Earlier in the offseason, we took a position-by-position look at where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand with their roster before the free agency process both ravaged and replenished the talent pool.
The Steelers entered the process with 22 free agents. They re-signed six of them, while losing eight more to other teams, with eight remaining unsigned. They also added seven free agents from other teams.
With the roster picture now much clearer and draft needs much easier to determine, it’s time to revisit those positional draft charts to see which positions are areas of need come draft time.
The next position we’ll revisit will be nose tackle. Depending on who you ask, you may hear that the Steelers don’t even have a nose tackle. That would certainly be an issue for a 3-4 defense, and many would point to their struggles against the run last season to support their argument.
While certainly not ruling out the possibility of the Steelers being interested in acquiring a new nose tackle, the organization did express confidence in their current starter at the position and probably wouldn’t go out of their way to replace him. But depth at the position is certainly another matter.
Steve McLendon: It’s been a long time since the Steelers had a new starter at nose tackle, but 2013 saw just that, with Steve McLendon beginning his first season there on a full-time basis after a few years of apprenticeship.
As we’ve previously discussed, the Steelers’ rushing defense statistics in the nose tackle’s primary area of concern—namely, up the middle—were perfectly fine, which suggests that the team’s struggles against the run can’t just be pinpointed to the nose tackle. A myriad of factors were at play, including losing a starting inside linebacker, breaking in two rookie linebackers, and an uncommon amount of missed tackles.
The extreme amount of sub-packages didn’t help either. McLendon might not necessarily be the most traditional nose tackle, but he certainly did nothing to warrant an urgency in replacing him. He couldn’t hold the point and command double teams as you would expect, but he’s a much better penetrator and he can get down the field or into the backfield. I’d like to see what he looks like in his second year as a starter.
Hebron Fangupo: The Steelers chose to go with Hebron Fangupo over their own draft pick, Alameda Ta’amu, as the backup nose tackle last season. Maybe it’s a bit too early to call that a mistake—perhaps neither will ever amount to much—but the early returns don’t seem overwhelmingly positive.
Fangupo, entering his third season as a former undrafted free agent, will be 29 when the season starts, and yet could hardly get on the field for the Steelers last year. They instead used Al Woods as the backup nose tackle. I would expect that they will bring in some competition for Fangupo this year.
Draft Prognosis: While I left his name out, Cam Thomas of course has to be factored into the nose tackle discussion. While he’s been brought here as a defensive end, apparently, he has plenty of experience at nose tackle—more than Woods had—so the likelihood that he sees time there is strong.
Early mock drafts wanted to shove Louis Nix III down our throats until everybody started to realize that he’s not a mid-first-round pick. If he should fall to the Steelers in the second round, however—which I don’t consider outside the realm of possibility—you’d have to think that they would give that a lot of thought. It wouldn’t be the first time they rearrange the deck chairs based on what falls into their lap on draft day.