The Pittsburgh Steelers have had an uncharacteristic offseason in free agency so far, committing—well, not necessarily committing, but you know what I mean—close to $50 million over the next three years on three free agent signings, all of whom could project to be starters in 2019, those being cornerback Steven Nelson, linebacker Mark Barron, and wide receiver Donte Moncrief.
The ‘big’ moves, nevertheless, leave the Steelers wanting as they head into the 2019 NFL Draft; and that’s a good thing. It means that they now have wants instead of needs. They want to get one of the top linebackers in the draft class, but if they fail to do so, they can move ahead with Barron for now.
While the Steelers will probably still draft a wide receiver at some point this year, it’s no longer an absolutely necessity that they do, and the virtual requirement that it come from a high-round pick is also out the window. It’s possible that they use a day-two pick on the position, but they could go another way.
Right now, the top of the depth chart at the position features JuJu Smith-Schuster and either Moncrief or James Washington, depending upon the development of the 2018 second-round pick, as well as Eli Rogers—given a new two-year deal—with Ryan Switzer returning for a full offseason this time around.
That’s a group that you can work with, or at least try to, and they have done so with less. Markus Wheaton was similarly ‘accomplished’ during his rookie season when he entered 2014 as a starter. Sammie Coates, another third-round pick, entered 2016 in a starting role due to Wheaton being injured and Martavis Bryant being suspended.
It’s far from unprecedented if the team chooses to fall back on Moncrief and Washington as their candidates for the number two position, trusting in their evaluations at a position at which they admittedly have had a fair amount of success.
And then there’s the cornerback position, where the Steelers know they have a weakness in scouting, at least based upon the resulted of those they have managed to draft. Their top two cornerbacks in 2019 project to be the two players they have given the largest contracts to in team history via free agency in Joe Haden and Nelson. And their slot defender will be Mike Hilton, a college free agent who was with two teams before Pittsburgh took notice.
They’re not looking for a starter at cornerback, at least not as a need. They don’t need a starting wide receiver from the draft. Even a starting inside linebacker is not a desperate need, but it is the closest thing to a priority.
Areas yet to be addressed are more matters of depth than anything else. They could use a tight end to compete for the number two role, and another running back at number three. But they have starters at these positions, even a Pro Bowler.
And so, more so than in most recent drafts, the Steelers are entering April left wanting, rather than needing, following an uncharacteristically eventful free agency period.