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Looking deeper at the Steelers needs on defense heading into the 2020 NFL Draft

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What type of players could make an impact this year?

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Jets

As we approach the 2020 draft, I wanted to cover the needs on the Steelers in more depth than just listing a position as a need, but look at what the Steelers have, and what they lack at each position, and what skill sets would add value to each position.

Disclaimer: I’m not a huge college football guy, I’ve watched some film on a lot of players, the picks are players I think meet the criteria I’m laying out, I don’t look too closely at prospects till the Steelers draft them.


Interior defensive line

The most important part of this equation is the loss of Javon Hargrave at nose tackle. Hargrave isn’t an old-school nose tackle, and to show that here’s a quick strengths and weaknesses breakdown of Hargrave from his 2019 film. The current NT on the team is Daniel McCullers.

To show how different the two are, here’s a strengths and weaknesses profile for each.

First Javon Hargrave.
Strengths: Quickness, Stunts, lateral movement, shedding pass blockers.
Weaknesses: Allows double team blockers to get to second level, not going to drive blockers into pocket much, doesn’t anchor against double teams and gets driven back a lot.

Now Daniel McCullers.
Strengths: Driving blockers into the pocket, anchoring against double teams, doesn’t let blockers get to the second level as much.
Weaknesses: Slow, doesn’t shed pass blocks, lateral movement is awful.

You can see Daniel McCullers is more of a traditional nose tackle and very different from Hargrave. The Steelers aren’t going to replace Hargrave with a Daniel McCullers.

Draft Outlook: So don’t expect the Steelers to draft an old-school style space eater at NT, they have a passable one now and that skill set isn’t worth enough to carry two. If they do go after a NT it will be a more athletic guy who can penetrate, because that’s what they lost, that’s the hole in the roster. they signed Chris Wormley, so there is a lot of depth at DE and DT.

My 2020 DL picks: If they want a NT with penetration ability someone like Leki Fotu would work. Otherwise they would probably fill that role with McCullers and DTs already on the roster.


Edge

You know the starters, T.J. Watt is a phenomenal pass rusher and play-maker, while Bud Dupree is a very good #2 rusher and a dominant run defender. Behind those 2 are Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper. Two fan favorites from the last two camps looking to do more than just stick on an NFL roster.

Draft Outlook: With Anthony Chickillo no longer on the roster the Steelers are backing up the most athletic edge duo in the NFL with guys that are not high end athletes at all. Unless one of the high-end athletes everyone knows about falls to us, I could see a ST type athlete to develop come into play late i the draft.

My 2020 Edge picks: Jonathan Garvin, Alton Robinson, Casey Toohill.


Inside linebackers

The Steelers have Devin Bush who is great at finding the ball and making plays, they have Vince Williams who is a good run stuffer and passable in easier zone assignments, beyond that they have ST guys in Robert Spillane and Ulysees Gilbert III. Gilbert III looked good in preseason in coverage, but didn’t get on the field on defense before his injury ended his season. The Steelers lost Mark Barron and could benefit a lot from replacing his ability to cover TE’s in man from a LB position.

Draft Outlook: There’s some great prospects to fill Barron’s role, but they aren’t likely to be around when the Steelers pick, and while there’s also some developmental athletes I like, this isn’t a situation where the Steelers can afford to take a flier, the only spot on this unit is a skill set of strong coverage ability right now. Beyond that they are drafting a guy to compete with Spillane and Gilbert III.

My 2020 LB picks: Troy Dye, Malik Harrison.


Cornerback

The Steelers return all of their top 4 corners from 2019, with Joe Haden, Stephen Nelson, Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton forming a very good group of cornerbacks.

Draft Outlook: The depth behind those 4 is weak, with Justin Layne the only one with snaps to his name, and they were all on special teams. This leaves the Steelers with room to bring in a developmental player, like one of those 5th round corners they like to draft that rarely work out, but could afford to pick because they don’t need someone here.

My 2020 CB picks: I wouldn’t take one, but Bryce Hall is an athlete from Virginia that could also play safety, and they met with Amik Robertson at the Combine, he’s small and physical. So one of those would make sense as a Mike Tomlin pick.


Safety

Minkah Fitzpatrick was amazing in 2019 for the Steelers, and Terrell Edmunds is a solid starter at strong safety. But Edmunds is not a great deep zone safety, his strengths are man coverage and being fast to the ball to rack up tackles. At the same time Minkah Fitzpatrick was easy for teams to avoid late in the season, and should be moving around more in 2020.

Draft Outlook: There is a want, maybe even a need for a deep safety on this roster, the Steelers by the end of the year were experimenting with altering both cover-2 and cover-3 formations to get CBs deep and their safeties in shorter zones, so the coaches know it too. If they take a safety, it will be someone they like in deep zone roles.

My 2020 Safety picks: Jeremy Chin, Terrell Burgess, David Dowell


Drafting defense for the Steelers

I like offense for #49, unless someone like a Patrick Queen or Antoine Winfield Jr. magically falls that far.

There’s a lot of defensive needs here, depth at OLB is a lot of snaps, and our 3-4 system needs athletes at that position, we don’t have athletes behind Dupree and Watt. The Steelers need to replace Barron’s ability to man up athletic TEs, and it is far more valuable if that player can also play linebacker at a decent level (AKA don’t just plug in a safety into this role).

The Steelers need depth at safety that can come in and play deep zone right away, and they need to fill the NT hole left by Javon Hargrave. There’s not a lot of draft capital to fill all these spots. It feels like there are more holes on defense than the Steelers usually allow, but it could be that the Steelers think Tyson Alualu can play NT, that Adeniyi can play 3-4 OLB good enough, and that Edmunds and Fitzpatrick and CBs can handle the deep zones like they did last year and also cover for Mark Barron’s loss. I think that every hole they leave open will lead to regression on the defense, and it will be interesting to see which ones they can fill.