We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made by then. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Steelers did not have as many starters as last year hit free agency, but as of yet, they have only re-signed one of note, Chukwuma Okorafor. JuJu Smith-Schuster has already signed elsewhere, but others such as Trai Turner, Joe Haden, and Terrell Edmunds remain unsigned.
They were substantially active in free agency, however, re-signing Ahkello Witherspoon, Arthur Maulet, Miles Killebrew, Montravius Adams, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, and J.C. Hassenauer. They also signed linemen James Daniels and Mason Cole in outside free agency, as well as quarterback Mitch Trubisky, cornerback Levi Wallace, wide receiver/returner Gunner Olszewski, linebacker Myles Jack, and outside linebacker Genard Avery.
The team did not have to make drastic moves in order to get into cap compliance, but they did release two high-salaried players in linebacker Joe Schobert and tackle Zach Banner. As of now, they have not restructured any contracts, though restructuring T.J. Watt later this offseason is likely.
Position: Outside Linebacker
Total Positional Figure: 6
Offseason Additions: 1
Offseason Deletions: 1
T.J. Watt: Tying the NFL record for sacks in a single season and earning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award are good indications of how the 2021 season went for T.J. Watt. The most remarkable part of the story is that he struggled to stay healthy and was still so prolific.
Alex Highsmith: A 2020 third-round draft pick, Highsmith had an excellent offseason, but dealt with a groin injury entering his first year as a full-time starter. That prevented him from getting off to the running start he was hoping for, but still finished with an overall solid season, including six sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
Derrek Tuszka: Signed to the practice squad at the start of the regular season, he was soon promoted to the 53-man roster to replace Jamir Jones, primarily for special teams. But he ultimately ended up playing a couple hundred snaps on defense, registering two sacks.
John Simon: A veteran player who was signed to the practice squad late in the season, Simon only dressed for one game for Pittsburgh, playing 11 snaps, but he has over 3,000 career snaps since 2013. He could compete for a roster spot.
Delontae Scott: A 2020 college free agent, Scott was signed to the practice squad at the start of the regular season. He was elevated to play in one game, registering seven snaps. He was retained after the season on a Reserve/Future contract.
Genard Avery: Although he is not a plus pass-rusher, Avery can present as a solid overall defender capable of playing against the run. He should be the favorite to be the top reserve right now, though they can certainly upgrade this position in the draft.
Taco Charlton: The Steelers did not appear to show much interest in retaining Charlton, though it is possible that it was Charlton who preferred to seek other opportunities. Either way, they ended up with a similarly-qualified player.
Notes And Draft Outlook:
Edge rusher is a position you never stop looking at no matter who you have on your roster, so it should never be surprising if the Steelers draft somebody here. They drafted Jason Worilds in the second round even when they had James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley in their primes.
Still, having arguably the best defender in football does take some of the pressure off. Highsmith did show a lot of promise in year two, but they need him to take another jump. Their depth behind their two starters is not impressive.
It should be noted that the team did feel the need, or at least the desire, to add Melvin Ingram to the mix last year, so that could be an indication of a desire to have three strong pass rushers. That decision last year, though, was partly due to having cap space they didn’t expect to have due to David DeCastro’s release and because they were less secure in what Highsmith would offer.
But, again, there’s never a bad time to make your edge rusher group better. The biggest obstacle here may simply be the amount of holes they have elsewhere on the roster that may be more pressing in comparison.