Fairly or unfairly tackles, linebackers and defensive backs have long overshadowed defensive ends in Pittsburgh Steelers defenses, as the Steelers went 21 years between drafting defensive ends with a first round pick.
Yet, after drafting Aaron Jones in 1988* then Ziggy Hood in 2009, the Steelers only waited two years to draft to use another first rounder on Cam Heyward in 2011. Twice as much time has elapsed since then so the question must be asked, will the Steelers look to draft another defensive end in in the 2016 NFL Draft? Should they? Let’s take a look.
*Pittsburgh drafted Huey Richardson as a linebacker in 1991, but since 2011 the Steelers Media Guide has listed Richardson as a DE. Steel Curtain Rising rejects such Orwellian attempts to re-write history.
Steelers Depth Chart @ Defensive End Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starters
In Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt the Pittsburgh Steelers field their strongest pair of defensive ends since the days of Dwight White and L.C. Greenwood.
- Yes folks, we just went there.
That’s no disrespect to Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, both of whom proved themselves worthy of successors on the Steel Curtain, but Smith and Kesiel’s careers peaked at different times. Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, John Mitchell and Steelers Nation are more fortunate with Heyward and Tuitt.
When the Steelers picked Cameron Heyward first in 2011, Kevin Colbert labeled it a “historic day for the franchise.” The Steelers general manager was right on the money there, as Heyward has not only arrived as a hell raiser on the field, but also as a leader off of the field.
Why Heyward started 2013 on the bench with Hood starting remains a mystery, but Heyward’s ascension to the starting lineup and the reversal of the Steelers 0-4 start are in no way coincidental. In 5 seasons, Hewyard has 22 sacks, 15 passes defensed and a whole lot of other impact plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
Stephon Tuitt is only entering his third year, but already he has proven himself as an impact player on the Steelers defense. In 2015 Tuitt had 6.5 sacks and one interception and this is a player who still has a lot of “upside.”
Steelers Depth Cart Defensive End @ Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups
For all of the accolades heaped on Heyward and Tuitt, the brutal reality is that the Steelers have little or no depth behind him. Yes, the Steelers will return 2015’s 6th round pick L.T. Walton to the line up, but he only had 6 spot appearances in 2015. Beyond L.T. Walton, the Steelers also signed Ricardo Mathews, a journeyman defensive lineman who can play both end and nose tackle if necessary.
Kevin Colbert caused alarm in Steelers Nation when he picked up Caushaud Lyons from the waiver wire, thus exposing Doran Grant.
Grant returned both to the practice squad and then to the active roster, where Lyons held a spot all season long, but never got in any game action.
Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Defensive End
At defensive end the Steelers sport two stud starters, and have three backups who offer untested potential. The Steelers philosophy at defensive line is evolving under Keith Butler, but that is unlikely to alter Johnny Mitchell’s long-time philosophy of rotating his defensive linemen, something he was unable to do much in 2015.
- That means that the Steelers won’t look to defensive end in rounds one or two.
But picking a defensive lineman after that might not be a bad idea, if a quality one remains on the board, but that would also assume that the Steelers have addressed more pressing needs, a defensive end really is a best available athlete on the board.
All things considered the Steelers 2016 draft need at defensive end must be considered Moderate.