It’s been quite the offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers under GM Omar Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl, as far as roster changes go. Quite frankly, it’s been the busiest offseason in franchise history.
Despite all of the moving and shaking, one glaring hole remains ahead of the 2023 season, at least according to Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz.
That hole isn’t what you’d think currently, either.
No, it’s not slot cornerback. Instead, it’s linebacker — both inside and outside.
“Linebacker depth is a problem for the Steelers both outside and inside. On the outside, the main backups to T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith are Quincy Roche, who had 2.5 sacks for the 2021 Giants but could get on the field in only three games last year, and fourth-round rookie Nick Herbig, who got a moderate projection in Football Outsiders’ SackSEER system,” Schatz writes regarding the Steelers’ roster for ESPN.com. “On the inside, new arrivals Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts are backed up by former Giants starter Tae Crowder, who was cut by New York and ended last season on the Steelers’ practice squad, and ex-Seahawks linebacker Tanner Muse, primarily a special teamer. There’s also Mark Robinson, who saw 44 defensive snaps last year as a seventh-round rookie. The 2022 Steelers had six different linebackers play at least 35% of defensive snaps, so the Steelers are likely going to need some of these guys to step up and perform alongside the starters.”
Outside linebacker behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith is a much larger hole than the one at inside linebacker behind Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts and Mark Robinson, at least on paper.
Yes, the Steelers drafted Wisconsin edge Nick Herbig in the fourth round in hopes that he will solidify the No. 3 role behind Watt and Highsmith, and that Roche can be a solid No. 4. But Herbig is pretty small for the position overall with serious length concerns for outside linebacker in Pittsburgh’s defense.
Khan has stated that the Steelers will move him around due to his versatility to play inside and outside at linebacker. His versatility, toughness and bloodline undoubtedly interested the Steelers in the pre-draft process before he was selected in the fourth round but counting on him as the clearcut No. 3 behind Highsmith and Watt feels like a gamble.
As far as inside linebacker, there is no real depth behind Holcomb as the true MACK in the Steelers’ defense, though Robinson and even Tae Crowder can handle the BUCK role behind Roberts, should injury occur. Holcomb has dealt with injuries in the past, which have taken him off the field, so the Steelers would be wise to look at the open market to see who they could add.
Potential targets for OLB3 include Jacob Martin, who was recently released by the Broncos but has 74 career games in the NFL with 15 starts, and more than 1,000 career special-teams snaps on his resume. There’s also the potential of a veteran like Markus Golden, who has 47.0 career sacks, as well as names like Vince Biegel, Ben Banogu, Trey Flowers, and even a Derrek Tuszka.
Behind Holcomb, potential targets could include a guy like Zach Cunningham, who the Steelers have had past interest in, or even guys like veteran Rashaan Evans and Travin Howard. They could fill that MACK role as a coverage-capable linebacker who could potentially handle a three-down role.