The Optimist’s Take – Defense First A Must?

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While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.

No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.

With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.

In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.

Question: Are the Steelers’ defensive issues so dire that the first pick has to be a defensive player?

It’s really not much of a secret that the Steelers’ defense has not quite performed up to task in recent years. Their defensive struggles are accountable for the majority of their struggles over the course of the past three seasons, in fact, but the 2014 season has been the nadir of that period, despite it coinciding with their best record.

The Steelers improved as a whole significantly in 2014 over the previous two seasons for reasons that are almost entirely centered on the offensive side of the ball. They produced a prolific top-10 offense that has the potential to continue to grow and to get even better in 2015, which is certainly encouraging.

Not that there are not without potential improvements. A true franchise left tackle or the successor at tight end to Heath Miller in particular would be quite tempting with the 22nd overall pick. Sometimes it’s true that the best defense is a good offense, and strengthening one side strengthens the entire team.

The defensive side of the ball, no doubt, has its issues, and there are improvements that need to be made. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be addressed in the first round if the offensive option when they are on the clock represents greater overall value in terms of the improvement of the team.

The defense will continue to see improvement from within thanks to the likes of young players who are continuing to emerge, in particular Stephon Tuitt, Ryan Shazier, and Jarvis Jones.

Supplemental pass rushing help can be found in later rounds, and there probably isn’t a plug-and-play starter at cornerback in this draft class, which appears to have solid overall depth at the position this year.

It’s often said that it’s the second-year players who have a bigger impact on how a team’s season goes than it is the rookie class, and there’s more than enough historical precedent to support that. It would be a mistake to overreact to the defensive needs the Steelers have and bypass offensive value in the first round by accepting a false assumption that they have to take a defensive player first overall for the third straight year.

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