It’s that time of year. Some kids who were kings of campus suddenly will be thrown into the big leagues. Some of them will make it, some of them won’t—as Head Coach Mike Tomlin says, “Such is life in the NFL.” As for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the intrigue levels are escalating as the coverage of Pro Day attendances across the nation has been under the microscope.
From the potential of running back or linebacker in the first round, to a wide receiver or offensive lineman in the second and third rounds, we are all on our toes waiting to dive into the first round selection and beyond for the Steelers. Regardless, there are three positional battles we need to watch for as the draft approaches that will surely be influenced by the draft class of 2021.
When the Steelers cut Vince Williams (pain), it seems to have locked in Robert Spillane into that position. While I believe it is very likely he will be the Week 1 starter, the question I propose is will he be in the lineup full-time or will there inevitably be some sub-package battles?
Based on recent draft tendencies, I think it is a safe bet to say the Steelers will draft a linebacker within the first four rounds. The Steelers could break the defensive streak and go offense in the first round. But, if they go with an ILB in the first three rounds… things get interesting.
Ulysees Gilbert III has been, unfortunately, injury-prone—and they aren’t little injuries either. Marcus Allen has the potential to be a very solid hybrid type of player, but he is still a work in progress. That leaves very little assurance behind a returning Devin Bush and the “Spillane Train”. This is a position that will surely be addressed during the draft or post-draft free agency signings.
While I don’t expect any of the first round pedigree corners to be available at pick 24, this is another position the Steelers could address in the first four rounds. With that being said, it is safe to say the main battle will be for this position is on the outside in the nickel package. Ideally, if the Steelers end up not signing a cornerback from the free agent market, they will need to look to pick one up in the draft.
For the current roster, Justin Layne was beaten out for playing time towards the end of the season in favor of James Pierre. Whoever is signed or drafted will likely have to battle for playing time with these two—especially in the dime package. Cameron Sutton is the likely #2 outside corner but is more than capable of being a versatile inside-outside type of corner. Those third and fourth spots are the biggest questions in the Steelers defense as it stands.
This is unequivocally the biggest question mark on the entire roster. Sure, running back is a concern; no doubt. However, the unit has noticeably digressed since the departure of Todd Haley and then followed by Mike Munchak. Lacking stale, predictable game planning, and a lack of execution to along with it… we can all agree this unit has stunk all around.
With these facts came the promotion of long-time college offensive coordinator Matt Canada and the promotion of Adrian Klemm—coupled with the non-renewals of Randy Fichtner and Shaun Sarrett. While I am optimistic Canada and Klemm will bring a much needed change in innovation and execution to this unit, there are a few spots on the line that we will have to wait until after the draft to have an idea of what this unit can be this season.
One thing the Steelers have emphasized this offseason is signing cheap, versatile depth pieces. I get they aren’t flashy signings, but everyone forgets that without depth signings… you have no depth when the depth is needed. The starters (or future starters) will be addressed throughout the draft process. The absolute must need is a center. Even then, there is no guarantee that rookie will be the day one starter. This is going to be a long offseason of position battles and the offensive line is without a doubt the top concern.
Don’t forget to check back in frequently for more draft news, analysis, and more! The 2021 NFL Draft starts on April 29th and concludes on May 1st.