This off-season has been one of the busier off-seasons in recent memory for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are off to their new teams, as they get a fresh start. After the signings Mark Barron, Donte Moncrief, and Steven Nelson, the Steelers have filled some of their needs with experienced veterans. While it’s unusual to see Pittsburgh be this active in the free agent market, it has served an important function. The Steelers can now focus their draft picks on adding depth, rather than trying to find young guys to be playmakers right away.
After Free Agency, Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Should Focus on Depth
Following the trade of Brown to the Oakland Raiders, the Steelers will enter the 2019 NFL Draft with 10 draft picks. That means there will be plenty of opportunity for this Steelers draft class to provide much needed depth. Pittsburgh can look for players that can be groomed to take over the starting roles, rather than being rushed to the field. Part of the Steelers problem the past few seasons has been drafting some guys that needed more time to develop. Forcing guys into starting roles before they were ready has led to some undeniable busts in recent seasons.
Get the Defensive Backs Right
The most glaring spot that Pittsburgh has failed to develop is in the defensive backfield, specifically the position of cornerback. Three of the last four Steelers drafts have featured five different corners drafted in the top five rounds. Neither projected starter, Nelson or Joe Haden, were among those picked. With multiple picks in the first 100 selections in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Steelers have the ability to find the right guy and let him learn from Haden and Nelson. There will be no pressure to have the rookie be the starter.
Replenish the Inside Linebackers
It has been pointed out many times, but it is hard to overstate how much the Steelers miss having Ryan Shazier. Before his spinal injury in 2017, Shazier was one of the most promising young linebackers in the league. None of the Steelers inside linebackers came close to matching Shazier’s production last season. With 10 different picks, look for the Steelers to draft some more inside help. A mid-round selection to rotate in with Tyler Matakevich is the most likely option.
Replacing “The Outlaw”
This off-season saw tight end Jesse James leave Pittsburgh and sign with Detroit Lions. When he was drafted many hoped he would be the dominant, productive force that Heath Miller was. James showed flashes that he could be, but never could keep up consistent production. Soon his top spot was superseded by Vance McDonald and his super stiff-arm. With Xavier Grimble still unsigned, this Steelers draft might feature a tight end in the middle to late rounds. James was a fifth-round pick, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of the three sixth-round picks used here.
Replacing Some “Killer Bs”
Probably the biggest challenge of this Steelers draft is finding a way to replace the production of the departed Bell and Brown. James Conner proved he was up to the task of taking on Bell’s workload last season. But when Conner got hurt the backups were inconsistent when called upon. If Pittsburgh wants to go for more of a two-man backfield, they could use one of those 10 picks on a running back. Conner is the main man in the backfield, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Steelers tried to give Conner more help to ease his punishment.
With Brown now suiting up for the Raiders, the unquestioned top receiver for the Steelers is JuJu Smith-Schuster. Moncrief will slide into the second spot with James Washington expected to make a big contribution in year two. It still wouldn’t be a surprise if the Steelers picked a receiver or two somewhere throughout the draft. Pittsburgh, more than any other position, always seems to hit on their receiver selections. Brown was a sixth-round pick and will certainly be a future Hall of Famer. Watch for the Steelers to find another gem at the position.
This has been one of the more memorable off-seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It saw the departure of two of the best players in the game at their positions. It saw the team be unusually aggressive in acquiring some new players. And now, the Steelers head towards the draft armed with 10 picks. That offers the team the opportunity to trade up to select players they want, or use all 10 to strengthen and add depth to the squad. There are plenty of places for the team to use those picks. They should add depth, and prepare for a bounce back 2019 season.