Former Cal standout Tyson Alualu is a member of the best defensive front in pro football. At least that is the opinion of CBS Sports, which named the NFL’s best units in four categories – best offensive line, best (non-QB) offensive skill players, defensive front and defensive backfield.
The defensive front category is basically the front seven (defensive line and linebackers), and CBS Sports ranked the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive front as the best in the NFL. The 35-year-old Alualu is the anchor of that defensive front, as CBS Sports suggests in its description:
Best Defensive Front: Steelers
Honorable Mention: Bills, Chargers, 49ers, Ravens, Rams, Saints, Buccaneers, Cowboys
Want an elite edge rusher? OK, here's T.J. Watt. Want an elite interior rusher? OK, there's Cameron Heyward. Want a great nose tackle? OK, there's Tyson Alualu. Want depth? Well, let's roll out Chris Wormley, newly signed Larry Ogunjobi, Montraius Adams, and DeMarvin Leal, along with Alex Highsmith coming off the edge opposite Watt. Devin Bush hasn't lived up to his promise but still has ton of athleticism at linebacker, and pairing him with Myles Jack gives Pittsburgh one of the freakiest linebacker duos in the league. There are arguments for other teams, of course, like quality edge depth (Bills), top-end talent (Chargers, Rams, Cowboys), versatility (Ravens), and the lack of clear weak points (49ers, Saints), but the Steelers still stand out.
Alualu doesn’t get much publicity; nose tackles seldom do.
But consider this:
In 2020, when Alualu was moved from defensive end to starting nose tackle in the Steelers’ defense before the season, Pittsburgh ranked 13th among the 32 teams in rushing defense, yielding 112.4 rushing yards per game, and 4.3 yards per carry. And the Steelers were particularly good against the run in the first seven games of that season, when Alualu was completely healthy. They were a little less effective in the second half of the season when Alualu played but was slowed by an ankle injury.
In 2021, when Alualu suffered a season-ending broken foot in the first half of the second game of the season, the Steelers finished dead last in the NFL in rushing defense, yielding 143.8 rushing yards per game and a league-worst 5.0 yards per carry.
Alualu’s absence was not the only reason for that discrepancy, but in 2020 he was credited for being a key factor in stuffing the middle against the run.
Alualu played for Cal from 2006 through 2009, collecting 26 tackles for loss in his college career. He was the 10th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft and played defensive end for much of his first 10 seasons. It was not until he was moved to nose tackle in Pittsburgh’s three-man front that 6-foot-3, 304 pound Alualu found his proper place. He is expected to be fully recovered from his broken foot and should ready to go for training camp.
Cover photo of Tyson Alualu by Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sports
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