Let me preface this exercise by saying I believe there is still plenty of good that can come out of the 2022 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite their 1-4 record, the Steelers sit just two games behind the Baltimore Ravens who are in first place in the division at 3-2, and the schedule eases up after the bye (Week 9) when T.J. Watt is reported to hopefully return.
Kenny Pickett has shown plenty of traits that make you think he could be a really good quarterback for a long time. George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth are big-time, young pieces on offense to build around.
This version of the Pittsburgh Steelers, however, might be the most shallow of recent memory, despite a decent amount of sizzle at the top of the roster. This issue is no more apparent than at edge rusher, where the loss of T.J. Watt has turned the entire defense on its head. Despite elevated play from Alex Highsmith, the Steelers other depth pieces have been underwhelming at best.
On the other side of the ball, the offensive line lacks explosiveness in the run game, forcing the team’s recent high draft picks at the skill positions to inefficient, plodding performances throughout the early portion of the season.
That’s just a birds-eye-view of the issues we’re seeing. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find inconsistency or a lack of depth across nearly every position. The team’s under-the-radar disregard for the trenches with their high profile draft picks in recent years has come back to bite in a bad way.
On the latest episode of The Steelers Fix podcast from Tuesday, Andrew Wilbar and I took a look at the most pressing issues on the roster and how the Steelers can address each one. We agreed that the 5 positions below were the Steelers biggest needs as we sit here today. Here’s how I prioritized them.
1. EDGE RUSHER
HOW TO ADDRESS: 1st Round Pick
Steelers fans’ biggest fear came true at the end of 4th quarter of the team’s lone victory in week 1 when All-World sack master TJ Watt incurred a significant injury that would sideline him for a large chunk of the season. Needless to say, his absence is felt, and the biggest reason is that the tram’s depth at the position is strikingly bad.
The Steelers could do a lot to remedy this issue with a high draft pick on an impact player off the edge. Highsmith will likely price himself out of Pittsburgh when he hits free agency in 2024, but a blue-chip talent on a Rookie contract joining him and Watt for the 2023 would be a drastic improvement for this team.
HOW TO ADDRESS: 1st or 2nd Round Pick
You could argue that the Steelers haven’t had a true lock down since prime Ike Taylor, or maybe Joe Haden when he first arrived in Pittsburgh. Akhello Witherspoon, Cam Sutton, and Levi Wallace are solid players, but they don’t have that ability to really take away half of the field the way an elite outside cover-man could do.
With today’s high-powered offenses, having a shutdown corner that fits your defensive scheme is a game changer. The Steelers would be wise to address this spot early in the draft.
3. OFFENSIVE TACKLE
HOW TO ADDRESS: 1st or 2nd Round Pick
What’s the first thing you do when you make a big investment? You protect that investment. When you find a Kenny Pickett at QB, who I think will be a winner for a long time, you need better than a Dan Moore Jr. protecting your guy’s blind spot and be a bully in the run game to help take the pressure off your young QB to do it all for the offense.
The Steelers haven’t spent a 1st or 2nd round pick at OT since Mike Adams in 2012 (2nd Round), the same year they took Guard David DeCastro in Round 1. You have to be able to draft and develop 4 and 5 star talents along the OL to be successful at the NFL level and the Steelers just haven’t prioritize that in there recent draft strategies. It’s time to turn back the clock in that regard.
4. INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE
HOW TO ADDRESS: Early Draft Pick and/or Priority Free Agent
I am a firm believer in the thought that you can’t have too many really good, young talents on the defensive line. What better way to build a contender than by building a dominant front 7 that can wreck shop no matter who’s in the game? The Steelers should be excited about the potential of 2022 Rookie 3rd rounder DeMarvin Leal. His tape is getting better every week.
But Cam Heyward isn’t getting any younger, Tyson Alualu almost looks shot, and Larry Ogunjobi might not be anything more than a 1-year rental. I would love to see the Steelers devote several assets to this position group in 2023. Defensive Tackles come cheaper than edge rushers or cornerbacks in Free Agency, so buying one for now while developing one for the future is a winning strategy.
5. OFFENSIVE GUARD
HOW TO ADDRESS: Priority Free Agent and/or Mid-Round Pick
You don’t need a transcendent Running Back to be effective on the ground if you have a punishing offensive line. But put that type of OL in front of a guy like Najee Harris and you all of a sudden have a truly scary offense. Guards might be the most underrated players on the field, but they can absolutely alter the course of a game with stellar play. Because a stud OG is relatively inexpensive on the open market compared to some other higher-profile positions, go get a guy in Free Agency with a nasty demeanor and proven upside and draft to develop in the middle rounds.
Its pretty clear to see that the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers are soft and shallow in the trenches, and that’s what is really holding back this team in 2022.
The winning formula for the Steelers is to be bullies in the run game to set up a smart and efficient air attack. Combine that with deep, dominant defense, and you have a path to success.
Addressing these 5 needs in 2023 would be a good start.
What is the Steelers most pressing team need?
This poll is closed
In case you missed the latest Steelers Fix podcast, you can check out the latest episode where we talk about this in the player below.