The 2020 NFL Draft is now less than a two weeks away. This year’s Draft will be like nothing we have ever experienced. Due to precautionary measures around the global pandemic of the coronavirus, the NFL will hold a virtual draft. Teams are not permitted to have their brass congregate in war rooms and most of the footage will be done through video and teleconferencing. The 2020 Draft was supposed to be a giant display of showmanship in Las Vegas, but instead will look like a high-end production of your beer league fantasy draft. 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. After looking at the offense, we turn to the defense which had a re-emergence last year as one of the best units in the league. For the first time since 2010, the Steelers had two players post double-digit sacks as TJ Watt tallied 14.5 and Bud Dupree 11.5.
Check out our previous positional previews:
Also check out our Prospect Profiles for a more detailed look at a number of draft prospects.
Returning Players: TJ Watt, Bud Dupree, Ola Adeniyi, Tuzar Skipper
New Arrivals: none
The Departed: Anthony Chickillo
Draft Need: Medium
The Steelers placed the franchise tag on Bud Dupree, preventing him from hitting the free agent market. The hope seems to be to sign Dupree to a long-term deal. The Steelers are going to have to invest a lot of money in the outside linebacker position in the coming years as TJ Watt is entering the final year of his rookie deal (though he is eligible for a fifth year option to extend that through next season). Last season, Dupree and Watt were 2 of just 18 players to break the double-digit sack plateau. However, behind them the Steelers lack depth and have just two undrafted free agents in Ola Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper. Both players have flashed in preseason action but have yet to prove they can play consistent snaps on Sundays.
Likelihood of Drafting: Medium-High
The starters are set with Watt and Dupree. Adeniyi and Skipper are both solid special teams players but have not seen significant playing time on defense. Adeniyi dressed for all 16 games but played just 62 total snaps on the season. There is the need for depth behind them, and potentially for a 2021 starter if the Steelers aren’t able to work out a long-term deal with Bud Dupree. Therefore, it would behoove the Steelers to draft an edge rusher, preferably one with athletic upside. Any player the Steelers draft this year could play immediately on special teams and slide into the rotation as a backup then potentially be in position to battle for a starting role in 2021 if Dupree does not sign long-term with the Steelers.
Last year we identified six athletic testing traits that are common among pass rushers who have an early impact (those who record 10+ sacks in one of their first two seasons). A number of edge rushers did not complete all of the drills at the combine and with the cancellation of Pro Days, it has been harder than ever to come by good athletic testing numbers. Players who check all of the athletic boxes for early impact pass rushers are Stanford’s Casey Toohill, Florida’s Jabari Zuniga, and North Dakota State’s Derrek Tuszka. All three are projected as mid-to-late round players and would be wise for the Steelers to seriously consider, given their athletic upside. Ohio State’s Chase Young is clearly the best edge rusher in the draft and will be taken within the first three picks. Behind Young, the next tier of LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson, Iowa’s AJ Epenesa, Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos, and Wisconsin’s Zach Baun could be drafted in any order. At the Combine, the Steelers showed some interest in Michigan’s Josh Uche and Boise State’s Curtis Weaver, who both should be available in the second round.