I participate in a lot of draft discussion both hear and elsewhere, and must fess up to something: I have gotten annoyed at one particular branch of Steeler Nation. It’s the ones who say this:
The defensive line was terrible in 2021, as shown by the awful run defense, so we need to prioritize a DL pick in the 2022 draft!
There are some other arguments for looking at DL talent. I’ll get to those in a minute. But that line? Rot, rubbish, and ill informed. Yes, the line was awful! But that doesn’t always mean you need to add a draft pick or free agent? Why don’t we try adding one of these guys instead? Stephon Tuitt in his 28-year old prime. (2) Tyson Alualu without a broken leg. (3) Chris Wormley playing at DE where he belongs. (4) Carlos Davis with two working knees. (5) Montravius Adams with a year in the system. And (6) Isaiahh Loudermilk after a sophomore leap.
There you go. Six excellent additions that weren’t there in 2021! An entire, quality DL that was not available during last year’s debacle games. To be entirely honest, that’s actually one too many since the team only carries six D-Linemen at a time, and Cam Heyward isn’t going anywhere for another few years. Please take a moment to consider that point; both the awe-inspiring destruction we endured last year, and what the roster really is moving forward. Who are you cutting to get the current roster down to six (6), and what two would you cut if you add that hypothetical draft pick?
- DT Cam Heyward
- DT Stephon Tuitt
- NT/DT Tyson Alualu
- DT Chris Wormley
- DT Isaiahh Loudermilk
- NT/DT Montravius Adams
- NT/DT Carlos Davis
- Special Teams: Henry Mondeaux (not a true DL). Henry Mondeaux isn’t available for your cuts because he is a special teams guy. The hypothetical rookie cannot take Mondeaux’s slot unless he can race his 300-whatever pounds down the field to cover kickoffs and punts.
Which player should be dropped as things stand today? And how much will the room improve by adding a draft pick and removing two of those names?
But what if Stephon Tuitt will remove himself?
Pittsburgh shocked us all last year when it sent 2022’s Round 4 pick to Miami in exchange for the chance to move up and get Loudermilk in the 2021 draft. Why make such a move when the DL room was already stacked? Wasn’t it a little early to be trading picks in order to get ahead of Cam Heyward’s eventual retirement several years from now?
The season-ending, still-mysterious injury to Stephon Tuitt added some new smoke to that, which Keith Butler’s recent “I don’t knows” only enhanced. What if it wasn’t about the 33 year old Heyward, with his 2-4 more years of top level play? What if there’s something going on with the 28 year old Tuitt, who should have been around for 6-8? What if he will be forced to retire in his prime due to the mysterious ailment?
That is a lot of “ifs”, none of which are supported by more than speculation and dot-connecting. So Answer #1 is simple: let’s wait and see what’s going on with Tuitt, rather than assuming he’s going to retire just as he hits his prime. It may happen. It may not. Why buy trouble and angst by assuming the worst? Anyone who feels sure about the answer, be it yes or no, ought to look in a mirror, because internal bias is the only possible source for such confidence.
On to Answer #2: Let’s assume the worst. That makes sense of the Loudermilk trade. Wormley may be quality depth, but adding a young stud to the room is still worthwhile at the cost of this year’s Round 4 pick. Good for the F.O.! They were really thinking ahead. Wait, what? Now You want to spend another pick too? Why? We’ve already made the investment you wanted!
But what if Cam Heyward suddenly ages?
I agree. Heyward can’t play forever, especially with the number of snaps he’s been getting every season. Good depth is essential. But he is still here, and still playing at a HOF level. Any draft pick is going to sit behind Cam until that all-star is good and ready to leave on his own. Why spend huge capital on a centerpiece player who’d only warm the bench for the better part of his rookie deal?
Besides, it’s not like the team has ignored this. Wormley is already a solid backup at DE, and getting better each year. That depth is in place, particularly with Loudermilk on board as well.
But what if Cam Heyward suddenly ages and Tuitt suddenly retires and Alualu changes his mind?
Living in your fears much? Sure. If all three starters at the position disappear, the team will be in trouble. Same for all of the top three CB’s, OLB’s, WR’s, etc. Just imagine the current offensive line if you waive a wand to erase three of those current starters!
The DL would actually deal with that level of devastation better than any other unit on the team because we have more depth here than anywhere else.
But what if all those depth guys turn out to be illusions?
First, I don’t think they are. Wormley has become a viable starter even if he isn’t Heyward or Tuitt, and Loudermilk really couldn’t have looked any better than he did. As for the backup NT’s, most people would say the team has lucked into having two rising young dogs in place already who will be fighting for the single bone of playing behind Alualu: Montravius Adams and Carlos Davis. Use your evil wand on Alualu, and you’ll have the winner of that competition to start (at what is a part time position anyway), with the runner up as his backup.
Name one other position on this team that possess this kind of depth. Besides, don’t promising young talents deserve a chance to improve while more senior starters are in place?
Don’t forget the other positions
But even worse, it will prevent the Steelers from using that pick to improve some other part of the roster. Seriously now: who will improve this team more, a rookie Guard, OT, or CB who will replace a marginal backup, start many (if not all) games as a rookie, and become a signature piece in future years? Or an equally good D-Lineman who will sit as a rookie, and will push some very good depth off the roster?
The Steelers actually had a very strong D-Line in 2021. It wasn’t the players who failed (Buggs aside). The line fell apart because a series of starters, backups, and backups to the backups all ended up on the disabled list. Those are not empty roster spots now that the injured hoard are returning, because the team has not ignored the all-important D-Line room. To the contrary, it has made regular and steady investments to shore that room up. Including a Round 4 pick in this year’s draft that’s already been spent on Isaiahh Loudermilk.
A defensive lineman makes no sense for the 2022 Steelers in the early rounds. Round 3-7 might make sense, but only if we get confirmed information that removes some men from the current roster. For example, if Stephon Tuitt really does retire, a roster spot would open up for another developmental depth pick like Loudermilk. Still not an emergency, but an investment could be justified.
If something comes out to say that both Adams and Davis are no more than backups (both, not just one), then a 0-/1-tech pick would make some sense too; with the proviso that this is one of the part time positions. If Javon Hargrave could fall to Round 3 when the team had no NT on the team at all, I couldn’t defend a higher pick at the same position.
If Tuitt retires, and Heyward announces he is going to retire, and Wormley gets hit by a meteor, and we learn that both Adams and Davis have no future… [Sigh]. Okay. If all of that piles up, a D-Line pick would start to rise near the level of what’s needed for the O-Line, CB, WR, and ILB. And Safety if Edmunds doesn’t return. And of course QB, which is the trump card hanging over all positions until the next real franchise guy has been found. If all that happens we will be evaluating on pure BPA without any finger on the scale against a DL selection.