All in the Family! Steelers Draft Connor Heyward, Tight End, Michigan State, in 6th Round

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin loves blood lines. He added T.J. Watt in 2017 and Terrell Edmunds in 2018. By 2020 their brothers Derek Watt and Trey Edmunds were both playing for the Steelers.

Now he has a shot at doing it again, as the Pittsburgh Steelers have drafted Connor Heyward, a tight end out of Michigan State, younger brother of Cam Heyward and son of the late, great University of Pittsburgh star Craig “Iron Head” Heyward.

Connor Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers 6th round pick 2022

Connor Heyward, the Steelers 6th round 2022 draft pick. Photo Credit: Post-Gazette.com

When asked if he consulted Cam Heyward as a reference for Conner, Steelers tight end coach Alfredo Roberts replied, with good cheer, “I don’t mess with Cam” multiple times. When asked about the importance of bloodlines, Roberts rebuffed the idea a little, explaining, “Connor holds his own. Getting drafted into the NFL is a big deal.”

Roberts said the Steelers were attracted the Heyward because of his ability to make plays down the field or at the line of scrimmage clarifying that Heyward has “the want to and the savviness to do some other things that are really attractive to us.”

When asked of Heyward’s versatility made him similar to Derek Watt, Roberts agreed that the two player’s skill sets are similar, but cautioned that Watt is more of a “pure fullback” whereas “Connor gives you a different flex and tight end responsibilities.”

Connor Heyward Video Highlights

Here is a sampling of some of the work that Connor Heyward put on tape while with the Spartans

What really comes home with these videos is that Connor Heyward is indeed versatile, able to line up as a tight end, work as a fullback or set up like a true H-Back. As a 6th round pick, Connor Heyward is in no way guaranteed a roster spot.

Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry roster spots are set, so assuming both stay healthy, the battle for the 3rd tight end spot will be between Kevin Rader and Heyward.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Connor Heyward.

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Catching On? Steelers Draft Calvin Austin, Wide Receiver, Memphis in 4th Round

The Pittsburgh Steelers opened Day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft by picking Calvin Austin III, wide receiver out of Memphis in the 4th round. Austin III is the 2nd wide out picked by Pittsburgh in this draft, after they chose George Pickens of Georgia in the 2nd round.

Austin, who has a 4.32 time in the 40, originally went to Memphis on a track scholarship, although he played football for four years. During that time he caught 156 passes for 2541 yards and scored 22 touchdowns in 33 games.

Calvin Austin III, Steelers 4th round draft pick, 2022 NFL Draft

Calvin Austin III, the Pittsburgh Steelers 4th round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Photo Credit: Noticias del Deporte Mundial

Steelers wide receiver coach Frishman Jackson explained that Austin was attractive in part because he is a player that can play both in the slot and outside. Commenting on his small stature, Austin is only 5’8”, Jackson commended Austin as a player who “goes up and attacks the ball in the air” which makes him someone who is “bigger than his size.”

Commenting on his interactions with Austin at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jackson complemented Austin as someone whom “…you felt the competitiveness in his voice when he spoke, felt the toughness that he had.”

When asked to give examples of that toughness on the field, Austin shared, “I think they were playing Temple, and I see him run across the middle to catch an end route and he’s going to get the crap hit out of him. He holds on and makes the catch.”

Calvin Austin Video Highlights

Here’s a look at Calvin Austin’s highlight reel, brought to you via a meld of the magic of YouTube and Word Press:

His speed is evident throughout the tape, and it looks like he has solid hands to, although you’d expect that of a pre-draft highlights tape.

What is really encouraging is his heads up play as a gunner on the punt return, as this highlights both his athleticism and sold football instincts, if not IQ.

Just two days ago the Steelers wide receivers room was a wanting place. Now, whether its Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph or Kenny Pickett throwing the ball, they’ll have plenty of downfield targets beyond Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson.

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Keeping It Real, Steelers Draft DeMarvin Leal, in 3rd Round, DE Texas A&M

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin will go to their graves swearing that they draft the best player available. So the fact that they addressed 3 our of their 4 top needs in the Steelers Draft Needs Matrix is just a conscience.

So be it. With their third round pick the Steelers drafted DeMarvin Leal, a junior defensive end out of Texas A&M. Last season the Steelers drafted both Dan Moore and Buddy Johnson out of Texas A&M, which was also the stomping ground of former reserve safety Gary Jones, much to Don Beebe’s chagrin (Google it, ’93 Steelers vs Bills will help your keyword search.)

  • The Steelers interest in DeMarvin Leal is obvious.

He is a versatile lineman who played multiple positions in 33 games at Texas A&M while amassing 13 sacks, 1 interception and 133 tackles. Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin mentioned many times that he expects Leal to add to his 6’4 273 frame, and almost slipped out his draft grade, while admitting that they had a “nice grade on him.”

DeMarvin Leal, Steelers 2022 3rd round draft pick

DeMarvin Leal, Steelers 2022 3rd round Draft Pick. Photo Credit: Noticias del Mundo

Austin also acknowledged the elephant on the room by admitting, “”It’s really important to add young guys in there.” With Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu all over 30 and Isaiahh Loudermilk the only young prospect with serious “upside,” the Steelers defensive line will benefit from the injection of youth.

With that said, the fact that the Steelers waited until the third round, drafting quarterback Kenny Pickett in the first, and wide receiver George Pickens in the 2nd gives us a reasonably firm indication that Tomlin, Austin, and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar expect Stephon Tuitt to play in 2022.

Tuitt of course made the initial 53 man roster, only to sit out the entire season for reasons that still haven’t been explained. At his pre-draft press conference Mike Tomlin declined to confirm whether Tuitt has been attending voluntary workouts.

DeMarvin Leal Video Highlights

Here’s a look at the some tape that Leal put together while at Texas A&M.

Impressive to say the least.

Welcome to Steelers Nation DeMarvin Leal.

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Another “Pick.” Steelers Draft George Pickens in 2nd Round of 2022 NFL Draft, WR from Georgia

Pittsburghers are loyal, and the Steelers remain true to their traditions. This was the case in the 2022 NFL Draft when the Steelers picked wide receiver George Pickens in the second round. The junior from Georgia is the latest in a line of 2nd round wide receives that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have taken starting with:

Although he came in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Diontae Johnson was in fact their second pick.

George Pickens brings an interesting resume to the Steelers. At 6’3” 200 pounds and a 4.47 time in the 40. However, a torn ACL in the spring of 2022 cost him all but four games of his Junior season, but that was enough for him to catch a 52 yard touchdown that helped the Bulldogs win a National Championship.

George Pickens, Steelers 2022 2nd round draft pick

George Pickens, National Championship game. Photo Credit: Robert Scheer, Indy Times.

ickens has had discipline issues, getting suspended by the team and sitting out a half for fighting. He was also cited after being in an accident without a seat belt.

Still, his talent is event. During his first two seasons Pickens had 85 catches for over 1200 yards and 14 touchdowns. Speaking on Steelers.com, draft analyst Matt Williamson suggested he could be the best wide receiver in the draft.

Speaking to reporters, Steelers offensive coordinator described Pickens as “explosive” multiple times, and confirmed that the Steelers could either split him wide or work him in the slot.

George Pickens Highlights

Early in his college career, Pickens was seen as a potential number 5 pick. So its no surprise that he has highlight reel to show, which we share via the magic of YouTube:

George Pickens knows how to catch and he knows how to score touchdowns.

First round draft pick Kenny Pickett now has another target to throw to in addition to Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, Miles Boykin and Gunner Olszewski.

Welcome to Steelers Nation George Pickens.

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Righting a Wrong? Steelers Draft Kenny Pickett, Pitt QB, in 1st Round of 2022 NFL Draft

Once upon a time, precisely 14,247 days ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers made a decision they would live to regret. It was spring 1983. All but a handful of the Super Steelers had begun their “Life’s Work.” Terry Bradshaw‘s arm was fading. It only had a few throws left in it. 8 to be precise.

It was time to rebuild. Chuck Noll told Dan Rooney, “We started on defense last time, lets start there again.” So it came to pass that the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Gabe Rivera and passed on University of Pittsburgh star Dan Marino in the 1983 NFL Draft.

Last night, in the first draft of the post Ben Roethlisberger era, Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and Art Rooney II tried to undo that decision by drafting Pitt’s Kenny Pickett in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

  • During the pre-draft process Mike Tomlin was not shy about his interest in a quarterback.

The Steelers actively scouted top prospects such as Mississippi’s Matt Corral, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Liberty’s Malik Willis. In fact, everyone thought Tomlin had fallen hard for Willis, bringing not only Kevin Colbert, but also Art Rooney II to Lynchburg, Virginia for his pro day.

Kenny Pickett, Steelers first round pick 2022

Pittsburgh Steeles 2022 first round draft pick Kenny Pickett, at Pitt. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

But as Tomlin explained, “We circled the globe — or at least the United States — for the last several months, exploring and researching. It’s funny we ended up with the guy from next door.” Most pre-draft analysts, both inside and outside of Pittsburgh, thought the Steelers would take Willis.

And maybe their love for him was real. And it probably was, it just wasn’t as strong as it was for Pickett. As Kevin Colbert explained, “Honestly, I never thought he would make it to us.” Kenny Pickett was considered the top, most NFL ready prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft, and no one expected him to make it to the 20th pick.

Kevin Colbert readily admitted the fact that the Steelers had seen Pickett grow and evolve helped with the process, conceding that sometimes such extensive exposure is unfair to Pitt players.

However, this worked in Pickett’s favor as Colbert explained, “But honestly, Kenny developed, obviously had a great senior year, and it was a good move for him to stay in school. It just talks and preaches about what you can do when you stay and continue to develop and turn into a first-round pick. Kenny is special.”

Even if Pickett is considered the most NFL-ready prospect, many scouts had concerns about his small hands, which was an issue for Dave Kreig back in the 80’s and 90’s. Kevin Colbert dismissed this concern outright, “It was never a factor. His fumble rate was not anywhere near a problem. He could certainly throw the football.”

Kenny Pickett Highlights

One benefit of playing at Pitt for five years is that it gives Pickett a large body of highlights to draw from. Here are a few of them:

Impressive Indeed.

Wither Rudolph and Trubisky?

While the decision to draft Pickett certainly has its critics, the reaction in Pittsburgh and in Steelers Nation has been largely positive. But there are two people who can’t be happy in Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph. 24 hours ago both men were slated to compete for the starting job at St. Vincents this summer.

As of now, one of them is looking at staying at third string and spending the season in street clothes holding a clipboard.

Mike Tomlin confirmed Pickett will get a chance to win the starting job. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Early in the off season Rudolph confirmed that the Steelers had told him they would bring in a quarterback to compete. He said he welcomed it.

Now the Steelers have brought in two. That quarterback isn’t just the consensus best in the 2022 NFL Draft, he’s also a hometown hero who has already logged more starts at Heinz Field that Rudolph ever will. Such is life in the NFL.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Kenny Pickett.

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 Draft Needs Matrix

The big day has arrived. The 2022 NFL Draft is here.

A generation from now, will we remember Kevin Colbert’s final draft as the night the Pittsburgh Steelers found their franchise quarterback? Will this be the evening where he tried to go out with a bang and flopped instead? Or will we recall how Kevin Colbert convinced Mike Tomlin not to force things and instead drafted a future Hall of Famer at another position?

Those questions will take years to answer.

As of now, the pundits and tea leaf readers argue that the Steelers brain trust is sold on picking Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, Matt Corral or Desmond Ridder should one be on the board when the clock strikes 20.

steelers press conference,

That may be the case. Mike Tomlin has never been coy about pre-draft crushes. His love for Lawrence Timmons, Maurkice Pouncey, Jarvis Jones (ugh), and Najee Harris was well-known long before their names reached commissioner’s desk.

Would picking Pickett, Willis, Corral or Ridder at 20 and/or trading up to get him violate rule number 3 on the Steelers Road Map for Return to the Super Bowl i.e. don’t force finding a franchise quarterback?

  • Honestly, says the guy who thought picking Ben Roethlisberger was a mistake, I don’t know.

But I can opine on what the Steelers needs are in this draft.

Over the past few weeks, with Tony Defeo’s help, we’ve broken down the Steelers needs at each position. Using the Steelers Draft Needs, we’ve clustered their needs into four tiers.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2022 NFL Draft

Wide Receiver and Defensive Line clock in at High-Moderate. In other words, a guy Pittsburgh picks there could very well end up starting.

Below that we have a log jam, with Quarterback, Running Back, Inside Linebacker, Outside Linebacker and Cornerback all coming in at Moderate High. In other words, the Steelers aren’t looking for a 2021 starter here, but that could change fast.

Next, we have Offensive Tackle and Safety. The Steelers should be OK here, but could go looking for a future starter.

Finally, we have Tight End and Center/Guard aka “interior lineman,” where the Steelers really are looking for depth.

So how to sort out the pecking order, given that we’ve got apparent ties at several positions?

That’s the Steelers 2022 Draft Needs Matrix comes in.

Steelers 2022 Draft Needs Matrix

Here is how I see the Steelers needs playing out:

Steelers 2022 Draft Needs Matrix

Defensive line gets the nod over wide receiver simply because the Steelers two starters there are younger. But that’s close, as the Steelers do have some depth on defensive line with upside on defensive line (Isaiahh Loudermilk), whereas the cupboard is empty at wide out.

The same rational holds at running back over receiver. The Steelers need more at running back than Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland, but they’re superior to any backup wide outs.

The fact that the Steelers have Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph and only one Najee Harris is why running back is edges out quarterback. Quarterback comes in over outside linebacker because that’s a more important position, but frankly that’s close because the drop off in proven talent behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith is steep.

Likewise, the Steelers have appear to have 3 starter caliber cornerbacks, plus James Pierre, but they have more bodies at inside linebacker, even if there are long term questions about Devin Bush and no “starter in waiting” behind him and Myles Jack.

Inside linebacker is a higher priority over Offensive Tackle because the Steelers have two starters under team control for at least 3 years, and Joe Haeg can provide depth. But again, this is close.

Tackle edges out safety because both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds are far more proven commodities than any of the tackles, and Tre Norwood has far more “upside” than Haeg.

  • Safety edges out interior line, because the Steelers four players for 2 positions.

Center-Guard comes out as a higher priority than tight end simply because Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry are better, more known commodities than any of the interior lineman.

No, Steelers Mustn’t Draft for Need

With that said, the Steelers Draft Needs Matrix is anything but a call for Pittsburgh to pick based on need. When you draft for need, Artie Burns happens.

In other words, if the Steelers can grab a play making outside linebacker who could push Alex Highsmith to the bench, by all means they should grab him. Nor should they pass on picking the next Heath Miller let alone a Gronk clone just because Gentry looked good last year.

No, the Draft Needs Matrix seeks to show where the Steelers roster needs the most help and whom they should pick if all other things are equal.

  • Which of course they never are, because success in the NFL draft is a mix of science, art and luck.

The 2022 NFL Draft will be no different, and to the young men who will hear their names called in next three days, we congratulate them on their chance to live the dream that each of us had from the first moment we touched a Nerf football and barked out a snap count!

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Word to the Wise: Don’t Take Your Instant Draft Analysis Too Seriously. This Scribe Doesn’t

With the 2022 NFL Draft just on the horizon, it’s likely you’ve spent the past few months reminding others of their horrible post-draft takes from the past.

Le'Veon Bell, Le'Veon Bell free agent,

Le’Veon Bell departing the grid iron at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: EPA, via the New York Post

You know how the three-month period can be that starts after the Steelers season and doesn’t end until well after the draft. Let’s just say it’s quite contentious and includes many disagreements between folks who just know what the Steelers should and/or will do.

Once the Steelers have done their thing, the disagreements continue, with the ones opposed to Pittsburgh’s pick(s) usually being the loudest.

Do people get reminded of their horrible hot takes many years after the draft? The famous journalists do, for sure, but not usually the nobodies like me.

However, I have had my fair share of post-draft horrible takes over the years, takes I’d like to share with you right now.

Did you know I was so angry after the Steelers selected Aaron Jones in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft (a great hot take, btw), I lashed out at my television when Pittsburgh picked center/guard Dermontti Dawson in the second round?

I’d say old Dirt’s career turned out quite well.

Later that same draft, the Steelers selected Gordie Lockbaum, a two-way ironman superstar from tiny Holy Cross and a Heisman Trophy finalist in both 1986 and 1987, in the ninth round. I was so starved for a big name and for Pittsburgh to make a huge splash, I ran around my house screaming, “The Steelers drafted Gordie Lockbaum!” My grandfather made fun of me, and rightfully so.

  • Lockbaum didn’t make the final cut out of training camp that year.

I didn’t really have many horrible hot takes about the draft between the late-’80s and the social media age, thanks in large part to the Steelers being so darn successful during that time and winning many games, many division titles, and even a couple of Super Bowls.

It’s been a different story during the social media age, as my takes have been plentiful, as both a writer and podcaster.

For example, I thought Jarvis Jones, an outside linebacker the Steelers selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, would be a pick-and-plug player, someone whose slow 40-time would not be an issue at the NFL level.

I’d say I was wrong there.

I mocked the Steelers for selecting Le’Veon Bell, a running back from Michigan State, in the next round of that same draft. Why? For one thing, I wanted Pittsburgh to take Eddie Lacy, the running back I knew, instead. Also, I wanted to mock Steelers fans for their desire to get back to smashmouth football.

I was off the mark on both the Steelers’ decision to draft Bell, as well as for mocking the fans for wanting a strong running game. Bell may have had an ugly end to his career in Pittsburgh, but when he was doing his thing at the All-Pro level, there may not have been a better or more prolific running back in Steelers history.

I don’t think I’ve had many horrible takes since 2013. Although, I was glad to see the Steelers draft Artie Burns in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Also, I thought it was a no-brainer for Pittsburgh to trade several picks away in order to move up to the 10th spot to select linebacker Devin Bush in the 2019 NFL Draft.

  • What is my point with all of this? Do I have this strong desire to confess that I was wrong, to eat a little crow?

Not really on either front. No, I don’t really care that I was wrong on those aforementioned hot takes. Why? Because the draft is a crapshoot, that’s why, and there’s no point in reminding folks when they’re wrong, which is a lot of the time.

I just wanted to say that it’s okay to be wrong about the draft because NFL teams are often just as wrong and just as often.

 

 

 

 

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Steelers 2022 Draft Needs @ Defensive Line – Invest in the Future Now

Draft picks on defensive line have a way of defining eras for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Joe Greene’s arrival pivoted the franchise from loser to champion. Passing on Dan Marino for Gabe Rivera was a mistake it took 2 decades to atone for. And the selection of Aaron Smith in the 1999 NFL Draft is one of the unsung moments in the building of the Steelers second Super Bowl Era.

As the 2022 NFL Draft arrives, defensive line is clearly an area of need for Pittsburgh. Lets find out just how deeply that need runs.

Stephon Tuitt, Jake Luton, Steelers vs Jaguars

Stephon Tuitt sacks Jake Luton on 3rd down. Photo Credit: AP, via Tribune-Review

Steelers Defensive Line Depth Chart at: The Starter

The bad news? Heading into the 2022 NFL Draft the Pittsburgh Steelers only have one confirmed starter on the defensive line.

When the Steelers drafted Cam Heyward in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Kevin Colbert pronounced it a “historic day” for the franchise. Those were perhaps the truest words of post-draft praise since Chuck Noll proclaimed his love for Rod Woodson during the 1987 NFL Draft.

In playing 11 years, 166 games and 131 starts for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cam Heyward has become more than a dominant player on the field, a locker room leader off the field and a pillar within the community of Pittsburgh, Heyward has arguably become the face of the franchise.

In 2021, at age 32 and playing alongside junior varsity defensive lineman, Cam Heyward, didn’t simply turn in an All Pro performance with his 10 sacks, 17 QB hits, interception and nine defensed passes, he showed himself to be worthy of mention alongside franchise legends Ernie Stautner and Joe Greene.

Heyward will be 33 in 2022, and if he’s shown little sign of slowing down thus far, the Steelers must be mindful of his age.

Steelers Defensive Line Depth Chart: The Could Be Starters

If you are surprised to read that Cam Heyward is the only confirmed starter on defensive line, you should be. Thus far there’s been no public indication that Tyson Alualu will not be back in 2022. And Steel Curtain Rising has zero access to sources that would contradict this.

However, Alualu is 35 and he is coming off of an injury that cost him all but 6 quarters of the 2021 campaign. If Alualu can stay healthy and can return to something resembling his former level, he’ll be an asset to the team.

The Steelers defense dominated at the beginning of 2020 and only began to slip with Alualu’s injury against the Ravens. The run defense took a noticeable hit when he went out against the Raiders in week 2 of 2021 and never improved.

Unlike Alualu, there has been question about whether Stephon Tuitt will return to play football in 2022. Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have all expressed optimism, but they’ve all been non-committal.

Stephon Tuitt had a monster year in 2020, 11 sacks, 25 QB hits, 3 passes defensed and 2 forced fumbles.

Steelers Defensive Line Depth Chart: The Backups

Mike Tomlin likes to say that backups are really just “starters in waiting.” Yeah. That might be true in many cases, but it certainly was false for the Steelers in 2021. The absence of Tuitt and Alualu exposed the Steelers defensive line’s dearth of depth the way a root canal without pain killers exposes a nerve.

  • The Steelers had the worst run defense in franchise history since the 1940’s.

The unit was so bad that the Steelers signed Montravius Adams in week 13 off of the Saints practice squad, started him and saw the unit improve. Adams pushed Isahiah Buggs off the team, and will be back in 2022.

One potential “benefit” to the injuries to Tuitt and Alualu is that the Steelers got Isaiahh Loudermilk on the field. The Steelers traded up in the 2021 NFL Draft to get Loudermilk, and many questioned the move. However,  Loudermilk played reasonably well with on sack and 3 passes defensed and appears to have upside.

They also have Chris Wormley who started 14 games in 2021 and recorded 7 sacks, shining brightly against Baltimore.

In addition to Wromely, the Steelers have Henry Mondeaux and Carlos Davis. Mondeaux saw action in 15 games and Davis played in 4 games, or 3 fewer than his rookie season.

The Steelers 2022 Defensive Line Draft Needs

A best case scenario for the Steelers in 2022 would see Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu rejoin Cam Heyward as starters. That would be great, but it wouldn’t change the fact that all are over 30. Loudermilk’s sample size is small, but he has potential to be at least starter capable.Steelers 2017 Draft Needs cornerback

Wormley and Adams’ appear to be serviceable backups, but both are replaceable. As for Henry Mondeaux and Davis? The Steelers trade for Loudermilk reminded me of Mondeaux and Davis faux tussle on the sidelines of the ’20 finale against Cleveland.

That in turn reminded me of my high school wrestling coach, the amateur Hall of Famer Dave Moquin, who once stopped practice admonished two wrestlers who were staring each other down with, “If either of you was as tough as your pretending to be you’d both be state champions. Now get back on the mat.”

  • Neither Mondeaux nor Davis is as tough as they were pretending to be that day. Instead, they’re roster bubble babies.

How does all of this impact the Steelers draft needs? Well, the Pittsburgh probably doesn’t need to draft a starter this week, but they really must to use this draft to find future starters, so their need at defensive line must be considered High-Moderate.

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Steelers 2022 NFL Draft Needs @ Safety – Is Pittsburgh Primed for Another Shock?

Just days shy of the 2022 NFL Draft find the Pittsburgh Steelers with 3 safeties on their roster who were first round picks.

So, then it must be safe to say that safety is not a priority for Pittsburgh in the draft? Not so fast.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steelers vs Ravens, Minkah Fitzpatrick end zone interception

Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepts Lamarr Jackson in the end zone. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Steelers Depth Cart at Safety: The Starters

Shocking.

That single word precisely defines the arrival in Pittsburgh of both the Steelers starting safeties. The Steelers opened the 2018 NFL Draft by shocking the pundit class by picking Terrell Edmunds out of nowhere.

And if it is true that Edmunds hasn’t delivered the level of splash play that you’d expect from a first round pick, he has started for four straight years, missing only one game. Moreover, Edmunds has gotten better with each passing year.

The fact that Edmunds was on the free agent market over a month is a little bit surprising, as is the 2.5 million dollar deal he signed to return – which is less than what Marcus Allen and Robert Spillane are getting.

  • But his having an NFL safety with 60 starts play for you for 2.5 million something to complain about? I think not.

If drafting Terrell Edmunds was a shock in the spring of 2018, then trading 2020’s first round pick – after knowing that Ben Roethlisberger faced major elbow surgery – to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick was a super charged shock.

It didn’t take long to see why Art Rooney II broke from 50 years of franchise tradition in trading away a first round pick, as Minkah Fitzgerald had an interception in his first game as a Steeler. During the 2019 season, Fitzgerald arguably changed the course of 3 if not 4 games in the Steelers favor.

  • Fitzpatrick had another stealer year in 2020, helping seal a number of critical wins.

Critics have said that Minkah Fitzpatrick had an off year in 2021. Its true. His “Splash” play count was down. But the Baltimore Ravens come to Heinz Field and go the length of the field and you have a player who can kill a drive with an end zone interception, are you really going to complain?

What wasn’t captured in Minkah’s stats were things like the critical third down stops he made time-and-time again. If you’re really looking to understand his value to the team, look at his tackle count: It jumped from 79 in 2020 to 214 in 2021.

That’s because in a year of a historically bad run defense, Minkah Fitzpatrick served as the last line of defense time and time again.

Steelers Depth Chart at Safety: The Backups

The other first round pick the Steelers have at safety is Karl Joseph, although he is not the primary backup at the position. Joseph was signed by the Steelers at the end of summer and played on their practice squad for most of 2021.

  • He is returning to Pittsburgh in 2022 on a veteran minimum contract.

The primary backup at safety is Tre Norwood, the player whom the Steelers drafted in the 7th round of the 2021 NFL Draft. That 7th round status didn’t deter Mike Tomlin from labeling him as a “Swiss Army Knife.”

Tomlin was true to his word. Tre Norwood appeared in all 17 games for the Steelers, logging 33% of the defensive snaps, making 1 interception and defending 4 passes during the season. Indeed, it was Tre Norwood who picked off a Minkah Fitzpatrick deflection against the Browns that allowed Ben Roethlisberger to close his career at Heinz Field in the victory formation.

Veteran Miles Killebrew is also technically a safety, but only logged 44 defensive snaps last year, playing mostly on special teams. Donovan Stiner is also on their roster after having signed a futures contract.

The Steelers 2022 Draft Needs @ Safety

A week ago mock drafts that showed Pittsburgh picking Michigan’s Dax Hill were completely plausible. The Terrell Edmunds signing changes that equation, but only so much.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2022 NFL Draft

The Steelers will certainly target Minkah Fitzpatrick for a mega extension this summer, but what about Edmunds?

  • Terrell Edmunds’ contract is a prove-itdeal if there ever was one.

The critical question is, was a one-year deal Edmunds’ idea, or did the Steelers offer him say, a 2-year deal worth 8 million? Even if the Steelers do remain interested in Edmunds long term, there’s no guarantee they wouldn’t end up seeing him leave just as JuJu Smith-Schuster did.

So while we shouldn’t expect the Steelers to use one of their premium picks on a safety, it certainly would be a shock if they did.

With that said, the Steelers need at safety going into the 2022 NFL Draft should be considered as Moderate.

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Steelers 2022 Draft Needs @ Outside Linebacker – Add Depth Behind the Edge

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense had a historically bad year in 2021.

  • To find similar examples of their futility against the run, one needs to back to the 1940s.

Counter intuitively, the tough year endured by the Steelers defense actually reinforced just how important its for the franchise to get quality play out of their outside linebackers.

T.J. Watt, Steelers vs Titans

T.J. Watt after recovering a Titans fumble. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Steelers Depth Chart at Inside Linebacker: The Starters

To those who whine about why tanking in the name of draft position is not only necessary but good, my response is simple: T.J. Watt.

The 2016 Steelers lost in the AFC Championship to the Patriots, earning Pittsburgh the 30th pick in the draft as a consequence. Sounds almost like a death sentence. Except it wasn’t. It was with that 30th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft that the Steelers picked T.J. Watt.

T.J. Watt became an instant starter, grew into a dominant player capable of making game-changing plays and is building a Hall of Fame resume. In 2021 T.J. Watt earned Defensive Player of the Year honors, tied the NFL sack record and almost single handedly beat the Seattle Seahawks.

Playing opposite T.J. Watt is Alex Highsmith, whom the Steelers drafted in the 3rd round of the 2020 NFL Draft. In his first full year as a starter, logged 6 sack and 15 QB hits. Those numbers may not seem impressive, but Highsmith improved during the year, particularly in run support.

Steelers Outside Linebacker Depth Chart: The Backups

To provide depth at outside linebacker the Steelers have signed Genard Avery in free agency. Avery isn’t well known to Steelers fans, but he is the man who forced James Conner’s fumble in the Steelers 2018 opening weekend tie against the Browns.

  • Avery has 59 games of experience, including 17 starts, 12 of which came last year while with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Steelers also have linebackers John Simon, Tegray Scales, Delontae Scott on their roster.

The Steelers 2022 Draft Needs @ Outside Linebacker

steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2022 NFL DraftHow good is T.J. Watt? Well, next year it is conceivable that, in his 6th year, he’ll pass Jason Gildon, Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood and James Harrison for the team sack record. If the Steelers defense was bad in 2021, and it was, T.J. Watt played a critical role in it not being worse. Not bad for a 30th pick, eh?

And if Alex Highsmith is nowhere near that level, he certainly tremendous strides from year 1 to year two and his progress should continue, especially if the Steelers field quality defensive lineman not named Cam Heyward.

  • The problem is their outside linebacker depth is scant.

Genard Avery has the resume of a serviceable backup, but he certainly doesn’t look like the type of player you want starting multiple games should an injury occur. John Simon has 10 years of experience but was on and off the Titans roster during 2021.

The rest of the players appear to be placeholders. Therefore the Steelers need at outside linebacker going in to the 2022 NFL Draft should be considered Moderate-High.

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