With the bulk of the free agent signing period now behind us and the 2016 NFL Draft quickly approaching, the Pittsburgh Steelers still have glaring needs on their defensive line. Ahead of this week’s annual league meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert not only addressed the team’s potential needs along the defensive line, but also how young defensive tackle Daniel McCullers could possibly help fill some of them.
“Dan [McCullers] has shown when he has played, he’s really been productive,” said Colbert, according to Teresa Varley. “On production per snap, the basics, his production is pretty good. So, can he continue to develop and help us, we think so. Will there be depth on the defensive line in this draft, absolutely. Again, it’s a very deep draft on defense, particularly on the defensive line. Could we still add a guy from free agency, yes, if it makes sense, as the market continues to evolve? So really all of those things come into play.”
Now that veteran unrestricted free agent nose tackle Steve McLendon has signed with the New York Jets, the Steelers have a gaping hole in the middle of their base defense that needs to be filled. While the team could select a young defensive tackle in the first several rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft to help fill that void, McCullers, who was drafted in the sixth-round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Tennessee, figures to be given even opportunity during the offseason to be the Steelers starter at nose tackle.
While McCullers has had his moments in the roughly 170 defensive snaps that he’s played in his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, he’s still yet to prove that he can play the run effectively on a consistent basis and especially when asked to defend laterally against the outside zone. More than anything, if McCullers is able to help serve as a reserve interior nickel pass rusher in 2016, it would certainly help reduce the playing time of starting defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt as both played entirely too many snaps last season because of the team’s lack of quality depth.
As for the potential free agent adds along the defensive line for the Steelers, they’ve already brought in defensive end Jason Jones for a visit. Jones, however, if ultimately signed, would figure to be more of a nickel pass-rushing specialist based on his skill set. Needless to say, should the Steelers wind up signing a free agent defensive lineman in the coming days or weeks, they aren’t likely to do so for much more than the minimum.
As far as the draft goes, Colbert has made it clear several times over the course of the last several weeks that this year’s draft class is deep when it comes to defensive linemen who would fit the Steelers scheme. Last week, in fact, the organization was well represented at the Baylor pro day to observe defensive tackle Andrew Billings go through his workout. Those few days in Texas included Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin talking to Billing’s parents and Hall of Famer Joe Greene having dinner with the young defensive tackle as well. After the event was over, Greene didn’t hide is admiration of Billings, who figures to hear his name called somewhere during the second half of the first round.