As we continue with our 2015 NFL Draft Point/Counterpoint articles, today we debate whether the Steelers should look to solidify the defensive line with their first round pick in the upcoming draft. Obviously, selecting 22nd gives the team limited options, but who they target is the main focus of this feature. We have already discussed selecting a cornerback and a pass rusher in previous articles, and today we discuss addressing the needs along the defensive line.
Point - Mike Frazer
A lot of Steelers fans would love to see the team draft a stud of a defensive tackle. Ever since Casey Hampton and the team parted ways after the 2013 season, people have clamored for that next enormous space eater to absorb double-and triple-team blocks. The desire has merit: the team has fallen off in run defense, and many attribute that largely to the lack of a massive, intimidating presence anchoring the line.
Plenty have lamented the fact that, no, Steve McLendon is not the next Casey Hampton, but that is most definitely not the reason I think drafting a defensive tackle in the first round would be a great idea. I happen to like McLendon, and I think his athleticism and slimmer (compared to "Big Snack", at least), stronger frame is an asset, not a hindrance.
My reason is much, much simpler: options.
For as much as I love the 3-4 defense, it's impossible for a team to spend most of their time in their base alignment. Offenses are, more and more, designed around speed and misdirection. The 3-4 defense is built to freeze a team's running game, but offenses are utilizing the pass more often -- even using screens and short passes to replace hand-offs on running downs. Look no further than Heinz Field to see that happening regularly.
To counter these offenses, teams need to be more versatile on defense. The Seattle Seahawks are doing this to near-perfection by drafting guys who excel at a handful of aspects of their defense and rotating players in and out based on the situation; however, the Steelers have two true defensive tackles on their roster -- McLendon and Daniel McCullers -- limiting their options to be "multiple".
The downside to the argument is that there are only five or six guys at the position who may be worth using a first-round pick on, and fewer who are basically round-one locks: Leonard Williams, Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown and Eddie Goldman. If they're gone, the value may not be there at 22, even though it might be 28 or so.
But if one of them happens to still be around when the Steelers are on the clock?
Well...a man can dream, can't he?
Counterpoint - Jeff Hartman
Do the Steelers have issues with depth along the defensive line? Yes. Does that equate to the team needing to spend a first round draft pick on a defensive lineman? No. Simply put, the Steelers defense has more demanding positions of need than along the defensive front.
As stated in Mike's 'point' argument, McLendon and McCullers make up the nose tackle position, and Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward lock down the end positions with Cam Thomas being the depth along the line. In a perfect world, the team only needs one more defense end/tackle to fill out the depth chart.
The team has some capable players within their system currently as they re-signed Clifton Geathers this offseason and have players like Ethan Hemer and Joe Kruger who spent the 2014 season on the team's practice squad and are looking for a chance to break through to the a full-time position on the 53-man roster in 2015.
The Steelers most certainly need to address the defensive tackle position in the upcoming draft, but certainly not in the first round. The perfect player would have to fall to the Steelers for that to happen, and although that situation most certainly could happen, the team also has to prepare for it not to happen.
With the 22nd overall pick, I'd prefer the Steelers to look at the best player available between the positions of OLB, CB and safety - not in any particular order. Draft a DT in the early-to-mid rounds to help bolster the depth heading into the 2015 season.