By Jeremy Hritz
Over the next two weeks, I will be publishing my evaluations of all positions for the Steelers, both offense and defense, to identify areas of strengths and need, as this will drive our free agency and NFL Draft analysis on the site. What is apparent when completing this exercise is that there are a glut of needs on this team, and without a strong personnel performance this offseason, things could get ugly in 2022.
To prepare you for my analysis, please first see the table below, as it summarizes my rationale in this article.
|Priority Needs||Complementary Needs||Depth Needs|
|Center (via draft or free agency)|
Defensive Line (via free agency and/or draft)
Inside Linebacker (via free agency)
Left/Right Guard (via draft and/or free agency)
Quarterback (via draft and free agency)
|Deep ball, speedy wide receiver (via draft or free agency)|
Speedy, explosive 3rd down running back (via draft or free agency)
|Tackle (via draft or free agency)|
Safety (via draft or free agency)
Cornerback (via draft or free agency)
The first column in the table is titled Priority Needs, as these are the positions of greatest importance to be addressed this offseason. In terms of ranking them by priority, things begin to get difficult because there are so many variables at play.
While at first glance, some would argue that the offensive line is top priority; however, if the defense cannot stop the run as it was unable to do in 2021, an offensive lineman is not going to score touchdowns for you to keep pace in a game. But even within that premise, there are several unknowns, such as the health and potential return of Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt, in addition to the growth and development of Isaiah Loudermilk. Not only that, but if you draft a defensive lineman early, how soon can you actually expect them to contribute and at what level? Is the team better served in finding a defensive lineman via free agency?
There is also the symbiotic relationship between the defensive line and inside linebacker as well in terms of defending the run, and if ILB is not improved, a better DL will help, but it won’t solve all the problems. Conundrums as such are littered throughout the roster, making this offseason a puzzling yet monumental one in terms of the direction of this franchise over the next several seasons.
To simplify things, the Steelers have 1a and 1b priorities, those being offensive and defensive lines. Beyond those two spots, the Steelers also have holes at middle linebacker and quarterback.
Concerning middle backer, it is unknown whether the Steelers would be willing to pursue one with a high pick in the draft, considering their recent bumbling of the Devin Bush pick, but if there is a game-changing interior backer available at pick #20, they would have to think carefully and deeply. Or, they could also explore what options are available through free agency.
In terms of quarterback, the Steelers will sign a veteran signal caller, and will only pull the trigger on one in the draft if they have a high grade on a prospect and believe he can be a franchise-caliber quarterback. If a QB they love and believe in and is available at pick 20, without question they will make the selection.
However it is done, draft, free agency, or both, you can count on the Steelers addressing offensive, defensive line, quarterback, and middle linebacker as their priorities this offseason.
Complimentary Player Needs
Beyond these positions, there are certain complimentary players they are seeking to round out and complete their roster, and these players could come either through the draft or free agency. The first is a deep threat wide receiver, as this element has been missing for the last few years from the pass catchers and is needed if this offense is to evolve into a more formidable unit in 2022. The second is an explosive, fast 3rd down running back a la Darren Sproles, as Anthony McFarland is not the answer. These needs are not at the top of the list and can be addressed in the later rounds of the draft, UDRFAs, or mid-tier free agency.
Finally, depth is required at tackle, safety, and cornerback, though these positions will not be targets high in the draft.
The last concept I want to point out is something often referenced by Jim Wexell of The Steel City Insider, and that is his belief that first and foremost, you draft Hall of Famers. What does this mean? Sure, positional needs dictate who is selected in the draft, but if a one-in-a-lifetime talent becomes available when the Steelers select, even if it is at a position of stability (except RB), you make the selection. These rare players change culture and elevate the talent around them, and if one stares the Steelers in the face on draft day, they will make the selection.
My rational for these priorities and needs will be published starting tomorrow in my positional analysis series, which accounts in detail the state of each position and how each can be improved. As the offseason winds on, my analysis of draft prospects and free agents will be driven by these priorities.