The Pittsburgh Steelers have been doing their due diligence this offseason in addressing key areas of the roster. Of particular focus has been the trenches, as billed, where the front office has signed five outside free agents, in addition to making a key re-signing in bringing back starting defensive end Larry Ogunjobi.
In recent weeks, the team has added two more defensive linemen among outside free agents, namely Breiden Fehoko and Armon Watts. Both are veteran players with substantial playing experience, particularly Watts, but what does that mean for the 2023 NFL Draft? Not a great deal, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ray Fittipaldo feels.
“The signings of Breiden Fehoko and Armon Watts are depth signings. They’re basically going to compete with Montravius Adams at nose tackle”, he said in response to a chat question yesterday about the signings affecting early draft consideration. “The Steelers signing them means nothing when it comes to the draft. If they can find a long-term replacement for Cam Heyward I don’t think they’ll hesitate to draft him and maybe draft him high”.
Heyward, who will turn 34 in early May, is a perennial Pro Bowler who thus far has gotten the better of Father Time, but the Steelers are tempting fate without having a suitable reserve capable of stepping up. They did use a third-round draft pick last year on DeMarvin Leal, but he’s not clearly earmarked for a future starting role in the trenches.
Fittipaldo responded affirmatively to a question regarding whether he believes the Steelers would be open to using one of their top three selections (all in the top 50) on a defensive lineman. He even offered some names, citing Keeanu Benton, Bryan Bresee, and Mazi Smith. You can read our profiles on each in the links attached to their names.
He was also asked specifically about whether the Steelers would have interest in Smith and mentioned that they had gone to his Pro Day. “They are doing their homework on him”, Fittipaldo said. “He’s big and can stop the run. He’s also freakishly athletic for someone his size, which has led to questions as to why he didn’t have better numbers in college. I think he’s a tough evaluation. If you get him at 49 that’s probably a better value than 32”.
Aside from the obviousness of the final sentence, the point stands. And I agree that it would make more sense to draft Smith at 49, if available, than to take him at 32. There will likely be better options for players at other positions on the earlier day-two selection.
As far as Fehoko and Watts go, each signed just one-year contracts, likely for the minimum salary. At least in the case of Fehoko, he had no signing bonus. Watts may not, either, in which case they are no-risk signings. Even if they fail to make the roster, it will have cost the Steelers nothing to give them a try. If either or both fail to make the team, however, one hopes that it’s because the Steelers found much better options and not just because they struggled.