Were you like me, wondering when the Pittsburgh Steelers might have last invested this heavily in the defensive side of the ball this early in their draft history? Did you struggle to come up with an answer the way I did? Because the answer is that they have never invested this highly in the defensive side of the ball in the common draft era, predating Chuck Noll.
They did come close once, as has been noted several times recently. Back in 2003, the year the Steelers last traded up in the first round of the draft to select safety Troy Polamalu, the team also added Alonzo Jackson in the second round. They traded their third-round pick as part of the trade up for Polamalu, but in the fourth round, they went back to the secondary to draft cornerback Ike Taylor.
So the answer to the question of when the Steelers last used their top three draft picks on defensive players would be 2003. But the last time the Steelers used three picks in the first three rounds of a draft? The answer is that they haven’t since the draft has loosely taken the form that we currently recognize.
And that really should not come as much of a surprise. After all, when you look at the roster, you see a team that is largely stacked on the offensive side of the ball. Aside from the fact that there is a franchise quarterback on the roster loosely playing at his peak in Ben Roethlisberger, there are also four other players on the roster who have been named first-team All-Pro at least once in the past two seasons.
And those five players didn’t even get to spend any time playing together during the regular season last year. So even through some adversity, it is fair to say that the offensive side of the ball is fairly well-stacked. And even with that said, they used their prime free agency acquisitions from outside of the organization to address the offensive side of the ball.
That all aligned to set up what we have seen over the course of the past two nights, with a team knowing that they have an open yet finite championship window, and knowing which side of the ball needs infusion, taking a defensive player with each of their first three picks, adding talent in the secondary and in the trenches within the first 89 selections after spending their previous three first-round picks rebuilding the linebacking corps.
Using their first two picks to address a widely-maligned secondary, the Steelers added cornerback Artie Burns in the first round, where they have not taken a cornerback since 1997. A round later, they picked up safety Sean Davis, who can also play cornerback in a pinch, as he did his senior season.
Addressing the lack of depth along the defensive line in the third round, Pittsburgh added Javon Hargrave, who has the capability of playing nose tackle in addition to lining up in their sub-packages to get after the passer and give their ends a breather. In doing so, they have addressed arguably their three biggest team-wide needs, and certainly their biggest defensive needs.
It has obviously not been often that the Steelers have ever taken such a route in replenishing the defense, but if there were ever a time to do it, with Roethlisberger entering his 13th season with the most talent around him he’s ever had, it would make sense for them to have taken that opportunity now.