The Pittsburgh Steelers focused heavily on the offensive side of the ball during their 2022 NFL Draft class, with five of the seven selections devoted to players whose job it is to help put points on the board. Even one of their defensive selections, seventh-round inside linebacker Mike Robinson, has spent most of his life playing running back.
Their big defensive selection was defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal in the third round, but they failed to come away with help along the edge, something that many were hoping that they would address in the draft, even if they did add veteran Genard Avery in free agency while letting go of Taco Charlton.
Asked about the depth behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith exiting the draft, head coach Mike Tomlin said that “It’s not overly concerning”, during his and general manager Kevin Colbert’s post-draft press conference. He added, “it’s also something that we’re capable of addressing” later on down the road.
As of this writing, we are getting in word of the college free agents the Steelers are signing, and so far, none of them are edge players. That could obviously quite easily change over the course of the next 18 hours, when we should get official word on the group. And there will be rookie minicamp invitees. [Edit: Moments after posting, we got word of the team signing edge T.D. Moultry out of Auburn.]
As of now, the Steelers’ outside linebacker group consists of Watt, Highsmith, Avery, John Simon, and Delontae Scott. That’s certainly not the most robust group in the league, though both Avery and Simon certainly have playing experience.
Watt is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and the only thing that seemed to slow him down in 2021 was injuries. Highsmith entered the starting lineup on a full-time basis last season as a second-year player, and he picked up the pace as the season progressed, though certainly has plenty of room to grow moving forward.
Both Avery and Simon are better run defenders than pass rushers, so it would be welcome to be able to add somebody who could get after it on the edge, but Leal can help out with the interior pressure, and they also believe there’s more to tap from Montravius Adams, picked up midseason last year, in the same role.
Shortly before training camp last year, the Steelers signed former Pro Bowl outside linebacker Melvin Ingram to come in and serve as a strong rotational player. While he never had anything bad to say about the organization, he did ask to be traded, and eventually was, allowing only that the experience—surely related primarily to playing time expectations—wasn’t quite what he expected.
Veterans will be released following the draft, and there are still some unsigned who would come with no compensatory baggage if signed after Monday. The Steelers tend to prefer to bring their roster into training camp and reevaluate there, adding a player via trade if they feel lacking somewhere. They did that just last year with inside linebacker Joe Schobert and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.