There is a large section of observers who believe that more than anything the biggest issue facing the Pittsburgh Steelers is their coverage ability, more so than, for example, than the pass rush, or a lack of certainly at the wide receiver position, or stability at the tight end spot.
While many people would like to see Ross Cockrell demoted into a backup role, a lot of the focus has come instead in the slot, and much conventional thinking has resolved that a coverage safety might be the ideal solution to the team’s issues. The likes of Obi Melifonwu, Josh Jones, Budda Baker, and Jabrill Peppers have all been pegged to the Steelers at some point within the first two rounds.
But is that the best and most efficient solution? We are largely talking about a player who will serve in the ‘moneybacker’ role, a quasi-linebacker who will spend a lot of his time playing in the box. In order to find these sorts of defensive backs today, it usually requires a high draft pick.
These are typically largely defensive backs, some of whom may have even spent some time playing the linebacker position in college, as Peppers did during his final season in Michigan. But what about just taking an actual linebacker with excellent coverage abilities?
At the end of the day, what we ultimately seem to be discussing is trying to compensate for the drop in coverage that presumed starter Vince Williams will provide, reminiscent of his rookie season when he was forced into the starting lineup due to injury.
That year, Williams was nominally a starter but frequently spent more than half of the game on the sideline while an additional defensive back, usually safety Will Allen, took the field. Late in the season, even undrafted free agent minicamp tryout Terence Garvin was logging some time with Williams on the sideline.
That may be a more economical solution to the problem: finding a player in the vein of Garvin, only much more capable. This will also provide critical depth at the mack linebacker position, which the Steelers do not have at the moment. Given Ryan Shazier’s injury history, this is notable, so finding such a player could serve dual purposes.
I must confess that I don’t consider myself an expert in the inside linebacker crop in this draft, largely because it’s something that I wasn’t really anticipating to be necessary, so I can’t roll out a list of names off the top of my head. But perhaps somebody like Elijah Lee or Jordan Evans in the final three rounds of the draft could make sense.
Of course, the Steelers could target somebody like that in that period of the draft regardless of how they might address the defensive backs on the first two days of the draft, as, as I mentioned previously, the depth at the mack linebacker position is a concern of its own.