Another year has come and gone, with another draft on the horizon. It’s the perfect time to take a step back and reflect on the year that was, especially with respect to the most recent draft class. The Pittsburgh Steelers made seven selections in the 2022 NFL Draft, one in each round except for the fifth (zero) and the seventh (two).
The top of the draft marked one of the most momentous decisions in decades, as they used their first-round pick on the quarterback they hope will be the long-term successor to the retired Ben Roethlisberger. And they used much of the rest of the draft to find him weapons, marking the second year in a row they used each of their top two picks on offense.
Only two defenders were drafted, including a defensive lineman in the third round, the first time they have taken a lineman on that side of the ball earlier than the fifth round since Javon Hargrave in 2016. They also added an inside linebacker in the seventh round, who is the only holdover at the position from last season.
Over the next week, we will be looking at each of these players one by one and examining how their rookie season went and what we can expect from the moving forward, both during the 2023 season and potentially for the long term. But we’ll discuss each briefly below.
Player: DeMarvin Leal
Draft Status: Third Round (84th overall)
Starts: 2 (11 games)
DeMarvin Leal may be one of the most curious players on the Steelers’ roster right now. A third-round pick from a somewhat weaker Power 5 school who is also of ‘tweener’ size between an outside linebacker and a defensive end, it’s hard to predict in which direction his career will go and what will be asked of him by the coaching staff.
That was of lesser concern for him and his coaches during his rookie season, made all the easier by the fact that they had to get through most of the first half of the year without Defensive Player of the Year edge rusher T.J. Watt.
The Steelers just threw Leal on the field and told him to run forward, using the rookie, even with his hand on the ground or standing up on the edge, to try to soak up some of the very valuable snaps they were missing from Watt.
Indeed, he played 96 snaps through the first five games of the season before suffering an injury that would temporarily land him on the Reserve/Injured List, missing the entirety of the middle of the season on both sides of the bye.
He returned to the field, in a limited role, in week 14 against Atlanta, but his activities picked up late in the year against two run-first divisional opponents. He even ‘started’, technically, against the Baltimore Ravens in week 17 and saw a career-high 27 snaps, 52 percent of the defensive total, logging three tackles. He saw another 15 snaps in the finale against the Cleveland Browns.
But that still doesn’t tell us much about where we leave off. As a rookie, the Steelers were just trying to get him on the field. But is he a future starter? He won’t be starting soon after they re-signed Larry Ogunjobi.
It will be very interesting to see what they ask him to do. They might leave him at a ‘tweener’ weight and allow him to float free both on the end of the line and on the edge as well as more of a rotational chess piece, or in a sub-package role, allowing him to get valuable snaps while not occupying a starting role.