The Pittsburgh Steelers used the offseason to bolster some of the positions on their roster about which they were most concerned, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. They added cornerback Steven Nelson in free agency before selecting Justin Layne in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Before trading up for Devin Bush at inside linebacker in the first round, they had already made Mark Barron a part of the team.
Though much of the middle of the draft was devoted to offense, going wide receiver, running back, and tight end in the third through fifth rounds, their trio of sixth-round selections all came on Keith Butler’s side of the room, with outside linebacker Sutton Smith, defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs, and inside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III adding depth to those three positions, the middle of which in particular was needed.
So does Butler feel good about the group now that we have a clearer picture of what the roster is going to look like this summer? Well, not just yet, it seems.
“I’ll like it when I see it”, the defensive coordinator said of the depth along his defensive unit during the draft and whether or not he was comfortable with where they were in that regard. “I’ll like it when I know what we can do and see what we’re capable of doing. And I’ll like it if I know I can depend on them to be there when they’re supposed to be there”.
In other words, they have added a bunch of bodies to the room, but as of now, that’s all they are. They have only just begun getting onto the field and in the classroom with the start of Phase Two of the offseason, so there is still very, very little that we know about any of these players with regards to how they will be as Steelers.
Most likely, their offseason haul should yield two starters defensively, perhaps even three, with one at inside linebacker and at least one at cornerback. Either Barron or Bush will start at inside linebacker, and the other one who doesn’t start will receive playing time as well.
At cornerback, Nelson is going to be a starter opposite Joe Haden, but it’s possible for Layne to carve out a role as a number three or potentially a number four cornerback. He would have to battle Mike Hilton for the nickel role, and Cameron Sutton and Marcus Allen (at safety) for dime snaps, at least based on the current roster construction.
On paper, the Steelers’ defensive unit, in most places, looks deeper and more stable than last season, though they are still at or near the bare minimum at safety and outside linebacker, as well as defensive line, at least if you discount the chances of undrafted free agents and first-year players to make an impact, such as Lavon Hooks and P.J. Locke.