With the 2018 season completely in the books and 2019 staring us down just around the corner, it’s time to pause and take stock of the current state of the Pittsburgh Steelers by looking at their roster as it stands now, going position by position.
The new league year officially begins on March 13, and coincides with the start of free agency. Between now and then, the Steelers figure to make a couple more decisions about what the roster will look like, including the signing of a couple more of their pending unrestricted free agents. There are a few other loose ends to tie up before then as well.
Position: Defensive Tackle
Total Positional Figure: 4
Javon Hargrave: Javon Hargrave is in many ways the interior defensive lineman that the Steelers have been looking for for several years, the closest that they had previously come during that time being Steve McLendon, whom they allowed to sign with the New York Jets in free agency, becoming a key part of their defense in the interim. Hargrave is coming off a career-year in which he recorded six and a half sacks and picked up his run defense late in the year.
Daniel McCullers: Somehow sticking around for a fifth season, Daniel McCullers found himself on the active roster for every game of the 2018 season as Hargrave’s primary backup as the nose tackle in the team’s sparsely-used 3-4 defensive front. He didn’t play frequently at all, and was not a notable contributor when he did.
L.T. Walton: After taking over the primary backup defensive tackle role from McCullers in 2017, Walton lost it right back to the big man they call Shade Tree last season. As a result, he spent the vast majority of the year on the inactive list in his contract season, they he did manage to bat a pass down for his efforts in his limited time on the field.
Lavon Hooks: Having been on the practice squad for roughly one generation, Lavon Hooks is coming back for a fourth season with the Steelers. He had his best preseason of his career in 2018 in Pittsburgh, which landed him on the practice squad all year and earned him another Reserve/Future deal in 2019, but can he actually take a step forward? He is already 27.
Offseason Strategy: Extend Hargrave, find a two-dimensional backup in free agency or draft.
While the Steelers re-signed their most important backup defensive lineman in Tyson Alualu—who can also play inside in a pinch—for the moment it appears likely that their other two backups, Walton and McCullers, will be hitting free agency.
That means they need two bodies to replace them, and ideally both of them would be capable of playing inside, as the team prefers to have three nose-capable linemen a la Chris Hoke. Perhaps the wisest strategy is to find one in free agency—my money is on the nose—and one in the draft, perhaps early on day three.