“No way, not happening, I just can’t see it.”
While the above quote probably isn’t exact, similar words and statements have essentially come out of my mouth or off my fingers several, several weeks ago when I was asked if I thought the Pittsburgh Steelers would draft a defensive lineman this year. Since then, however, I have bent a little bit with my thoughts and given in to the notion that a defensive lineman might be drafted late during day-three. As of today, I am now willing to concede that not only is it likely the Steelers draft a defensive lineman this year, one might ultimately be selected during the first three or four rounds.
So, what has led to me changing my mind? Let’s just say I’ve finally connected multiple dots.
First, I think you need go back to what Steelers team president Art Rooney II said in late January.
“I think, certainly, there were things in that New England game that you could probably also say about other games, where we didn’t quite get to where we wanted to be,” said Rooney. “I think getting pressure on the quarterback more consistently is something that we strive to do. While I thought we made some improvements over the course of the season, we weren’t always where we would want to be. That’s a piece of the puzzle that I think we can identify we want to improve on.”
Now, you can easily point to the outside linebacker position as a need this year as the team must find a suitable long-term replacement pass-rusher for veteran James Harrison. Additionally, the Steelers defense can’t continue to rely so heavily on defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt to play as many snaps as they’ve been asked to play so far during their respective careers.
While the Steelers did draft Javon Hargrave last year to help out in the defensive line rotation, in addition to signing former first round draft pick Tyson Alualu to a two-year free agent contract a few weeks ago, it certainly now appears as though they want to add another long and athletic defensive lineman during this year’s draft and one that can help out specifically as a pass-rusher in sub-packages.
In addition to the above, at this point, current Steelers defensive linemen Daniel McCullers, L.T. Walton and Johnny Maxey are just “guys” and especially when it comes to their abilities to get after opposing quarterbacks.
So, now that I have reversed course on my stance when it comes to the Steelers possibly drafting a defensive lineman sooner rather than later, who are a few potential day-two candidates the team could ultimately wind up selecting?
For starters, I really think the Steelers have serious interest in Michigan product Chris Wormley. Not only did they supposedly show interest in him at the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine, general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin both attended the Michigan pro day a few weeks and that trip reportedly included at least one of them having dinner with Wormley, who measured in at this year’s combine at 6051, 298-pounds.
While Wormley didn’t work out at the combine due to a left hamstring injury, he more than made up for it at his pro day. In fact, his pSPARQ score of 132.7 is currently tops when it comes to defensive linemen in this year’s draft class. He reportedly has a great character and was a team captain at Michigan to boot. In short, he checks a ton of boxes when it comes to him potentially being a Steelers draft pick this year. One would think it wouldn’t take Wormley long to crack the Steelers sub-package defense during his rookie season as an occasional pass rusher.
Another potential candidate has to be Villanova product Tanoh Kpassagnon, who the Steelers seem to have shown quite a bit of interest in so far during the pre-draft process. Kpassagnon, like Wormley, is an athletic freak when it comes to players of his size. In fact, he has a pSPARQ score of 117.2, which is currently fourth-best in this year’s defensive linemen class.
Kpassagnon is even regarded as potentially being a 3-4 outside linebacker prospect at the NFL level due to him showing the ability to drop into coverage on the outside. With that said, at almost 6-7 and weighing in at 289-pounds, he might be best suited to serve as an interior sub-package pass rusher based on what he did at Villanova that included him registering 37.5 tackles for a loss of which 22 were sacks. Like Wormley, Kpassagnon is regarded as a high-character player.
Currently, Wormley and Kpassagnon are both perceived as being day-two selections with the former expected to be selected earlier than the latter. Kpassagnon has now been brought in for a pre-draft visit as of Tuesday and we’ll have to see if Wormley follows him in the coming days. Regardless, either could wind up being drafted by the Steelers at the end of the month.