Pittsburgh Steelers fans know that defensive end Stephon Tuitt is among the best players on the team, even if he lacks the national name recognition of Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, and other top players on the defense.
But his talents have not gone unnoticed by Pro Football Focus, which named Tuitt as its dark horse candidate to become the highest-ranked interior defensive lineman in the NFL in 2020.
To do so he will have to knock off Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald, who has been PFF’s highest-graded interior defensive lineman for an astonishing five seasons in a row. (Believe it or not, Donald once played ‘meet me at the quarterback’ with Steelers RB James Conner. It happened during a 2013 bowl game in which the two college teammates played on the defensive line together.)
But analyst Ben Linsey gives Tuitt a fighting chance, noting that he put up an 89.1 PFF grade through the first six weeks of last year before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury. Better yet, Tuitt’s pass-rushing grade trailed only Donald and Calais Campbell in 2019.
PFF also reminds us that Tuitt’s career has followed a similar arc to that of linemate Cameron Heyward, who once suffered a torn pectoral muscle of his own. Fortunately, Heyward returned with a first-team All-Pro appearance in the wake of his injury. “Now, it’s time to see how Tuitt responds, but the tools are there for him to be a dominant force on the interior,” offers Linsey.
Stephon Tuitt: ‘I’m Not Kneeling for the Flag’
According to head coach Mike Tomlin, Tuitt’s recovery from the torn pectoral has been going “really well,” and the Steelers are “excited to have him and his talents back.”
But it’s possible he’ll encounter some friction in the locker room from teammates who may not agree with his public pronouncement about ‘not kneeling for the flag,’ part of a recent tweet storm that generated national attention.
Specifically, Tuitt capped off the storm by telling the world: “I’m not kneeling for the flag and screw anybody who have a problem with that.”
PFF’s Other ‘Dark Horse’ Candidates for 2020
In case you’re wondering, PFF’s dark horse candidates to become top-rated at the remaining positions include: Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons (QB), Chris Carson of the Seattle Seahawks (RB), Kenny Golladay of the Detroit Lions (WR) and Philadelphia Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert.
Braden Smith (Indianapolis Colts), Elgton Jenkins (Green Bay Packers) and Frank Ragnow (Detroit Lions), are PFF’s picks at offensive tackle, offensive guard and center, respectively.
On defense PFF likes the prospects of edge defender Chase Young (Washington Football Team), linebacker Alexander Johnson (Denver Broncos), cornerback Jamel Dean (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and safety Marcus Williams (New Orleans Saints).