Former Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore once joked that they don’t give practice reps to the backup quarterback because if Peyton Manning ever got hurt, the team was screwed (he used another word here that I’ll shield from our more innocent readers).
You could say the same about T.J. Watt and the Steelers’ outside linebacker depth. Only if Watt went down, there isn’t even anything proven behind him. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell named it one of the league’s thinnest positions, noting the complete lack of depth behind starters Watt and sophomore Alex Highsmith.
Here’s part of what he wrote:
“Owing to their cap issues, the Steelers weren’t able to add much on the edge and used most of their draft picks to supplement a flailing offense. Marsh played for three teams last season and is on his eighth roster. Roche is a rookie sixth-round pick, and while the Steelers bring plenty of linebackers through their system, those guys are usually taken in the first couple of rounds. Any sort of change to Watt’s status would leave a win-now Pittsburgh team in a vulnerable situation. Highsmith is a promising player, but would he really be ready to be the best edge rusher on a Super Bowl contender?”
Barnwell’s evaluations when it comes to the Steelers are often hit-and-miss, but he’s on the money here. By now, most Steelers fans are at least aware of who is behind the starting outside linebackers. But most of the NFL isn’t. Marsh is a journeyman who is questionable against the run and at best, an average pass rusher. Roche was strong value in the sixth round but still, counting on a late-round rookie with his own concerns — his slimmer body hasn’t made him great versus the run either — is problematic.
Right now, the Steelers don’t seem to have a lot of solutions to that issue. Cap space isn’t flashing the warning siren like it was months ago but now, the top pass rushers have already signed and outstanding free agents like Justin Houston probably don’t want to come to Pittsburgh in a backup role.
That leaves the team with two other options. They could trade for someone this summer. Kevin Colbert is active as any GM during the month of August. But he’s already dealt away a pair of 2022 picks: a fifth for Avery Williamson and a fourth for Isaiahh Loudermilk. The Steelers are expected to receive comp picks next year, but they won’t have those this summer to trade away.
Colbert and the Steelers could also explore the roster cutdown waiver wire and free agent options who emerge. But who knows who will end up available and even if they’d find someone, they’ll have to hit the ground running with a brand new team right before the season starts. The good news there is there’s a two-week gap from cutdowns to Week 1, giving new faces more time to get acclimated with their new team.
Until someone in-house emerges or the team makes an out-of-house move, EDGE depth is among the Steelers’ weakest.