Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Defensive End

By Matthew Marczi

Ask any Pittsburgh Steelers fan now and he’ll tell you that the offseason began way too early for their team, which even according to team president Art Rooney II should have been in the playoffs.

If you asked that same fan at the Bye Week for their mock draft, however, they might have already had written up as the Steelers faced a seemingly unthinkable winless September to start the year.

There’s always somebody ready to start talking about the offseason, no matter how early on it is in the process. And in the middle of January, it’s still quite early to start talking about the draft—not that there’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s a pre-free agency, pre-salary cap purging look at the Steelers’ draft needs, position by position.

The Steelers could enter the 2013 NFL Draft either stacked at the defensive end position, or depleted. It really depends on what they elect to do with their own free agents. As has been extensively documented, the Steelers currently have three key players at the position set to hit free agency, and while they do have one essential cog in place for the next two years, they have some work to do to reconstruct the defensive end depth chart.

Cameron Heyward: The first first-round pick emerged in a big way in his third season, taking over the left starting defensive end position from Ziggy Hood after the first four games of the season. From that point on, Cameron Heyward was at times the best defensive player on the team, and displayed perhaps the most heart and hustle. And the best thing about him is that he still has room to grow, and he knows it.

Brian Arnfelt: The player second on the depth chart is currently a rookie undrafted free agent that played two snaps in his first season. I think that says enough about the current lack of depth at the position due to the pending free agents. While Brian Arnfelt spent much of the offseason running as the second-team left defensive end and ultimately played well during the preseason, he certainly can’t be described as a known commodity.

Nick Williams: A seventh-round draft pick from a year ago, Nick Williams was known to be a raw, project-type prospect immediately, a message that defensive line coach John Mitchell conveyed in his address to the media following the selection. That project took a detour in season one after he battled injuries through much of the offseason and into the preseason. He was limited to action in one game, in which he recorded a sack, but otherwise looked quite raw. He spent his rookie year on injured reserve.

Al Lapuaho: Al Lapuaho signed a futures contract with the Steelers earlier in January. As an undrafted rookie in 2013, he spent time on the Miami Dolphins practice squad, and earlier was in the St. Louis Rams training camp.

Draft Strategy: The draft strategy the Steelers employ very much depends on how they address the position through free agency. If they re-sign at least two of their free agents, which I tend to believe that they will (likely Hood and Al Woods), then the need at the position is virtually nil.

The Steelers already have two late-round-quality project defensive ends to mold into something workable with Arnfelt and Williams. Arnfelt is close to a classic 3-4 Steelers defensive end archetype who understands technique, while Williams is a true physical specimen that needs to be honed and crafted into the position.

While I wouldn’t be surprised if they addressed the position at some point in the draft, I think the better route is to re-sign their own free agents and work from within. But maybe I’m just overly optimistic about the future potential of these two prospects.

Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Quarterback
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Running Back
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Wide Receiver
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Tight End
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Interior OL
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Offensive Tackle

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • steeltown

    I agree, I don’t see any need to draft DE this year especially if they re-sign Hood or Woods or both and considering McLendon can play DE

    I too am probably overly optimistic about Arnfelt and N.Williams, but hey time will tell

  • Callentown

    We will learn a lot about what the Steelers really think about McClendon as NT in this draft.

    If they draft a NT high, it probably signals a move is coming for him to DE. And what a DE he would be!

  • WIINGY

    Sign Linval Joseph.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    The more I look at the draft, the more I see the O and D Line as being areas we can ignore in the draft, but only should we get some of our UFAs resigned. We also could choose to ignore the ILB position should the team feel pretty comfortable with the young guys Gavin and Williams since Spence and Foote are still wild cards. OLB, S, CB, WR, and TE.

  • Spencer Krick

    Even if we lost Hood to free agency, I wouldn’t be against a starting line of McClendon, Woods and Heyward.

  • 243546

    DE is a big need. With the exception of Heyward, the Steelers don’t have any extremely talented DL. A dominant DL has always been a key to the Steelers success. They need to get back to dominating in the trenches again. Adding another big time player on the line improves the pass rush, and helps to cover up the warts in the secondary.

  • dkoy85

    This is one of the more exciting drafts in recent memory. It just feels like we’re a few key pieces from becoming a contender. The first 4 rounds could go a hundred different ways and I’d be happy. My mind changes with every passing second but I just can’t help but come back to the d-line with the first overall even though it seems pretty solid.

    I agree with 23456 that other than Heyward we don’t have any other exceptional talent at a position that over the years has been the staple to our top defenses. As much as I like Hood, I know we can upgrade. He would be quality depth and should be signed cheap. I’m very excited about McClendon, and while I was completely against drafting a NT round 1, the more I picture McClendon at DE and a big hoss hole clogger in the center, the more I like Nix.

    Draft rd 1- NT
    Rd 2- CB(will be ready for 2015)- Him, Allen, and Gay would be quality
    Rd 3- WR
    Rd 4- CB/OLB
    Rd 4 Conp- ILB/RB
    Rd 5- CB/OLB
    Rd 6- ILB/RB
    Rd 7- Raw hard hitting S

    We have an immediate clog at NT for 2014, Linebackers will still be developing with the exception of Timmons- who is solid. CB’s will be okay, along with safeties. Next year will still be a year of transition, making the playoffs and giving the youngsters the taste of post season blood with an outside shot at making the Superbowl. 2015 will be the year the vets will be gone but some new talent will emerge on D and hopefully a 2nd tier FA signing or two to help out the secondary.

  • JT

    We already have our Aaron Smith in Cam. We just need a new Keisel. I’m fairly confident one of those two can fill that role. At worst, they’re the new Chris Hoke. If anything, I think they draft a project NT later.

  • WIINGY

    I wouldn’t waste a dime on Hood. It’s money wasted that could go towards a better player.

  • LayDownTheHammer

    Disagree. We need a NT this year very badly even if he will be for 2015. Seeing as there are no real good ones, I will grudgingly take Nix in the first round, or wait for Daniel McCullers in the 3rd-5th rounds and hope that our coaching staff can coach him up in the next 2 years (because he is very raw)