With the off-season in full swing, we will take a look back and review the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers. The defensive line was one of the stronger positional units on the team last year. This week we’ll review how well the Steelers defensive line fared in 2016.
Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Positional Overview: Defensive Line
Even after an injury to the team’s best defensive player Cameron Heyward, the line was still very good. Heyward played in seven games and was the best player on that line, especially in run defense. At the time of his injury, Heyward had three sacks for a defense that was starved for them. He may have been lost for the year after seven games, but it didn’t mean the defensive line was lacking in talent. Stephon Tuitt was tenacious from the other end position, collecting four sacks and two forced fumbles. Rookie nose tackle Javon Hargrave got two sacks while anchoring down the line at the nose, and backup end Ricardo Mathews a sack while seeing his playing time increase. Even the depth players performed well with L.T. Walton seeing an increase in playing time and late season addition Johnny Maxey being forced into duty. Even backup nose tackle Daniel McCullers got a sack. This team had a fantastic starting lineup, but the depth behind the starting defensive line was shaky at best. The team could stand to upgrade on the depth players on the line, but if the three starters remain, the defensive line could be strong again for the Steelers in 2017.
The only free agent along the defensive line for this year is Ricardo Mathews, who they could re-sign on the cheap. Stephon Tuitt and Daniel McCullers hit free agency after the 2017 season, so look at how both of them perform in a contract year. The Steelers may actually elect to extend Tuitt sometime by the time the 2017 league year begins, so the only defensive lineman in a contract year would be Dan McCullers. Keep an eye on McCullers, as he has been improving every year, so he may stay with the team as a long term backup since the team loves to retain its own players.
As noted above, the only defensive lineman to hit free agency is Ricardo Mathews. The team could upgrade his spot via free agency or the draft, with the draft being a younger, more long term option. They also could cut ties with McCullers and upgrade the backup nose tackle position with either someone with more experience, or more potential. If there was any draft to upgrade the defense , it would be this one. This year’s draft has many good defensive linemen that Pittsburgh could potentially add to bolster up the depth along the line. The Steelers are in a good spot with how talented the starting defensive line is, that all they need to look for is depth and not some young star. Unless something unprecedented happens, such as Myles Garrett somehow dropping to the 30th pick, or Jon Allen. They may not even take them either, just because star defensive line isn’t a glaring need. Look for depth moves this off-season and nothing more.