Tim Benz: Steelers must meaningfully address pass-rushing depth in draft
In case you missed our “Breakfast With Benz” post about the Dane Brugler mock draft in The Athletic, it’s worth a read.
The big reason why is that the piece projects the Steelers using a high-round draft choice on an edge-pass rusher/outside linebacker — Michigan’s Chase Winovich.
I love that idea. No, not just because Winovich is a WPIAL kid (Thomas Jefferson). Whether it’s Winovich or Jachai Polite of Florida or Clelin Ferrell of Clemson or Florida State’s Brian Burns, I’ll cosign.
Frankly, that goes for any other hybrid end/OLB who may be available between the Steelers’ first-round pick (No. 20) and their second-round pick (No. 52).
The Steelers need numbers — and talent — at that position. It’s crucial to the success of the defense, and the ranks are currently thin.
Plus, that position was vastly under-addressed in last year’s draft.
Look, the Steelers did what they felt was right last April. Terrell Edmunds looks like he is on the right track at safety. They thought they would upgrade from Martavis Bryant with James Washington at wide receiver. And they drafted Mason Rudolph at quarterback.
I loved the idea of the two Oklahoma State Cowboys at the time. But based on Ben Roethlisberger’s apparent desire to play forever and Washington’s poor rookie season, I may live to regret that endorsement.
One thing I didn’t like was how the Steelers spent their next few picks on everything but a pass-rusher. Offensive tackle Chuks Okorafor and H-back Jaylen Samuels may be useful.
Were they luxuries, though? It appears so.
Unfortunately, it also appears Marcus Allen won’t amount to much. And defensive lineman Josh Frazier wound up in the AAF. Regardless, the team left the cupboard bare behind T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree at outside linebacker. Much like last year, it’s Anthony Chickillo and no one else behind those two starters.
That’s not enough. What if either of those two suffers a major injury? And let’s remember, Dupree is operating on his fifth-year, rookie-deal option. He’ll probably be gone next year, and he didn’t give the Steelers a lot last year — just 5.5 sacks (one during the final five weeks).
I understand the role of the outside linebacker in the Steelers 3-4 defense has changed in recent years. They drop in coverage more often, they contain more on the edges than charge upfield and the sacks seem to be coming from the interior defensive linemen as much as they are the OLBs these days.
Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave and Stephon Tuitt combined for 20 sacks. Watt, Dupree and Chickillo also had 20.
But it’d still be better than not having more pass-rushing capability and depth at the position.
Sure, inside linebacker is a more pressing need. Cornerback and wide receiver are, too. But at least Kevin Colbert tried to add to those positions by signing the likes of Mark Barron, Steven Nelson and Donte Moncrief.
Nothing has been done to help the outside linebacker room. It needs help. A lot. And that better happen at the draft.