The Pittsburgh Steelers made a significant addition to their defensive line last weekend with the third-round draft selection of DeMarvin Leal out of Texas A&M. While the coaches view him initially as a 3-4 base end, the acknowledgement was—and the reality is that—the majority of his time will be in the nickel as a tackle.
Multiple coaches also expressed optimism that Leal possesses the frame to support added weight and muscle without a hindrance to his athletic abilities, which would allow him to play up and down the defensive line; that A&M kept him at a lower weight specifically for their defensive needs. And they base this, you guessed it, on the tape.
“Very athletic. Easy mover for a big man”, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said of Leal, as part of a new episode of the Steelers’ ongoing web series on their site, The Standard. “I know everybody was concerned about the time he ran and all that other stuff, but when you look at his football speed, he has really good football speed, really good football awareness”.
The defensive line was one of three areas of the roster—the others being wide receiver and the defensive backfield—that owner Art Rooney II singled out as wanting to address over the course of the final two days of the draft. They nailed the first two on Day 2, though they never did draft that defensive back, instead signing veteran safety Damontae Kazee afterward.
The defensive line position was the strongest of the three heading into the draft, if based upon its full potential. The Steelers were widely regarded to have the best starting three of any 3-4 front in football heading into the 2021 season with Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Tyson Alualu. Of course, they played most of the season without the latter two.
They believe they have better depth now, however, with Leal obviously a big part of that as a rotational piece for the present, and as a potential starter for the future. The Tuitt question remains outstanding, but even in the worst-case scenario, I’m sure they wouldn’t rush Leal into a starting role.
But they may well in the near future—the relatively near future—which is why they needed to identify a player with developmental traits. Leal has that. He has untapped potential in him to be something better than he is now, if Karl Dunbar and company can bring it out of him.