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: Outside linebacker is the Steelers’ top remaining priority heading into the final day of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Explanation: After hitting on their three biggest needs on the offensive side of the ball in the first three rounds, the third day of the draft — and their final five selections — figure to see some attention paid to the defensive side of the ball, where they’ve lost two of their top four players at both outside linebacker as well as at cornerback.
While granting that Alex Highsmith not only deserves the chance to start, but also has the makings of a starter, the reality is that the Steelers have not much better than nothing behind him and T.J. Watt right now. Outside of Cassius Marsh, a veteran journeyman, they only have undrafted free agent-level players with no prior experience.
You could argue cornerback, but at the least, they have five players there who have in-game NFL experience, including four in their own system. The outlier is Trevor Williams, who may emerge as their nickel defender this year before all is said and done.
I know the tackle position is going to be brought up. But, again, they have players there, and depth. They signed multiple tackles in free agency in Joe Haeg and Rashaad Coward for depth, and Zach Banner has won a starting job in the past, while Chukwuma Okorafor has the experience. Compare that to Marsh and…Jamir Jones and Christian Kuntz.
There is no denying that the depth at outside linebacker is quite thin, that that doesn’t compare to potentially needing a starter, as one could argue at cornerback, or even tackle. Yes, Banner won the right tackle job last year, but he is not a proven starter. And Okorafor may have started last year, but that was at right tackle, not the left side. They don’t have a left tackle, unless they circle back to Alejandro Villanueva after the draft.
And counting on a guy who hasn’t played much in years because he used to be a starter — e.g. Williams — is not exactly a sound strategy as far as the cornerback position goes. Justin Layne has not developed at the rate expected over two years. Frankly, when it comes to James Pierre, the odds of a Florida Atlantic college free agent becoming a starter are low. Yeah, he made that one nice play in coverage on that one snap in the postseason loss. That’s not exactly a resume, so let’s tap the breaks on him.