Lack of Steelers offensive linemen on Top 100 list has teammates up in arms
Want to bring a smile to Ben Roethlisberger’s face? Ask him about his offensive line.
The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback loves to talk about his linemen. He credits much of his success to the five men assigned to protect him on a weekly basis. He can recite their accomplishments, preach their importance to the offensive scheme and speak glowingly about how his career has been extended because of their pass protection.
But mention the NFL Network Top 100 rankings that didn’t include a single Steelers lineman — notably center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro — and Roethlisberger is reluctant to offer more than a few terse words.
“It’s such a joke,” Roethlisberger said Thursday morning.
The 10-day runoff of players who comprised the top 100 concluded Wednesday night. The Steelers had five players make the list that is voted on by their NFL peers, but none in the top 40.
Roethlisberger was the highest-ranked member at No. 44. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster made the list for the first time at No. 47. Running back James Conner, another first-timer, showed up at No. 62. Defensive lineman Cameron Heyward made it for the third time but dropped 40 spots to No. 88. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt became the third newcomer to make it for the Steelers at No. 93.
DeCastro and Pouncey? The perennial Pro Bowlers were nowhere to be found.
“It’s confusing,” guard Ramon Foster, drawing out his words. “Con-fu-sing.”
That was especially true in the case of DeCastro, who was voted the No. 44 best player in 2018 balloting. After making the Pro Bowl for a fourth consecutive season, DeCastro seemed to be destined for at least a third consecutive appearance on the list.
But the run of player announcements came and went without DeCastro’s name being called. DeCastro, in fact, wasn’t listed among the next 10 players snubbed from the Top 100, which NFL Network also revealed Wednesday.
“He should rise up, right?” Foster said. “We have one of the top lines in the league, I think everyone can agree with that. And not one representation? That raises an eyebrow.”
The Steelers had three offensive linemen make the Pro Bowl after the 2018 season. Pouncey made it for the seventh time in his career and third year in a row. In addition to DeCastro’s fourth consecutive trip, right tackle Alejandro Villanueva was chosen for the second year in a row.
Asked how much stock he put in the rankings, DeCastro offered a one-word response: “Zero.”
“I don’t think any of us really care about it, to be honest,” he added.
Foster didn’t understand the voting process.
“I couldn’t tell you what we voted on,” he said. “I’ve met a lot guys around the league that said the same thing. They don’t know. Maybe (NFL Network) selected a small pot of guys who they wanted on the list anyways.”
Pouncey is a two-time, first-team All-Pro selection, last earning that distinction in 2014. DeCastro was named first-team All-Pro after the ‘15 and ‘17 seasons.
Pouncey last made the Top 100 in 2015 — or the summer before he suffered a broken fibula and missed the entire season. DeCastro, though, made the Top 100 list in each of the previous two summers, debuting at No. 97 in ‘17 and improving more than 50 spots in ‘18.
“They are cornerstones all the way across the board,” Foster said. “Any coach in this league would start a team around those guys.”
Villanueva downplayed the snub of his fellow offensive linemen, pointing out the top 100 might involve individual recognition, but it doesn’t measure a team’s success.
“The Patriots didn’t have any players in the Top 100 from the offensive line, and they won the Super Bowl,” Villanueva said. “That’s who we envy. That’s who we want to be.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .