The Steelers have a few holes in their roster to fill. As a team that is known to build well through the draft, the Steelers could add the pieces they need this April in the NFL Draft. With the draft rapidly approaching, and the Combine wrapping up on Monday, it’s time to take a closer look at what direction the Steelers will go when they travel to Dallas.
The Steelers’ offense is set to return nearly identical to how it looked in 2017 (with the exception of a new coordinator). At least for 2018, they are set at quarterback, running back, receiver, and offensive line. The team is still working on signing Le’Veon Bell to a long-term contract, but that should really be the only question mark when it comes to what players will be on the offensive side of the ball in 2018 for Pittsburgh.
The defense is yet again in question. The defense started out 2017 very strong, especially in the secondary. When Joe Haden went down with an injury, the secondary’s performance also went down, especially with giving up chunk plays down the field. The biggest strength of the defense was sacking the quarterback, setting a franchise record with 56 sacks in 2017.
A surprising lapse on defense was performance against the run. They gave up 105.8 yards/game, which was good enough for 10th in the NFL. However, the loss of Ryan Shazier was detrimental to the run defense. They gave up 133.5 yards/game in the games after Shazier’s injury, including their playoff loss to Jacksonville. Steelers President Art Rooney II has even publicly stated the run defense needs to drastically improve.
Steelers Team Needs
The loss of Ryan Shazier left a gaping hole in the middle of the Steelers’ defense. General Manager Kevin Colbert has already stated Shazier will not play in 2018. Shazier’s absence takes away speed, pass coverage, and tackling ability that impacts the run defense, pass defense, and the pass rush.
The Steelers have the 28th pick in the first round of the draft, and is projected by many to take a linebacker with that pick. If and when the Steelers take an inside linebacker to potentially fill Shazier’s void, they could use a guy who possesses a similar skill set of Shazier. Now, they won’t live up to that same potential. After all, Shazier was considered by some to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate before his injury, but having a linebacker with a similar skill set could fill that void better than anyone currently on the roster.
Roquan Smith (Georgia); projected early-to-mid 1st round
Rashaan Evans (Alabama); projected mid-to-late 1st round
Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State); projected late 1st round-to-early 2nd round
Malik Jefferson (Texas); projected 2nd round
Roquan Smith is a pipe dream, unless the Steelers trade up. The two players most often linked to the Steelers are Rashaan Evans and Leighton Vander Esch. There’s a possibility Evans could be gone by the time the Steelers are on the clock, so Vander Esch could be a possibility. Malik Jefferson, although he played outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme at Texas, is a high-ceiling, raw talent that is projecting as a late 1st-rounder in some mock drafts. Jefferson has said he’s willing, and has a better skill set, to play inside. Evans and Jefferson best fit the “Shazier” profile, with their size, speed, and athletic ability. Vander Esch looks like an tenacious animal on the field.
While the safety position isn’t quite as big of an immediate need as inside linebacker, it could be a position potentially addressed with their 28th pick in the 1st round pending how the teams ahead of them draft.
Free safety Mike Mitchell is entering the final year of his contract and the Steelers don’t have anyone that can step right in and play at a high level. Mitchell has also been a bit of a controversial figure at the position, drawing plenty of criticism from analysts and fans alike about his play and whether he has lived up to his contract. It could even be speculated that he could be traded to free up cap space so the team can re-sign Le’Veon Bell.
Either way you look at it, Mitchell is the Steelers’ best option at free safety for 2018. If his status with the team changes, safety becomes arguably the biggest position of need in this draft. The team also needs to consider a future past Mitchell, who is unlikely to get an extension since the Steelers cap situation is tight enough as it is.
Ronnie Harrison (Alabama); projected late 1st round
Justin Reid (Standford); projected late 1st round-to-early 2nd round
Armani Watts (Texas A&M); projected 3rd round
Marcus Allen (Penn State); projected 4th round
While Derwin James (Florida State) would be an obvious choice if available at the 28th pick, it’s highly unlikely he will be available at 28. Depending on how everything falls with the linebackers the Steelers will have their eyes on, Ronnie Harrison is a realistic option for the 1st round. If the Steelers decide safety isn’t as urgent, Armani Watts or Marcus Allen could be options later on in the draft.
While the Steelers could address other positions, and obviously will, these two positions are really the only two positions that have to be addressed early on. There a major holes to fill in these two positions, both immediately and long-term.
Some might argue the Steelers should be looking for Ben Roethlisberger‘s replacement, but the Steelers aren’t drafting high enough for another franchise quarterback. Plus, Big Ben stated earlier this offseason that he wants to play for three more years. As long as he’s dawning the #7 uniform for Pittsburgh, the Steelers likely won’t be drafting high. Picking a quarterback is a waste of a draft pick, especially considering the Steelers have several needs to fill on the other side of the ball.
It wouldn’t be a shock if the Steelers drafted yet another receiver. No one drafts receivers better than Pittsburgh, and Martavis Bryant is entering the last year of his contract. It’s very possible he won’t be in a Steelers’ uniform in 2019, so drafting a potential replacement in later rounds isn’t out of the question.