It’s time again for the column you hate to love: “What the Steelers didn’t get in the draft.”
Well, I love this column. My readers seem to hate it. But you sure do fill up my inbox and Twitter mentions to tell me as much. So you must at least look forward to reading it so you can rip me for it.
And that’s just fine by me.
I get it. After the NFL Draft ends, no fan base wants to think that needs remain. At that point, the roster is perfectly positioned for a 17-0 run to the Super Bowl.
Plus, hey, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted another Heyward. With two Heywards, two Watts, two Edmunds and two Davis brothers on the same roster, how could they possibly lose a game now, right?
Not to mention, the front office might have drafted the quarterback of the future in Kenny Pickett, filled two of their three departures at wide receiver and got depth at defensive end.
Unfortunately, I do think a few issues still need to be addressed between now and the start of the season.
After all, the draft is only seven rounds long, and with all the questions this team faced as it scraped itself off the turf in Kansas City following their first-round playoff loss, they couldn’t have all possibly been answered in one offseason.
Defensive back depth
Or maybe even a starter at cornerback?
I mean, between Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon, Justin Layne and Cameron Sutton do any of them stand out as No. 1 lockdown corner? Or is it just kind of a bunch of so-so guys?
As for safety, the Steelers are getting both of their starters back: Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds. But Edmunds is only returning on a one-year deal, still with no clear-cut successor. Unless Karl Joseph, Miles Killebrew or Tre Norwood suddenly show starting potential this year, they might be in the same position as they were the week before the draft, with a glaring hole at that position.
Heading into the draft, some thought the Steelers might be wise to spend a first-round pick on Michigan’s Dax Hill or Georgia’s Lewis Cine even after Edmunds re-signed. Those two ended up going as the last two picks in the first round to the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings, respectively. But the Steelers went with Pickett at No. 20 instead.
Maybe defensive back is a position that could’ve been addressed if the team hadn’t traded away its fifth-rounder when it was in a pinch to acquire Avery Williamson from the New York Jets following Devin Bush’s injury in 2020.
“Every time you go into a draft, you wish you had more (picks),” GM Kevin Colbert said. “You understand that you could have that lull (after the fourth round), and you wish you could have (that pick). But you didn’t. The reality is coming away with seven picks, it was good.”
The Steelers have plenty of numbers at defensive back. Aside from Fitzpatrick, though, I question how much star power exists and if there is a corner truly capable of being what Joe Haden was for this organization the past five years.
A threat to start at tackle
Like at defensive back, the Steelers seem to be a lot more confident in their depth chart at this position than I am.
Also similar to defensive back, I think you can look at the prospect of improving the talent that’s already there as opposed to just filling holes.
The franchise got more out of 2021 fourth-round draft choice Dan Moore Jr. at left tackle than expected in his rookie season. But coach Mike Tomlin and Colbert appear higher on him and right tackle Chuks Okorafor than I think they should be.
To the tune of a three-year, $29.25 million contract this offseason for Okorafor.
“We added to that mix in free agency,” Tomlin said of the offensive line and secondary. “There are two ways we add to that talent pool. Free agency and draft. We felt really comfortable with what we were able to do in free agency and both rooms.”
That’s true with Wallace at corner and with Mason Cole and James Daniels along the interior of the offensive line. But I’d still like to see an upgrade behind Moore and Okorafor at tackle, if not someone better than them to eventually win the starting job.
But that probably won’t happen until next year — if at all.
Another option to spell Najee Harris
For now, it appears Benny Snell is still the best bet to be Najee Harris’ backup. He totaled only 98 yards on 27 carries for a 2.7-yard average last season. He has combined for 892 yards in his career.
Anthony McFarland hasn’t been able to avoid injury or work his way into the lineup very often. He managed just 42 touches in his first two years.
The club was very fortunate that Harris stayed as healthy as he did after 381 touches a season ago. He needs some meaningful help, and the Steelers need a better second back in case Harris gets hurt for a significant stretch of time in 2022.
A potential Devin Bush replacement
There was one on the board in the first round when the Steelers took Pickett. That was Devin Lloyd from Utah. He was selected 27th by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Five others went between Pickett and when the Steelers took DeMarvin Leal in Round 3. A pair of decent prospects in Georgia’s Channing Tindall and Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal were still on the board after Leal’s name was called.
Colbert wouldn’t commit one way or the other on Bush’s fifth-year option when he was asked about the topic Saturday. But forget replacing him next year. The Steelers need more quality play at that position this year.
The hope is Myles Jack will be a step up from Joe Schobert. Robert Spillane is a reliable backup. However, the Steelers are still hunting for starting quality performance at that spot.
A third outside linebacker
The Steelers had this same void after last year’s draft. They thought they addressed it prior to the 2021 season when Melvin Ingram signed. Initially, that seemed to be quite a find.
It didn’t end up being that way as Ingram was traded to Kansas City before the season ended. Taco Charlton has also moved on to New Orleans.
“It’s not overly concerning. But it is also something we are capable of addressing,” Tomlin said of the depth at outside linebacker.
For now, Derek Tuszka looks like the next man up behind TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at email@example.com or via Twitter† All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.