2016 cheat sheet: Pittsburgh Steelers
To get you ready for the 2016 NFL season, the PFF analysis crew is assembling team “cheat sheets” to catch you up on the latest changes, grades, and rankings of note involving your NFL team.
With the season just around the corner, it’s time to once again take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster for the upcoming year. The Steelers are among the favorites in the AFC, as they are seemingly every year. Below is everything you need to know about Pittsburgh going into 2016.
Three biggest things to know
1. The Steelers have the best running back in the game—and a pretty good backup.
There’s no doubt that RB Le’Veon Bell is the best in the business. Last year, he finished as the highest-graded running back in the NFL, with a 90.0 grade (nobody else was over 86.2; keep in mind, however, that Bell played just six games). He had the third-best elusive rating in the league, and was fourth in breakaway percentage. After his injury, DeAngelo Williams stepped in and finished the season with an 84.2 grade, fifth-best among running backs.
2. Ben Roethlisberger is still among the league’s best quarterbacks.
In fact, he may be the best. Last year, Roethlisberger finished with the highest passing grade among NFL QBs. His adjusted completion of 72.6 was a top-10 mark in the league, and only three quarterbacks were more accurate on deep throws than Big Ben. It definitely helps that he gets to throw to the league’s best receiver, Antonio Brown (96.4 grade last season), but Roethlisberger is showing no signs of decline and should be among the top of the league again this season.
3. The defense is a work-in-progress that will need to step up from last season.
The Steelers’ offense is so strong that they don’t need their defense to be the best in the league. However, they do need it to improve upon last year’s play. Linebackers Ryan Shazier (51.5 grade in 2015) and Lawrence Timmons (37.9) earned disappointing grades season, and sophomore Bud Dupree (43.5) will need to improve. There are pieces to like, however, such as interior defenders Cameron Heyward (84.3) and Stephon Tuitt (80.4).
Key arrivals and departures
Top three draft picks: CB Artie Burns (Round 1, pick No. 25 overall, University of Miami), CB Sean Davis (Round 2, pick No. 58 overall, Maryland), DT Javon Hargrave (Round 3, pick No. 89 overall, South Carolina State)
Signed in free agency: OT Ryan Harris (Broncos), TE Ladarius Green (Chargers), DE Ricardo Mathews (Chargers)
Left via free agency: CB Antwon Blake (Titans), DT Steve McLendon (Jets), CB Cortez Allen (UFA), LB Sean Spence (Titans), CB Brandon Boykin (Bears)
Retired: TE Heath Miller
Rookie to watch
Artie Burns, CB, Miami (Round 1, pick No. 25 overall)
The selection of CB Artie Burns by the Steelers was met with some skepticism by PFF analysts. He’s a good athlete with a combination of size and speed, but his production in college didn’t really match up to a first-round selection. The Steelers are hoping that he can put it all together and become a strong member in an otherwise relatively weak secondary.
Highest-graded player of 2015
Antonio Brown, WR, 96.5 overall grade
Brown is currently the premier receiver in the league. He’s not the tallest or fastest, but he runs incredible routes, has strong hands, and can make plays after the catch. He dropped just four passes on 131 catchable balls last season, and his 23 missed tackles forced were the third-most among NFL receivers. He averaged 2.69 yards per route run, which was the highest mark in the league.
Breakout player watch
Ross Cockrell, CB
Cockrell was just a fourth-round selection in 2014 and played almost no snaps in his rookie season. Last year, however, he took off, playing over 60 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps at the corner spot. He was targeted 74 times last season and allowed 47 receptions for 619 yards and four touchdowns. He also recorded two picks and nine pass defenses, however. His coverage grade of 81.8 was in the top-20 among corners last year.
Nickel defense (2015 season grades shown)
Offense with three receivers (2015 season grades shown)