Devil’s Advocate: Bigger Or Quicker Edge Defenders

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Should the Steelers be more interested in outside linebackers with bulk or with more speed?

It would seem to me that the Steelers are facing a bit of an identity crisis, which is something that many 3-4 teams are experiencing in this era of the game when the majority of their time is spent with five defensive backs on the field.

This isn’t much of an issue for 4-3 fronts, where their pass rushers remain intact, but it changes things for a 3-4, where the outside linebackers become defensive ends and the defensive ends become defensive tackles. All of them, as a result, are generally undersized.

This would seem to have been something the Steelers considered when they drafted Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo in 2015, both of whom were over 260 pounds when they were drafted, but both have since been asked to drop their weight. So the question becomes, is this wise? Which should be their priority?

Focus on bulkier edge rushers

The advantage of having edge defenders with more size to them is that they will be better equipped to face the tackles they will have to go up against more frequently playing closer to center. This is as important, if not more so, against the run as it is for the pass rush. The Steelers had a hard time transitioning in their run defense as they increased their nickel usage over the past few years, and this is a big reason why.

Focus on quicker, more athletic edge rushers

For what it’s worth, this is where they seem to have put their focus with Dupree and now T.J. Watt. Of course, Dupree still has some size, but he is also an elite athlete who is looking to break out as a pass rusher this year. And he is lighter than when he came in. Watt is in a similar mold as Dupree now.

Focus on the quality of the player, not the size

Sometimes scheme can only dictate so much what you plan for. I think the Steelers have simply taken the best pass rushers that have come to them, and they will have to plan accordingly as a result. Dupree and Watt have the potential to be a very nice combination over the years—if they can hold up logging so many snaps in a nickel role.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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