The word underrated gets thrown around a lot nowadays doesn’t it? Almost to the point where guys end up being overrated because of how often they are considered underrated. It’s a weird dynamic. Anyways, I think the use of the term is rather appropriate when it comes to Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
Considered one of the best defensive end prospects coming out of the 2014 draft, it proved beneficial for the Steelers that Tuitt was limited in pre-draft work due to a foot injury. They were able to secure a first round talent in round two and it didn’t take him long to be a contributor. While he was more of a rotational piece in his rookie season, following the retirement of fan favorite Brett Kiesel, he was thrust into a starting role opposite of Cam Heyward. A role that he has held a stranglehold on since being given the opportunity. When healthy, the Steelers possess the most dominant interior defensive line in football and Tuitt is a big reason for that.
Run Stop/Pass Rush
Maybe it’s the presence of guys like Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt that cause Tuitt to fly under the radar when it comes to national media. The Steelers know how valuable Stephon Tuitt is, though. His play was rewarded when he signed a 5-year, $60 million extension right before the start of the 2017 season. At 6-6 and 300+ lbs, the mammoth of a man has always been stout in the run game. Taking up space and clogging holes with ease, he makes it easy for everyone else around him. However, his ability to rush the passer is what’s taken his game to the next level.
The pressures had been there for a while, but just as the case with many young players it took a while for the sack totals to reach an elite level. It looked like he was on his way to a breakout season in 2019 before his season was prematurely cut short by a torn pec just 6 games into the season. This was just delaying the inevitable as he absolutely blew up in 2020, taking his game to a new level and hit career highs in many categories. He finished the year with 11 sacks and recorded 26 pressures. Those 11 sacks were good enough to place him at 8th in the league in that category. Despite that, he gained very little national attention and seemingly no consideration for the Pro Bowl or All Pro honors. Why is this the case?
Hitting His Stride
As I stated earlier, maybe its due to the talent that surrounds Tuitt. Maybe some view him as a product of those guys and him being the beneficiary of that. Make no mistake though, he oozes talent on his own. He is a huge part of the talented core of the organization, not just a beneficiary of those around him. With the loss of Bud Dupree, maybe he will start to garner national attention. Not that he needs it. He doesn’t care about the individual accolades or achievements. He just wants to do his part in making the football team the best it can possibly be. Tuitt is more than carrying his weight.
Still just 27 years old, Stephon Tuitt has cemented himself as part of the team’s present and future. He’s also right at that age where you could consider him in his “prime.” This begs the question; is there even another level to his game? Can these years of flying under the radar help him reach even greater heights? I’m not sure, but man is that a scary thought for opposing offensive linemen and quarterbacks to think about. From watching him play his college ball at Notre Dame to watching him play in the black & gold, it’s been a treat. I don’t know what else is in store for Stephon, but I can’t wait to find out….and I hope soon enough he gets the national recognition that is long overdue.