It is no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a decent amount of holes to fill via the NFL Draft next week. While cornerback and offensive tackles are the consensus biggest needs, EDGE depth is also one getting a lot of press. EDGE rushers have often been mocked as the Steelers’ pick at 32 or 49 due to the lack of depth behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Despite this, I am not sure I would take an EDGE rusher earlier than an inside linebacker.
Yes, the Steelers revamped their inside linebacker room this offseason, bringing Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts while not retaining Devin Bush, Robert Spillane or Myles Jack. Despite this, there are still a lot of question marks at inside linebacker as we simply don’t know how the new acquisitions will play. Plus these new additions aren’t particularly known for their coverage ability.
The Steelers have been getting killed by top tight ends for years, and it is no secret that the team doesn’t mind putting an inside linebacker on a slot receiver. An inside linebacker who can cover addresses the Steelers defense’s Achilles heel. They have thumpers who can get downhill and either blitz or stop the run. Roberts had 10 tackles for a loss last year. The problem is that in coverage he allowed a passer rating of 121.9. Holcomb isn’t any better in pass coverage, allowing a passer rating of 125.6 when targeted last year.
Pittsburgh asks a lot of its inside linebackers. Get someone who can play in coverage to strengthen the strength of the team even more. The less ways teams can beat Pittsburgh’s defense the better chance the team has of lifting the Lombardi Trophy. Go get a coverage linebacker early on, one who can provide an immediate impact on the defense.
There is a very good chance a draft pick such as Clemson inside linebacker Trenton Simpson could see significant playing time in year one in Pittsburgh due to his athletic ability to play in coverage. Not only can a draft pick of an inside linebacker potentially see much more playing time than an EDGE rusher sitting behind Watt and Highsmith, the inside linebacker class is a lot weaker than the EDGE class.
Using Simpson as an example, he is one of the top inside linebackers in this draft class but isn’t projected to go until the second round. The inside linebacker class this year simply isn’t deep, so if the Steelers want to address their need for a coverage linebacker they better do it early in the draft.
Depth behind Watt and Highsmith is certainly a need, don’t get me wrong. But, a talented depth EDGE rusher can be found in Round Three or Four. I am not so sure how likely it is to find a very talented middle linebacker that late in the draft.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, NFL.com listed inside linebacker as this year’s weakest position group while listing EDGE as the third strongest. There is talent at the inside linebacker group, Steelers Depot’s own Jonathan Heitritter gave Simpson a very high grade of 8.7 on his draft profile, but the talent after the first few linebackers simply isn’t there.
Grab the talent at inside linebacker early in the second round while it is there, then grab your EDGE depth later on where you will still find good talent.