmons (1,093 snaps each) were the only defensive players to be on the field for every opposing offensive snap.
Polamalu was the highest-graded player at 12.2, including a 13.9 rating in pass that was far the best on the team. (The second-highest was Cam Heyward’s 3.5.) The lowest-rated pass defender was cornerback Ike Taylor at minus-14.1; Pro Football Focus credited opposing wide receivers with catching 71 passes for 1,043 yards and six touchdowns against him.
Taylor had a big drop-off from last season. He ranked 97th among the 110 cornerbacks who played on at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps, compared to 33rd among 113 cornerbacks last season, when his pass coverage rating was 4.0.
Heyward was second to Polamalu with an 11.3 rating, and cornerback William Gay was third at 11.1. Fourth was outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley at 10.8; Woodley was limited by two calf injuries to 146 snaps over the second half of the season. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds had a 9.5 grade, and his 5.1 grade in run defense was second on the team to Steve McLendon’s 5.7.
The lowest-rated player, by far, on defense was defensive end Ziggy Hood, who was minus-14.0, including a minus-10.6 rating as a pass rusher. Taylor was minus-8.4 overall; rookie inside linebacker Vince Williams was minus-5.2, though he graded out better during the second half of the season than the first.
Rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones was minus-3.9 overall and minus-5.7 as a pass rusher (with one sack).
And remember how this was expected to be a critical season for former third-round draft choice Curtis Brown? Due to various off-field and injury issues, he played all of one snap on defense.
The best-graded special teams player was Robert Golden at 10.5; he was credited with a team-high 11 tackles and two assists. Antwon Blake had nine tackles and two assists but only a minus-0.5 rating (he had four missed tackles). Pro Bowl punt returner Antonio Brown had a 5.3 rating.
Kicker Shaun Suisham converted a team-record 93.8 percent of his field goal attempts (30 of 32), yet he ranked 39th and last among the league’s most active kickers at minus-1.1.
How could that be, given his high field-goal percentage?
Suisham was last in the league in kickoffs at minus-1.1 ( Matt Prater of Denver was the leader at 52.6) because only 24 of his 86 kickoffs went for touchbacks. (Prater, by comparison, had only 33 of his 114 kickoffs returned, or 27.2 percent to Suisham’s 64 percent). And Suisham was the only regular kicker in the league who didn’t attempt a field goal of 50 yards or more. (Five kickers attempted seven such kicks.)