Buy Or Sell: Steelers Will Carry At Least 11 Defensive Backs In 2023

With the Steelers’ 2023 offseason underway following a disappointing season that came up just short of reaching the playoffs, it’s time to begin reloading, through the free agency process, through the draft, and perhaps even through trade.

This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense. Both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Changes have been made to the coaching staff, even if not all of the desired ones, as the roster continues to renew with the weeks ticking by.

These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).

Topic Statement: The Steelers will carry (at least) 11 defensive backs into the regular season on the 53-man roster.

Explanation: With roster spots always a precious commodity, most teams tend to reserve 10 of them for their defensive backs, sometimes maybe even nine, unless they have enough on the roster that really merit it, with correspondingly weak positions elsewhere on the roster to accommodate.


Just look at what the Steelers currently have among players with significant NFL experience, combined with their draft class.

Cornerback: Patrick Peterson, Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon, James Pierre, Arthur Maulet, Chandon Sullivan, Joey Porter Jr., and Cory Trice Jr.

Safety: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal, Tre Norwood, and Miles Killebrew

Okay, so eliminate Witherspoon under the assumption that he’ll get released. You still have Peterson, Wallace, Porter, and Pierre on the outside with Maulet and Sullivan on the inside, and that’s not even factoring in Trice.

At safety, you have that whole group staying, with Killebrew being the mainstay special teamer. They’ve already had enough turnover on special teams, so we can probably count on the fact that he won’t be going anywhere.

The Steelers like to play a lot of dime packages and they like to use three-safety looks as well. That means you need depth. They can find a roster spot somewhere.


This is looking like a crowded roster, and likely another year with seven defensive linemen, which is going to eat into a key roster spot. Even with concerns over depth in the middle, nine linebackers should be a safe bet as well with Tanner Muse being a special teamer. They may be able to get away with eight.

But you’re not having fewer than nine offensive linemen or three quarterbacks, and between the running back and tight end room, you’re likely looking at a minimum of seven, maybe even eight, with Darnell Washington.

The biggest question is at wide receiver, but you have a guaranteed five, including a return man. If it comes down to a seventh defensive lineman and an 11th defensive back, the call is obviously going to be the defensive line. If the Steelers believed so much in James Pierre they would have given him a restricted free agent tender. He and Trice, maybe even Wallace, may be competing for one roster spot. And Norwood is down to the fourth safety at best now. That makes his spot vulnerable as well, with special teamers always subject to being replaced in regard to Killebrew.

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