2017 Offseason: Will Last Year’s Injuries Influence Draft Approach To D-Line?

The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: Could last year’s injuries along the defensive line scare the Steelers into addressing the position during the 2017 NFL Draft?

It would seem at least on paper that the Steelers have all the pieces of their defensive line puzzle already lain out in front of them—at least, pieces that will create a coherent picture, if not an ideal. They have their two starting defensive ends, as well as their nose tackle, and they have backups at each of those positions. They rarely carry more than six defensive linemen, though it has happened.

Last year, however, their depth was tested multiple times, as both Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt dealt with multiple injuries over the course of the season. Rookie starting nose tackle Javon Hargrave and reserve defensive end Ricardo Mathews even missed games due to injuries. They put great strain on some unlikely names such as L.T. Walton and Johnny Maxey.

The Steelers have already tried to address this with the addition of former first-round defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, whom they believe could be capable of playing up and down the line for them, but they have still been looking with relative earnest at some defensive line prospects.

Most notable would probably have to be Tanoh Kpassagnon, a 6’7”, 289-pounder whom they brought in for a pre-draft visit, recording nearly two dozen tackles for loss and 11 sacks in his final season, which is impressive even at the FCS level.

One has to wonder if the drive is inspired by the adversity that they faced along the line due to their injuries last year. The team under this regime has shown that they respond when depth issues are exposed by injuries.

Several years back, when their starting defensive ends began adding up the list of injuries, they began drafting defensive ends in the first round, even if they were not going to be starting for a couple of years. Their current starters consist of draft picks in the first, second, and third rounds. This is clearly an area that they value and are willing to invest in.

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