The Pittsburgh Steelers head into free agency with several holes that need to be addressed on the defensive side of the football. The defensive line and inside linebacker positions face a makeover with several names slated to hit free agency or in need of being upgraded. The same could be said for cornerback as Pittsburgh will likely cut a couple names in attempt to retain Cam Sutton, leaving a need for additional depth on the backend. The team also needs to add a viable OLB that can backup T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith while also contributing on special teams.
We know that the Steelers are a team that are big on familiarity and relationships, often looking toward previous pre-draft visits on the free agent market when looking to add players outside the organization. Dave Bryan recently highlighted EDGE Chase Winovich as a plausible name that could interest the Steelers in free agency this offseason after they attended his Pro Day and had dinner with him there. Going back through their reported pre-draft visits in 2019, I have found four names that could make a lot of sense as low budget options in free agency that the Steelers showed interest in the 2019 NFL Draft that would help fill various needs on the defense in 2023.
ILB David Long Jr. – Tennessee Titans
The ILB core is currently in a state of flux with Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, and Marcus Allen all slotted to hit free agency. While Spillane may likely be retained, Pittsburgh desperately needs to inject athleticism and splash play ability to the off-ball linebacker position after that unit failed to record any splash plays in 2022.
The Steelers tied themselves to Devin Bush at the top of the draft, but David Long Jr. out of West Virginia was another talented ILB prospect that went much later in the draft (6th round) due to his lack of size (5’11, 227lb), but has made himself into a starting off-ball linebacker for Tennessee. Through four seasons, Long has started 26 of 50 games played, tallying 230 total tackles (137 solo), 15 TFLs, 14 PBUs, four INTs, and two forced fumbles. He essentially has been what Pittsburgh hoped Bush would be, being an undersized, yet athletic LB that can run, hit, and cover as a new-age LB in the NFL.
Long’s lack of sack production and durability issues will likely suppress his value in free agency with so many other ILBs scheduled to test the market this spring. Should Pittsburgh be comfortable with his medical, there’s a chance they bring in Long on an affordable deal to battle for a starting spot with the ability to contribute on special teams as well.
LB Andrew Van Ginkel – Miami Dolphins
This one is personal for me as Van Ginkel was my high school teammate back at Boyden-Hull Rock Valley High School in Iowa before going on to star at USD and Iowa Western Community College, ending his college career at Wisconsin. Beside the “feel good” story, Van Ginkel has proven to be quite the versatile chess piece in Miami after selecting him in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He has the size, length, and athleticism Pittsburgh looks for in their OLBs (6’4, 242lb) and has represented himself well on the edge for the Dolphins. He has started 31 of 56 games, logging 181 total tackles (114 solo), 23 TFLs, 11 sacks, one INT, 13 PBUs, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries: one for a TD.
Van Ginkel plays with a red-hot motor on every snap, pursuing the football against the run as well as chasing the QB as a pass rusher. He is a fluid mover in space, having the capability to cover backs and tight ends. He also is a proven special teams ace, having logged over 1000 snaps in his first four seasons on various units. With the Dolphins having a log jam of edge rushers on the roster, there as chance that Van Ginkel makes it to free agency and can be had at a reasonable rate to backup fellow former Badger T.J. Watt on the edge while playing heavy snaps on special teams for Pittsburgh.
DL Charles Omenihu – San Francisco 49ers
The Steelers disparately need to add talent and depth to their defensive line with Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley and Larry Ogunjobi all slated to hit free agency. DeMarvin Leal’s status is up in the air regarding whether he will be an edge or a base DE in Pittsburgh’s scheme moving forward, leaving little behind Cam Heyward and Isaiahh Loudermilk as base DE. Enter 49ers DL Charles Omenihu who has those rare measurables Pittsburgh looks for in their DEs, standing 6’5 3/8”, 280lb, with the wingspan of a condor, having 36” arms.
Omenihu was drafted in the fifth round out of Texas and has been productive for the Texans and 49ers, posting 67 total stops (40 solo), 11 TFLs, 11.5 sacks, six PBUs, and three forced fumbles in 61 career games with 10 starts. Omenihu would be a great fit in Pittsburgh’s scheme, but his background will have to be vetted after he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence last month. The case is currently being reviewed by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, but Omenihu was allowed to play in the NFC Championship after the police report stated that Omenihu’s girlfriend clamed he pushed her, but no physical injuries were reported.
The Steelers have shown to give little consideration to players that have off-the-field concerns. However, should Omenihu be innocent, he matches up with a lot of the needs this team has on the DL and their previous interactions in the pre-draft process may help his case as a free agent.
CB Rock Ya-Sin – Las Vegas Raiders
The Steelers look primed to cut Ahkello Witherspoon, William Jackson III, or both to free up cap space to retain Cam Sutton who had a great season in 2022. However, with James Pierre also scheduled to be a restricted free agent, the Steelers would only have Levi Wallace, Arthur Maulet, and Sutton back should they re-sign him. Even if Sutton and Pierre are re-signed, they need to add another body to the room with experience. CB Rock Ya-Sin fits the bill as a player that received first-round buzz to the Steelers in 2019 before going to the Colts in the second round.
Ya-Sin has had an up-and-down career thus far with the Colts and Raiders, starting 38 of 52 games while totaling 183 total stops (154 solo), two TFLs, 27 PBUs, two INTs, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. Still, he’s a physical CB that is a willing tackler and fits the mold of what Pittsburgh looks for in feisty, competitive CBs. Signing Ya-Sin would alleviate the need to select a CB high in this year’s draft while giving Pittsburgh a player they showed interest in during the 2019 pre-draft process, giving the team an experienced defender in the secondary.
What are your thoughts of the names listed? Do you see some of these previous pre-draft visitors being good fits for the Steelers in free agency? Do you see Pittsburgh targeting one or more of these players? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!