While the Pittsburgh Steelers have been active early on this offseason, that doesn’t mean there still isn’t work to be done. The team has beefed up the offensive line and overhauled its inside linebacker unit. One area that could use some depth is the outside linebacker group.
Today, ESPN’s Brooke Pryor of ESPN wrote that the biggest remaining hole on the roster is outside linebacker with depth behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith almost nonexistent. In her write-up about the Steelers, she argued for the return of Bud Dupree.
“It’s not enough that the Steelers have former Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt and up-and-comer Alex Highsmith,” wrote Pryor. “They need quality depth outside, something that was exposed last season when Watt missed an extended period. Bringing in Bud Dupree, recently released from the Titans, for a reunion could be one way to check that box.”
Dupree is a name that has garnered steam after reporter Josina Anderson said there was “preliminary interest” from Pittsburgh in a Dupree reunion. A first-round pick by the Steelers in 2015, Dupree played six seasons in Pittaburgh before leaving in free agency to join the Tennessee Titans.
It would certainly be cool to see a trio of Watt, Highsmith, and Dupree, something we only got to see a little bit of in 2020 (Highsmith’s rookie season). Even if Pittsburgh decides not to bring back Dupree, depth behind Watt and Highsmith needs to be addressed. The Steelers’ pass rush struggled in Watt’s absence last season with there not being consistent pressure from backups Malik Reed (who has since signed with the Miami Dolphins) and Jamir Jones.
Even if Watt and Highsmith stay healthy, the Steelers rotate their linebackers. Having an effective third outside linebacker would be huge to keep pressure on opposing offenses when either Watt or Highsmith are catching a quick breather.
There is obviously still time in free agency to pick up an outside linebacker. Pittsburgh also has a chance to address it in the NFL Draft. While much of the draft focus involves cornerback and offensive line, Pittsburgh may pull the trigger on an EDGE rusher on Day Two or Three. One reason for this: long-term insurance in case the Steelers cannot agree on a contract extension with Highsmith and to have long-term depth behind both Watt and Highsmith, something a free agent acquisition at this point in time likely would not bring.
Pittsburgh has done a good job this offseason but there is still work to be done. As Pryor said, finding depth behind Watt and Highsmith is crucial — and something general manager Omar Khan and head coach Mike Tomlin will have to sort out sooner rather than later.