The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers’ top three draft picks will all be offensive players.
Explanation: With it being clearly established that the defense has surpassed the offense, it is widely expected that the Steelers will heavily address the offense in the 2021 NFL Draft, using a first-round pick on that side of the ball for the first time since 2012. But they will need more help than that.
Between running back, center, tackle, and tight end—and quarterback and wide receiver, to currently lesser extents—there are just too many high-profile needs on the offensive side of the ball to not make it their focus.
Alejandro Villanueva is gone. Maurkice Pouncey is gone. James Conner is gone. Vance McDonald is gone. All of them need replacing, and with individuals of talent. They can’t keep drafting mid-round running backs and late-round tight ends and expect to get by. Their biannual diamond-in-the-rough undrafted free agent lineman ride appears to be over as well.
It’s overdue for the Steelers to make investments here. The last running back they drafted earlier than the compensatory section of the third round was Le’Veon Bell in 2013. The last tight end that they drafted earlier than the fifth round was Matt Spaeth in 2007. The only offensive lineman they have drafted earlier than the fourth round since David DeCastro in 2012 was Chukwuma Okorafor in 2018, who has lost multiple starting job competitions already.
Even when the Steelers were heavily focused on rebuilding the defense, they (almost) never went this far, always adding at least one offensive player within the first three rounds. Chase Claypool in 2020, Diontae Johnson in 2019, then James Washington, Mason Rudolph, and Okorafor in 2018. Before them, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner, Sammie Coates, Dri Archer, Bell, and Markus Wheaton. 2016 was the only exception, and that didn’t work out well with Artie Burns heading that list.
Besides, it’s inevitable that they will address at least one or two needs in free agency with cheap depth, a Jon Bostic or Stefen Wisniewski type of signing that will prevent them from reaching for need. This is what they do every year, and this year will be no different, even with the immense salary cap difficulties.