The Pittsburgh Steelers made the decision during the 2021 NFL Draft that they wanted to address the defensive line depth, and its future. To do so, they traded a future fourth-round pick to trade into the fifth round, using that selection to add Wisconsin defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk to the list.
Soon after bringing him in, defensive coordinator Keith Butler made a comparison that raised some eyebrows, likening him to a young Cameron Heyward. After a week or so of training camp, teammate Tyson Alualu did the same following this evening’s practice.
“I guess the best way to put it is, he’s like a young Cam Heyward, just out there running and got a lot of young, raw talent”, he told reporters. “But you see a lot of potential in him. Definitely a reason why they brought him here, and gets to groom behind Cam and learn from him. We’re excited about his growth as well in this team, on his D-line for our units. Definitely excited that we have him”.
The reason that many were surprised to see a defensive lineman drafted, of course, is because it is generally regarded as the Steelers’ deepest position. Boasting not just Heyward and Alualu, the group is also headed by Stephon Tuitt, while depth consists of ascending players like Carlos Davis, as well as Chris Wormley, Isaiah Buggs, and Henry Mondeaux.
All seven of those named were already on the 53-man roster last year, which is more than the Steelers pretty much ever carry, before Mondeaux was called up last year to make it seven. Adding Loudermilk makes it impossible to keep everybody.
At least one or two of the names above are not going to make the 53-man roster, and whether or not they stick to the practice squad remains to be seen—Pittsburgh does have a history of having offensive and defensive linemen claimed off waivers or off the practice squad.
Of course, Heyward and Alualu are already in their 30s, so there’s no telling how much time they might have left in this league, and it never hurts to plan for the future. That’s why the team drafted Ziggy Hood in the first round in 2009 even while they had Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, and then Heyward, also in the first, two years after that.
The team actually has not invested heavily in the front much since then, outside of Tuitt in the second round in 2014 and Javon Hargrave in the third round in 2016. The majority of their draft choices at the position come in the sixth and seventh rounds, so even Loudermilk as a fifth-round pick (who cost them a fourth) is a bigger investment than they frequently put in.