Over the course of the majority of their recent history, the Pittsburgh Steelers worked to become an even-handed team when it came to switching off between the offensive and defensive sides of the ball with respect to their premium resources—particularly in the first round, which is the best opportunity to accrue elite talent.
Between the 2006 and 2013 season, the Steelers were able to successfully navigate the first round without excessively flooding one side of the ball or the other with a greater share of the talent load. Beginning with wide receiver Santonio Holmes in 2006 and ending with outside linebacker Jarvis Jones in 2013, they had gone back and forth, alternating every year.
It hasn’t always evenly worked out that way, of course, but rarely would a streak on one side of the ball or another ever last more than three consecutive drafts. In fact, as best as I can tell, the last time such a streak of more than three drafts occurred was in the four drafts leading up to Joe Greene in 1969, which most notably included wide receiver Roy Jefferson.
The Steelers have now run up the scoreboard in the past five years with defensive draft picks, however, and you would have to go back to the 50s to find a similar run for one side of the ball—an era in which many players actually played on both sides of the ball.
One thing is clear, however, and that is that this era of the team has made a concerted effort to invest in returning their defensive to the top-level status that it has secured for itself through much of the 2000s, which coincided with a trio of appearances in the Super Bowl, and a couple of trophies to go along with it.
It started with Jones in 2013, and was followed up by Ryan Shazier, an inside linebacker, in 2014. A third consecutive linebacker, edge defender Bud Dupree, was added a year later in 2015 before the cornerback position got its due in 2016 with the drafting of Artie Burns. Most recently, of course, the Steelers added a third outside linebacker in the past five years—and fourth linebacker in total—after drafting T.J. Watt in the 2017 NFL Draft.
It hasn’t always worked out, of course. Jones completed his rookie contract without his club option being picked up and he now left in free agency. His inability to catch on largely precipitated the drafting of Dupree and Watt.
So far through that group, however, the Steelers have netted three starters, one of which has gone to the Pro Bowl in Shazier, with Dupree and Burns both showing significant flashes. Watt is not expected to immediately enter the starting lineup, but should play a notable role during his rookie season.
As if that were not enough, the Steelers have also added an additional five defenders in the second and third rounds in the previous four drafts, notably Stephon Tuitt, Sean Davis, and Javon Hargrave, all of whom are starting. This has quickly become a fairly young defense with high pedigree.