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 pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Are the Steelers’ defensive issues so dire that the first pick has to be a defensive player?
The Steelers as a whole showed welcome improvement last season, in comparison to the previous two years, which showed up in tangible results. They improved their record from 8-8 to 11-5, and instead of missing the playoffs, they won the AFC North for the first time since the 2010 season.
The problem, however, is that the vast majority of that progress was exclusive to the offensive side of the ball, during which Ben Roethlisberger delivered arguably his best performance overall, Le’Veon Bell emerged as one of the great all-purpose backs in the league, and Antonio Brown solidified his status as arguably the most difficult receiver to cover. All three made the Pro Bowl, while the latter two were named to the All-Pro team.
Not that the offense is completely a finished product. While they finished in the top 10 in scoring, there are a couple of pieces that could be swapped out, or will have to be replaced soon, and some modification could turn the unit into a truly great one.
But then you have to turn your attention to the defensive side of the ball, and you see a unit that gave up more points than it has in a decade. With Dick LeBeau departing, there will be some minor alterations in the way the defense is run, in addition.
Given those two factors, it might well make sense if the Steelers choose to favor drafting a defensive player in the first round of the draft, even if an offensive player is listed higher on their board—depending, partly, on how things develop in free agency.
If the need is there for an immediate influence on defense, then it would be difficult to avoid the temptation of a first-round defensive player, because they will be more likely to do so. With the championship window, now open, tied to Roethlisberger’s career trajectory, it’s sometimes beneficial to sell out for a shot at a championship and go through a period of struggle than settle for continual first-round playoff exits.