By Matthew Marczi
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive guard David DeCastro has reportedly been getting around this week on an ankle sprain without so much as a limp, according to various beat reporters’ accounts on Twitter.
That could certainly lead to good news for a Pittsburgh team in dire need of quality offensive line play if he is able to go this week. According to Pro Football Focus, after yet another strong outing before exiting with the injury against the Oakland Raiders, DeCastro has vaulted in the site’s rankings as the third-highest-graded offensive guard in the league.
In Pro Football Focus’ analysis, DeCastro trails just Evan Mathis of the Philadelphia Eagles and Louiz Vasquez of the Denver Broncos. While Mathis has a commanding lead over the rest of the league (it is worth noting that the Eagles have yet to have their Bye week) with an overall grade of 25.1, Vasquez is very much in his sights as the year progresses with an overall grade of 12.7.
After the last game, DeCastro now has an overall grade of 11.3 for the season. Meanwhile, New Orleans Saints guard Ben Grubbs had a rough week against the Buffalo Bills, which dropped him to fifth overall. Arizona Cardinals guard Daryl Colledge is currently ranked fourth—in eight games—with a grade of 8.9.
What I find interesting is that neither DeCastro nor Mathis—the evident clear favorite for current best guard in the league—are strong pass protectors, but more than serviceable. Mathis’ grade in pass protection is just 2.4, and DeCastro’s is 2.2. Mathis has allowed just one sack, but also three hits and 10 hurries. DeCastro has allowed two sacks, three hits, and seven hurries.
Where the separation comes is in the run-blocking department, but the evidence suggests that Mathis’ grade is boosted—perhaps significantly—by the offense that Chip Kelly and the Eagles employ.
Mathis’ run blocking grade is far and away the best in the league at 20.5, but second in the league is Todd Herremans, the other Eagles offensive guard. His run blocking grade is 14.5, yet his overall grade is -1.4 due to a terrible -18.1 grade in pass protection.
Overall, DeCastro ranks fourth in the league as a run blocker, with Minnesota Vikings guard Brandon Fusco ranked third. DeCastro’s 6.2 grade in the running game comes primarily from his dominant performance against the Baltimore Ravens, when he earned a grade of 3.6. The week before, the entire offensive line struggled against the New York Jets, as reflected in his -1.9 game that week.
Over the past two weeks, however, he has really solidified. His pass protection is also improving. His best grade in pass protection, in fact, came against the Jets, and over the past four weeks, he has only allowed one sack, one hit, and three hurries. His grade in pass protection over that span is actually 3.7. The fact that he has yet to draw a flag is just the cherry on top.
Yes, DeCastro is truly developing into the top-tier first-round talent that he was believed to be when the Steelers gleefully jogged their card up to the podium to draft him last year. That the data from Pro Football Focus supports this observation is not a necessary condition for that to be true, but corroborating evidence is a useful tool. Make no mistake, it will be a big boost if the Steelers could have one of their best players on the field next week when they take on the New England Patriots.