What Will Pittsburgh’s Biggest Defensive Need Be In 2023?

As we sit here today, the Pittsburgh Steelers are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture. They have dropped three-straight games after winning a nail biter Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, a game they likely would have lost if it weren’t for the team’s long snapper getting hurt which affected the extra point attempt that Minkah Fitzpatrick blocked to send the game into overtime.

Currently, the Steelers are projected to pick 6th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft, the highest selection they would have since 1989 when they selected running back Tim Worley or in 2000 when they picked wide receiver Plaxico Burress at No. 8 overall. there is still plenty of season left to be played, but if Pittsburgh can’t fix their possession down defense and get some semblance of a consistent offense up and running in the coming weeks, a top ten selection next spring looks to be a legit possibility.

Going into 2023, offensive line has most often been regarded as Pittsburgh’s top need on the roster due to the lack of talent and effectiveness from that unit dating back to last year. However, the OL has been playing better as of late, and if Pittsburgh believes that LT Dan Moore Jr. deserves another year to prove himself as a starter and opts to not invest high draft capital at G to compete with LG Kevin Dotson, they likely will turn to investing their higher draft capital at other positions on the defensive side of the football.

As of now, the Steelers appear to have several notable needs on defense. With Tyson Alualu taking a step back this season and facing retirement along with Chris Wormley and Larry Ogunjobi scheduled to hit free agency, defensive line could take high priority come the offseason. Should Pittsburgh turn to the draft, Georgia DL Jalen Carter and Clemson DL Bryan Bresee are widely regarded as top ten talents in the draft class that could inject much-needed youth and pedigree in a unit that has been inconsistent at winning in the trenches.

Pittsburgh has seemingly mailed it in at backup OLB the last few seasons, having their depth challenged when either T.J. Watt or Alex Highsmith have missed time. They traded for Malik Reed prior to the start of the season, but he hasn’t provided much success in-place of Watt as a pass rusher. Should Pittsburgh choose to better equip its pass rush with quality depth, Kansas State EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzomah, LSU EDGE BJ Ojulari, or Notre Dame EDGE Isiah Foskey all profile well in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense as a standup OLB that can rush the passer.

With Devin Bush scheduled to hit free agency and lack of quality depth at ILB, Pittsburgh could choose to invest a high draft selection at off-ball linebacker. Oregon LB Noah Sewell profiles as a great downhill run defender that can help the run defense while Alabama LB Henry To’oto’o and Clemson LB Trenton Simpson are smaller, more agile defenders that can chase sideline-to-sideline and can provide a blend of run defense and pass coverage.

Ahkello Witherspoon has struggled thus far in 2022, failing to pick up where he left off last season. Cam Sutton is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season, and while Levi Wallace has been a good addition to the team so far, Pittsburgh lacks a true #1 CB that can matchup effectively with the best receivers in the league on the outside. Georgia CB Kelee Ringo has the size and athletic traits you look for in a prototypical CB1 while Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr. and Alabama CB Eli Ricks both have that height and length to contest passes regularly and matchup with receivers on the outside.

S Terrell Edmunds is also scheduled to hit free agency, and while Pittsburgh cold opt to bring him back for another go-around, he hasn’t provided much outside of availability next to All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick. Selecting a player like Texas A&M S Antonio Johnson to pair with Fitzpatrick would give Pittsburgh a lethal combination on the backend with a long, fast, hard-hitting defender that can play all over in the secondary. Alabama S Jordan Battle or Boise State S JL Skinner also profile as strong safety/box safety types that could replace Edmunds’ role with more potential upside.

Needless to say, Pittsburgh could address all levels of the defense depending on who the move on from and who they bring back this offseason. We should expect Pittsburgh to address some of their key needs in free agency with them having more salary cap to use than in previous seasons as well. Still, whether it be free agency or the NFL Draft, the Steelers has some key needs to address on the defensive side of the football to return this unit to prominence. The core pieces like Watt, Fitzpatrick, and Heyward are in-place, but an injection of youth and talent could take this unit back into the top ten should they make the right investments.

What are your thoughts on Pittsburgh’s defense this season and heading into 2023? What position do you think is the team’s biggest need on the defensive side of the football? What players would you like to see the team target in the next several months? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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