After spending a 2017 first-round draft pick on outside linebacker T.J. Watt, the Pittsburgh Steelers probably aren’t likely to use their 28th overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft on another edge-rusher and especially when you consider that they have bigger needs at the inside linebacker and free safety positions. With that noted, the Steelers should be on edge all offseason when it comes to adding a few outside linebackers either through the draft or free agency.
While Watt should now be locked into a starting spot on the right side of the Steelers defense for the next several seasons and more, the future of the starter on the opposite side of him, former first-round draft pick Bud Dupree, is currently up in the air. We’ll get a good sense as to what the Steelers really think about Dupree just ahead of this year’s draft as that’s when they’ll need to decide whether or not to pick up his fifth-year option for the 2019 season. Regardless of what they ultimately decide to do with Dupree, the depth chart behind him and Watt needs some serious rebuilding.
After registering 3 sacks in 270 defensive snaps played during the 2017 season, outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo is set to become a restricted free agent this offseason. The Steelers will likely tender him at an original round level and that should be enough to retain him, and he’ll likely enter training camp as the primary backup to both Watt and Dupree.
Veteran outside linebacker Arthur Moats, who failed to register a sack in 83 total defensive snaps played during the 2017 regular season, has probably played his last down in Pittsburgh. Moats, who will turn 30 years of age in March, is also set to become an unrestricted free agent that same month. While there’s a chance that Moats might ultimately be re-signed to a one-year contract for the veteran minimum this offseason, there’s no guarantee that he’d ultimately wind up making the Steelers 2018 53-man roster and especially being that he’s no longer the asset on special teams that he once was.
In addition to drafting Watt last year, the Steelers also selected another edge-rusher in the seventh-round in the form of Western Michigan product Keion Adams. Adams, however, spent his rookie season on the Steelers Reserve/Injured list after needing shoulder surgery. Due to his lack offseason practice time last year, it’s hard to know what the Steelers have right now in Adams outside of still going off his college tape. In short, while hopeful they have a diamond in the rough in Adams, there’s no guarantee the Steelers do, and they certainly won’t know if that’s the case until after training camp and the preseason are over.
After spending the entire 2017 season on the Steelers practice squad, outside linebacker Farrington Huguenin was signed to the offseason roster via a Reserve/Futures contract a few weeks ago. While Huguenin did flash a little during the 2017 preseason, the Kentucky product still has his work cut out for him this coming offseason when it comes to him potentially making the 2018 53-man roster.
Since the 2017 season ended the Steelers also signed former Dallas Cowboys undrafted free agent edge-rusher Darnell Leslie to a Reserve/Futures contract as well. Leslie, however, like Huguenin, really is a long shot right now to make the Steelers 2018 53-man roster.
In short, here is your current Steelers outside linebacker depth chart for 2018 as January comes to a close: Watt, Dupree, Chickillo, Adams, Huguenin and Leslie.
While the Steelers aren’t likely to be very active during the offseason free agent signing period, it doesn’t mean that they won’t attempt to sign a few budget players. In fact, it won’t be surprising if they sign an outside linebacker on the cheap. Denver Broncos outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett would be a perfect target if only he were going to be an unrestricted free agent. Barrett, however, is set to be restricted free agent and it’s hard to imagine the Broncos not giving him at least a second-round tender in the coming weeks.
As far as potential under-30 and inexpensive unrestricted outside linebacker free agents this upcoming offseason go, the list is short. However, there are a few edge players worth researching in Will Clarke and Chris Smith, just to name a few.
Even if the Steelers do ultimately wind up addressing the outside linebacker position via free agency, they really should consider spending a mid-round selection in this year’s draft on yet another young edge-rusher. Depending on how things play out and how far they ultimately fall on draft day, Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Auburn’s Jeff Holland could certainly wind up being 2018 selection candidates for the Steelers in late April and that’s just a few early names to discuss.
In closing, the outside linebacker position is currently a need for the Steelers this offseason and I fully expect that general manager Kevin Colbert will address it via either free agency or the draft and perhaps even both.