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.

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