We are just one day away now from learning who the newest member of the Pittsburgh Steelers is going to be—or maybe even members. Slated to draft 17, it goes without saying that any number of things could happen, and I don’t think there’s any great sense in handicapping it. But Jeremy Fowler of ESPN seems to think George linebacker Nolan Smith is an option.
“Nolan Smith, pass rusher out of Georgia, that’s another player I’m watching”, he said on 93.7 The Fan yesterday when talking about the Steelers’ first-round options with Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller. “Teams that I talked to say he won’t get past 17. That’s their expectation, so that would imply that Pittsburgh could have some interest there too”.
The Steelers always have a presence at Georgia Pro Days, and obviously any team that wins national championships is going to attract attention, so I really don’t think we need to connect any dots to determine whether or not he would be on their radar.
An athletic player, Smith lacks ideal size for somebody coming off the edge, as seems to be how almost everybody has decided would be his role at the next level, though early on it seemed as though at least some felt he could move inside.
The Steelers already have two starting outside linebackers in T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, though the latter is entering the final year of his rookie contract. While extending him will be a top priority later this offseason, some have questioned how high their price will go before they tap out. Pittsburgh drafted Highsmith in Bud Dupree’s final season with the team after attempting to get him extended.
And if last season taught us anything, it’s that the Steelers didn’t have a sufficient backup plan behind their starters here, which became glaringly obvious with Watt missing most of the first half of the season. And even their sub-par options from last season—Malik Reed and Jamir Jones—are gone. The next man up right now is Quincy Roche.
Pittsburgh brought in Dupree for a free agent visit this offseason, though it’s not clear if it ever reached the point of discussing contract numbers. Either way, such a move made it obvious that they understand the need to address the depth at outside linebacker.
But is Smith the answer, especially in the first round, assuming that they profile him as an edge rusher? He’s had injury concerns in recent years, most recently suffering a torn pectoral muscle, and it’s something of a projection that he could have a high level of long-term success in the NFL.
He was a popular player to mock to the Steelers early in the draft process, and he certainly could be a piece that an intelligent defense could get creative with. Would I be happy if he were their pick at 17, though? Honestly, not really, but I would be happy to be proven wrong.