The Optimist’s Take: Top-Heavy Defensive Draft Class

The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.

Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Can the Steelers afford to ignore the offense early during this year’s draft?

It has been a theme over the course of the past couple of years that the Steelers’ strength on their roster has shifted from the defensive side of the ball, where they are attempting to restock a strong defense on the fly without losing too many steps, to the offensive side of the ball, where they are emerging as among the best of the league.

This has led to the narrative that the team should focus almost universally on the defensive side of the ball during the 2016 NFL Draft, which, of course, begins later today. And there is some support for this line of thinking, as the team did use free agency to address some of their offensive concerns at tight end and tackle.

The Steelers spoke about this aspect, in fact—how the depth and quality of the draft made it so that it made the most sense to use free agency to address their offensive side of the roster while utilizing the draft to address the defensive side of the roster, expecting the draft process to break in such a way that naturally favored their defensive interests anyway.

The Steelers also addressed their wide receiver situation by signing Darrius Heyward-Bey to a long-term extension, and while they evidently failed to acquire an interior offensive lineman for depth, that is not a position that needs to be addressed in the first two days of the draft, where the defensive value might well outweigh the offensive value anyway. They are not, after all, looking for a starter.

Having added their new starting tight end and Jesse James entering his second year, it’s highly unlikely that they would be considering another tight end in the early rounds right now, either, and the running back position is another that figures to be handled much later, if at all, even as I expected them to address it in the draft last year.

Certainly there is no position along the offense at which they are likely capable of producing a day-one starter in the draft—at least not from players likely to be on the board by the time they are up to pick. Meanwhile, they not only have held off from addressing their defensive needs, they also believe, via their public comments, that this would be the time to address them. With all that said, it is reasonable to suspect that the Steelers will buck trends by going all defense through the first two days of the draft, which they haven’t done in over a decade.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Steel PAul

    I certainly hope they do. Adding three defensive starters would go a long way towards helping a defense that ranked 30th against the pass (a Steeler travesty).

    That said, I don’t think it will happen. I’m guessing a WR gets picked with the third pick and the Steelers go back to defense in rd 4.

  • Floyd Maximus

    I hope they just draft a defensive player with a visor and/or dreads. By the laws of football physics that means they have a greater probability of being a pro bowler. Also +1 to our intimidation rating.

  • Applebite

    I certainly don’t see them going offense early on, especially with Bell showing progress with his rehab. That, to me was the only area of concern for the offense: RB. Simply put, they’re just loaded to the gills on offense. It’s past time to focus more on the defense.

  • RickM

    They’ve had great success finding receivers in Rounds 3 & 4, and even in Round 6. It’s probably 50-50 whether they’ll go as early as the 3rd round, or wait until the 4th. The first two rounds are guaranteed defense with a capital D, and ideally the first 3 rounds would be spent on that side of the ball. But the uncertainty of Bryant (in 2017) and Coates, and possible departure of Wheaton next year, makes a 3rd round receiver possible.

  • steelburg

    I would love for the top 4 picks to be defense. Not in any specific order but S, CB, OLB, DL if we come away with that in the first 4 rounds I would be pleased. We have had a tendency lately of having good success with late round and undrafted players on the offensive end guys like Brown, Foster, Beachum, and I think Toussaint will be a really good number 2 RB in time. That’s not to mention guys like Grimble, Rogers, and Villanueva other offensive players the team seems high on.

  • RickM

    I too would love to see all D in Rounds 1-4. Just not overly confident they’ll see it the same way. If forced to bet with money on the line, I’d go D-D-D-O.

  • steelburg

    I agree with you in part. I think there will be a offensive player in the top four rounds although I would like it to be in the 4th if I had to pick, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take one in the 3rd.

  • Bill

    It’s unlikely the Steelers will be able to draft a true, early 2016 defensive starter in the position they are picking. Maybe some snaps but not a starter. Then again their secondary has been quite bad so who knows; maybe let the guy play and see what happens. How much worse can they be. That being said, anyone who has read my comments here knows that I’m not a big fan of drafting for need in the first round. If a player other than an a ‘need’ is a much better player, take him.