The 2019 NFL Draft is now less than a two weeks away. This year’s Draft is in Nashville, Tennessee as the NFL has decided to continue the trend of bringing the draft bonanza around the country (buckle up for Vegas in 2020). As we have done the last few years, in the weeks leading up to the Draft we will be taking a position-by-position look at the Steelers roster and where their biggest needs lie in the Draft. Last week we covered the offense and now move on to defense, starting with the defensive line. The Steelers have stocked the position nearly entirely though the draft. Cam Heyward was a first round pick and Stephon Tuitt was a second-rounder. Nose tackle Javon Hargrave was a third round pick and backup nose tackle Daniel McCullers was a 6th rounder. The only player not drafted or signed as a UDFA is backup Tyson Alualu.
Also check out our Prospect Profiles for a more detailed look at a number of draft prospects.
Returning Players: Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, Tyson Alualu, Dan McCullers, Lavon Hooks
New Arrivals: Conor Sheehy, Winston Craig, Casey Sayles
The Departed: LT Walton
Draft Need: Medium-Low
The top four defensive linemen on the Steelers depth chart return for 2019. Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are the anchors at the defensive end positions and play most of the snaps in the nickel defense as the 2 down linemen. Given that the Steelers are in nickel or some other sub-package over 70% of the time, Heyward and Tuitt are really the only “starters” in the rotation. Javon Hargrave entered into the nickel rotation last year and showed some abilities beyond just being a 3-4 nose tackle. Tyson Alualu is the top backup to Heyward and Tuitt and was re-signed to a 2-year deal to remain in that position. One of the strangest decisions of the offseason was signing backup nose tackle Dan McCullers to a 2-year deal.
Likelihood of Drafting: Medium-Low
LT Walton has not re-signed and was the 4th player in the defensive end rotation last year. This is a draft class loaded with talent on the defensive line, particularly at the top. One of the difficulties of drafting a defensive lineman early in the draft is figuring out where they fit into the rotation. Heyward, Tuitt, Hargrave, and Alualu clearly have the top four spots locked down. While a draft pick may be able to fill in on a rotational basis for 5-10 snaps per game, it is unlikely they would see more action than that. As such, don’t expect the Steelers to be in play for a linemen early unless a highly talented player like Houston’s Ed Oliver or Clemson’s Christian Wilkins falls to them.
Kevin Colbert and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar attended both Alabama and Clemson’s Pro Days. The Crimson Tide and Tigers are both loaded with defensive line prospects from top-of-the-class talent in Quinnen Williams, Christian Wilkins, and Dexter Lawrence to mid-round players like Isaiah Buggs and Albert Huggins. Kevin Colbert also attended Pro Days at Texas and Texas A&M where Chris Nelson, Kingsley Keke, and Daylon Mack are projected as draft-worthy talents. In the later rounds, the Steelers met with Louisiana Tech DT Immanuel Turner at his Pro Day and had him to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit.
Header image source: USA Today