Pro Football Focus rated each of the 32 NFL teams’ lineups from top to bottom and concluded the Steelers have the NFL’s sixth-worst roster. The only teams ranked below the Steelers at No. 27 are the Raiders, Vikings, Falcons, Rams and Jaguars
Even the Browns, who are undergoing their usual coaching and front office shuffle, are ranked ahead of the Steelers at No. 24. The Bengals – despite their usual postseason fold-up act — are the top-rated AFC North team at No. 7 and the Ravens are No. 16
Pro Football Focus ranked 12 players on each team on offense and defense (to account for the nickel/third down sets all teams use) with a scale that ranged from Elite to Poor. In between were High quality, Good, Average and Below Average. There also were categories for players with little playing experience, such as Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer (not enough information) and rookies
The Bengals (defensive lineman Geno Atkins) and Browns (left tackle Joe Thomas) were the only teams in the division with an elite player. None of the Steelers or Ravens players were rated that highly
The Steelers were judged to have three high-quality players — quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and strong safety Troy Polamalu. Only 10 of their 24 starters were judged to be above average
The Steelers offense’s ratings by Pro Football Focus:
QB Ben Roethlisberger High quality
RB Le’Veon Bell Average
TE Heath Miller Average
TE Matt Spaeth Below average
WR Antonio Brown High quality
WR Lance Moore Good
WR Markus Wheaton Below average
LT Kelvin Beachum Average
LG Ramon Foster Good
C Maurkice Pouncey Good
RG David DeCastro Good
RT Marcus Gilbert Average
The Steelers defense’s ratings:
LE Cam Thomas Average
NT Steve McLendon Average
RE Cam Heyward Good
OLB Jason Worilds Good
ILB Ryan Shazier Rookie
ILB Lawrence Timmons Good
OLB Jarvis Jones Below average
CB Cortez Allen Average
CB Ike Taylor Below average
CB William Gay Average
SS Troy Polamalu High quality
FS Mike Mitchell Average
While the Steelers have just three elite or high quality players in Pro Football Focus’ judgment, the Browns have six: Thomas, WR Josh Gordon (who might not play this season), C Alex Mack, ILB Karlos Dansby, CB Joe Haden and S Donte Whitner.
Here’s what Pro Football Focus has to say about a Steelers roster that has undergone quite the overhaul over the last two years: “Once held up as a shining example to the rest of the league for how to run a franchise, the Steelers have allowed their roster to be eroded talent-wise for several years now, and are clinging onto being in contention for playoff spots at the end of the season thanks to having a top-quality quarterback and little else.
“The team simply has not drafted well, failing to replace key personnel when they needed to, and then persisting with struggling players long past the point they should have given up on them. Ike Taylor is still used as if he were a shutdown corner, shadowing an opponent’s best receiver despite surrendering six touchdowns in 2013 and a passer rating into his coverage of 110.6.” (Note: The Steelers stopped using Taylor this way late last season.)
Pro Football Focus also writes: “The departure of Emmanuel Sanders in free agency means the team needs Markus Wheaton to step up, and for all the draft picks spent on the offensive line, it remains a unit that has yet to distinguish itself.”
One more: “Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are the other two high-quality starters, and they might be the only players keeping the Steelers competitive into December.”
So do the Steelers really have the worst roster in the AFC North? Multiple national NFL analysts have praised the Steelers’ offseason procurement of eight free agents and their draft class and believe they are on the upswing, not the further downslide following successive 8-8 records that Pro Football Focus projects.
The players who appear to be graded too low include Bell, who could be a 1,100-yard, 40-catch running back this season, Miller, Pouncey and DeCastro, plus Worilds, Timmons and Mitchell on defense.
Such ratings/grades/analysis/projections mean nothing in June – just as preseason college football polls in August have proven to be wildly inaccurate projections of the season to come. But they appear to predict a further slide by a team coming off successive non-winning seasons, and it will be interesting to see how accurate they are once the season starts.
That season starts Sept. 7, by the way, when the No. 24 Browns visit the No. 27 Steelers.