When it comes to the 2016 NFL Draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one theme was absolutely paramount, and that was, in a word, defense. Of their seven draft picks, five were defensive players, with two players added on offense, though one of the two was brought in primarily for his potential as a returner on special teams.
Of course, last year, the Steelers had eight selections, of which they used six on the defensive side of the ball, but they also added two prominent offensive players in the third and fifth rounds with wide receiver Sammie Coates being taken in the former and tight end Jesse James being added in the latter. Both contributed in some capacity as rookies, and their roles should expand this season.
This past draft, the Steelers reserved the first two days entirely to the defensive side of the ball, adding two defensive backs and a defensive tackle to the mix. On the final day, they kicked things off by drafting a tackle in the fourth round, then sat tight until the late sixth round, where they used two linebackers to bookmark a seventh-round wide receiver whom they view as competition for the punt returner position.
They passed up on the opportunity to add another tight end to the mix with Matt Spaeth entering what could very well be his final season in the league. They passed up on the opportunity to add depth to their interior offensive line, which seemed to be the bigger area of concern to them in the pre-draft process based on the free agents they brought in for visits.
They also were unable to acquire another running back, which they were reportedly interested in trying to trade up for if they could work out a trading partner to do so, leaving them with just Fitzgerald Toussaint behind their one-two punch of quality backs who are in the final years of their current contracts, one coming off a second knee injury and the other approaching his mid-30s and also returning from injury.
Many assumed that they would try to add a quarterback at some point in the draft, and perhaps they did attempt to do so, but they did not, which, heading into yesterday, left just Landry Jones as the lone viable quarterback to enter the season as the backup, which he did last year to mixed results.
There are a few reasons for why the draft broke as it did for the Steelers. For one thing, it corresponds to the sort of talent available to them typically at the spots at which they were drafting, which was a similar theme to last year’s draft.
This is also something that they expected going in, which is why they used free agency primarily to plug in some of their offensive holes. To that end, they are reportedly going to re-sign quarterback Bruce Gradkowski today. Finally, the Steelers simply had much more talent on the offensive side of the ball, and thus less need to add players, especially after Pittsburgh lost several defensive free agents this offseason.
While the offensive roster may not be flawless, with some questionable quality or depth in certain places, it was certainly in better shape than what the Steelers had on defense. The questions on offense can more easily be answered later on than could the questions raised on the other side of the ball.