By Jeremy Hritz
The Steelers have the luxury of having not only the best outside linebacker in the NFL, but the best defender in the league, too. TJ Watt is from another planet, and he is hitting his peak as a player, terrorizing quarterbacks at will, and making them think twice, and sometimes three times before dropping back to pass the football. As an edge rusher, there is no one better than Watt, but beyond that, he shows an ability to set the edge and play the run stoutly, in addition to swatting down passes, as he has the awareness to leap unbeknownst to quarterbacks and bat down a throw. Watt will be 28 years old during the 2022 season, with still a few more years in his prime ahead of him. As long as he can stay healthy, he is on track for a Hall of Fame career, and without question, he will be in hot pursuit of the NFL sack record once again in 2022.
Opposite Watt will be third year EDGE, Alex Highsmith, who had an admirable second season. Highsmith tallied 46 tackles, 6 sacks, and 1 forced fumble, showing improvement from year one to two, and there is no reason to believe that trajectory will not continue into 2022. Highsmith is still learning the position and the intricacies of the game after playing smaller college ball, but he is showing that the league is not too big for him. Highsmith must continue to develop his strength, speed, and understanding of the defense so he can become the player this defense needs him to become, and if he can emerge in year three alongside Watt, the Steelers pass rush will be more ferocious than ever.
Derrek Tuszka is 24 years old and recorded the first two sacks of his career with the Steelers in 2021. He was a nice surprise in terms of depth and having a full offseason and training camp with the team should make him an even better relief man in 2022.
Taco Charlton also provided solid depth this past season at outside linebacker, and even though he is a free agent, I would expect the Steelers to make him an offer. He made a few plays in limited action and showed promise within the scheme, and I believe the Steelers saw enough to want to keep him around for an extended look.
Beyond Tuszka and Charlton, there isn’t much, save Delontae Scott, though he is nothing more than emergency depth.
This is one position, if the Steelers re-sign Charlton, that the Steelers can hold tight at and not make any offseason moves. Outside of possibly signing an undrafted rookie free agent or two, the team has a sturdy quartet of OLBs, and their attention should shift elsewhere.