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Jared Dubin of CBS Sports recently released his top 10 defenses in the league heading into the 2021 season and he has the Steelers defense ranked as the fifth-best unit in the NFL.
Ranked ahead of the Steelers are the Ravens at No. 4, Browns at No. 3, Buccaneers at No. 2 and Washington at No. 1. The Ravens are always tough on defense and they have one of the best secondaries in the league, while the Browns have significantly improved their secondary this offseason, which was their biggest weakness last season. They've also added dynamic inside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah through the draft and signed pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney to be paired with All-Pro Myles Garrett.
The Buccaneers defense played incredibly down the stretch last season in the playoffs which led to a Super Bowl title and all their starters are returning in 2021, so expect more of the same from this unit. Washington as the No. 1 ranked defense might be a surprise to some, but they have a highly talented front-four made up of first-round picks in Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Da'Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen. They're a young defense and they're only going to get better under Ron Rivera.
Below is Dubin's explanation on why he has the Steelers defense ranked as the fifth-best in the league.
"Losing Bud Dupree hurts, but Alex Highsmith did a solid job filling in last season, and the Steelers picked up Quincy Roche in the sixth round, and he should help as well. He was underrated in the pre-draft process due to his being the third-best University of Miami edge guy in this class. Pittsburgh is also still just loaded with talent at all three levels, with T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Joe Haden, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Cameron Sutton, and Justin Layne all returning from last year's team. The only real concern here is second unit depth, which has been sapped by the team's cap constraints over these past few years."
With the loss of Bud Dupree and Mike Hilton in free agency, coupled with Steven Nelson being released as a cap casualty, the Steelers have some question marks heading into the 2021 season on defense. I think Alex Highsmith will be serviceable in replacing Dupree, but I don't know if he'll have an impact like Dupree in Year 2. He'll have to develop over time to get to Dupree's level. Likewise for Cam Sutton, as I think he should fill in for Nelson just fine. The bigger issue is the cornerback depth and who will be the slot cornerback to replace Hilton, as it's just an unknown right now. Justin Layne and James Pierre will have to really step up their game in 2021. I think the Steelers will still be a dominating defense, as they're loaded upfront and have a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate in outside linebacker T.J. Watt, but depth at outside linebacker and cornerback is questionable.