The Pittsburgh Steelers may have yet again bypassed the defensive side of the football with their most premium selections in the 2022 NFL Draft, but they didn’t hold off as long as they did last year, drafting defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal with their third-round selection last night.
An Aggie product, he is the third player from Texas A&M the Steelers have now drafted in the past two classes, joining 2021 fourth-round draft picks, offensive tackle Dan Moore Jr. and inside linebacker Buddy Johnson. He is quite familiar with the latter, as he told reporters last night after he was drafted.
Asked if he was close to Johnson, he said, “Yes, sir, I am”, via transcript provided by the team’s media department—as one would imagine for someone who started on the same defense together. “That’s my linebacker. We both know how to talk football, and we both know how to communicate well. Our games together were unbelievable, so I can’t wait to get back my linebacker”.
Johnson was a four-year man for the Aggies and a two-year starter, accumulating 162 tackles and 17 tackles for loss with five sacks and an interception (returned for a touchdown) in the process during his junior and senior seasons.
The Steelers made him their first defensive draft pick of the class of 2021, with their second of two selections in the fourth round. He spent the bulk of his rookie season as a healthy scratch on a depth chart that included six total inside linebackers, but appeared to have emerged with an opportunity late in the year.
With Devin Bush struggling and Joe Schobert not living up to expectations—and both having dealt with availability issues—head coach Mike Tomlin seized an opportunity in one game to get him some snaps. After the game, he acknowledged that he could potentially have an opportunity to get more playing time.
Unfortunately for him, he also suffered an injury at around the same time, and in fact, he wouldn’t play another snap for the rest of the year, eventually being placed on the Reserve/Injured List. They do anticipate growth from him this year, however.
With Bush returning and Myles Jack signed to start, Johnson is potentially competing for a primary backup role in 2022 alongside Robert Spillane, with Marcus Allen and Ulysees Gilbert III still in the mix; the latter two are almost exclusively special teams players at this point, however.
As for Leal, as a third-round draft pick, he shouldn’t have much to worry about in terms of making the roster, but it’s not clear that there is an obvious path toward playing time. Ostensibly, they have Cameron Heyward, Tyson Alualu, and Stephon Tuitt returning to the starting lineup, with Montravius Adams and Chris Wormley projected as the top rotational backups.