Defensive Improvement Stalled With Second-Year Players On The Shelf

Understanding that they could no longer hold on to the championship defensive roster of their most recent glory days, the Pittsburgh Steelers have committed heavy resources to the defensive side of the ball over the span of the last handful of drafts, and that has been particularly the case over the past three seasons or so.

In that span of time, the Steelers have used three first-round draft picks, three second-, and a third-round draft pick on the defensive side of the ball. They have taken defensive players in the top two rounds in each of the past three years, but they one-upped themselves by doing so in the first three rounds in 2016.

It may well be that all three of the Steelers’ high defensive draft picks play on Monday night, in fact. Javon Hargrave is their starting nose tackle. Sean Davis worked in the slot throughout the offseason. And first-rounder Artie Burns has been said to have strong practices in the past week.

It would be great for the Steelers to get some real meaningful contributions from their rookie class, which is certainly a rarity in Pittsburgh, but one thing that we know for sure is that they will not be getting anything from their second-year defensive players.

The team spent their first-round draft pick in the 2015 NFL Draft on outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who entered the starting lineup by the end of the regular season and saw over 600 snaps on defense, recording four sacks in his rookie campaign.

The Steelers were looking for him to really take the mantle in year two, the year in which players are expected to make their greatest jump in performance, but we know that he is guaranteed to miss at least half of the season on injured reserve, undergoing surgery to repair a core muscle injury.

Second-round cornerback Senquez Golson has a very extensive injury history in the 18 months or so since he was drafted. He has never seen the field in even a preseason game. In fact, he has only logged time in about three or four training camp practices. I’m not sure if he has ever participated in a tackling drill.

After working his way back from a torn labrum that landed him on injured reserve for all of his rookie season, Golson suffered a Lisfranc foot injury early in training camp. Most assumed that he would be placed on injured reserve, but with the need to have the return designation available for Dupree, the Steelers are carrying him on the 53-man roster with the hopes that he will be able to return on his own.

That is the good news, at least, that while they will not have their two young defenders for probably at least half of the season in both cases, there is the opportunity for both to come back. And even if they don’t assume their anticipated roles upon return, they would supply very valuable depth for a postseason run.

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