The Pittsburgh Steelers entered this league year with well over a dozen players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. They ended up retaining five of those unrestricted free agents, and also tendered their two restricted free agents.
Pittsburgh also added help from outside of the organization at wide receiver, defensive line, running back, and cornerback, but suffered several free agency losses, chiefly at wide receiver and linebacker, and suffered yet another retirement in the process. There was one significant player release, and no contracts were restructured. One franchise tag and one major extension also transpired. They still have four unrestricted free agents who remain unsigned.
The organization has been clear throughout recent weeks that they have essentially wrapped up all meaningful free agent activities, with the focus turning to the draft, so now is a good time to take a look back and see where each position started at the beginning of the process and where it is now leading up to the draft.
Position: Defensive Tackle
Total Positional Figure: 4
Offseason additions: 2
Offseason losses: 0
Javon Hargrave: Javon Hargrave is the first defensive rook to begin and finish a season as a starter since Kendrell Bell, I’m pretty sure. Ryan Shazier obviously began his rookie year as a starter but his season got derailed by injuries and ended up rotating later on.
The small-school product had a very encouraging rookie season, over the course of which he showed consistent growth as a pass rusher, and his work against New England’s interior line was some of his best play of the season, even excluding his very satisfying sack of Tom Brady.
Daniel McCullers: The end of the road is in sight for Daniel McCullers, who over the course of three seasons hasn’t really progressed all that much. He is not much more than an obstruction, and even that at times can be subject to his whim. It seems unlikely at this point that he ever harvests his potential. Which is why he was available in the sixth round.
Roy Philon: The offseason is a fun time of the year for the nose/defensive tackle position because it means that there are actually more than two on the roster. Roy Philon might be a name that sounds familiar to you because he’s been around the Steelers’ block a time or two, originally signing with them after the draft in 2014. He was never on Pittsburgh’s practice squad, but was on a couple of others. He was waived injured last year prior to the start of the preseason and his entering his fourth offseason.
Lavon Hooks: These guys ringing a bell? Lavon Hooks is another repeat offender. Unlike Philon, Hooks is a bit closer to the prototypical body size. He was here last year and recorded seven tackles in the preseason. He spent no time on the practice squad either.
Players Lost/Not Retained: N/A
Notes and Draft Outlook: The Steelers entered last season with the nose tackle position being the biggest hole on the roster, which had many, including us, pounding the proverbial table for a nose tackle in the first round that ended up going in the fourth. Hargrave turned out to be a sweet consolation prize.
As for his backup, they can go into the season with McCullers, but it wouldn’t shock me if they look at the position late in the draft to offer him some competition. Right now it doesn’t look like he will be receiving a second contract, so it could make sense to find another player now, who is perhaps more in line with what they are looking to do on the defensive line these days.