With fewer than two weeks remaining until the NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a position-by-position look at the Steelers roster and where the team has the biggest needs. Despite winning the AFC North Crown and finishing an over-ruled catch (that is now a catch) away from being the #1 seed in the AFC, the Steelers have plenty of needs to address on their current roster. While some believe the Steelers need to focus exclusively on defense in the upcoming Draft, the team has generally split their draft picks between offense and defense. The Steelers will have 7 picks in the draft with no picks in the 4th or 6th round but with 2 picks in the 5th and 7th rounds. Today’s preview will cover outside linebackers, or as they are referred to in the draftnik community – EDGE rushers.
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By The Numbers
2017 Sacks: 17
2017 Forced Fumbles: 1
2017 INTs: 1
Returning Players: T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo, Keion Adams, Farrington Huguenin (PS)
New Arrivals: None
The Departed: Arthur Moats
Draft Need: Medium
TJ Watt and Bud Dupree will be the every-down players next season with Anthony Chickillo holding the top backup role. Keion Adams was a 7th round pick out of Western Michigan who spent last year on injured reserve and appears to be in line for a roster battle during training camp. The Steelers have not yet decided whether or not to pick up Bud Dupree’s 5th year option for the 2019 season. They do not need to decide on Dupree’s option until after the Draft. There isn’t a lot of depth here so it would not be surprising to see the Steelers take a pass rusher to compete with Chickillo and Adams for the backup spots.
Likelihood of Drafting: Medium-Low
This might be one of the most confusing aspects of the 2018 Draft process. The Steelers have 2 starters at OLB but also have a clear need for depth behind them. However, they have spent almost no time during the draft process (at least, per official reports) meeting with EDGE Rusher prospects. This isn’t an incredibly deep draft for pass rushers, but given that TJ Watt and Keion Adams (who has never played a down in the NFL) are the only two players currently under contract for 2019, one could have reasonably expected the Steelers to spend more time scouting pass rushers. It would make sense for the Steelers to draft one, but it doesn’t seem to be one of their pre-draft focal points.
Potential Prospects: There are two prospects who appear to be clear first rounders and should both go off the board in the Top 20 picks. NC State’s Bradley Chubb is the top player though may be built more for a 4-3 DE role than a 3-4 OLB role and will be a Top 10 pick. Boston College’s Harold Landry will be the next pass rusher taken and it’s hard to see him getting out of the Top 20. The next tier of pass rushers includes UTSA’s Marcus Davenport, LSU’s Arden Key, and Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard, will all likely be late 1st rounders or early 2nd rounders.
One intriguing prospect is Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter (READ: SCB Prospect Profile) who has the size, speed, and athleticism to play either as an inside linebacker or an EDGE rusher in a 3-4 defense. He played in a similar scheme at Georgia and moved around quite a bit. Unfortunately for Carter, he was overshadowed by the absolute dominance of Roquan Smith, but is still a solid player in and of himself. At 6’5″ 250, he has the size to be an EDGE rusher (similar to Danielle Hunter and Kamerion Wimbley) but his 4.46 40-yard dash along with his 130″ broad jump show he has the speed and explosiveness to play Mack on the inside as well.
In the middle rounds of the Draft, Florida State’s Josh Sweat and Washington State’s Hercules Mata’afa (READ: SCB Prospect Profile) have generated some buzz from the draftnik community. The Steelers had dinner with Wake Forest EDGE rusher Wendell Dunn after the Demon Deacons Pro Day. The Steel City Blitz Podcast crew was fortunate enough to interview Wendell last month (LISTEN: Wendell Dunn Interview). Dunn projects as a late round pick or undrafted free agent. On the whole, this is not a very deep class of pass rushers and the Steelers may wind up bringing back Arthur Moats or signing another veteran pass rusher in free agency after the Draft.