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Is defensive line really the biggest hole on the Steelers’ roster?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have holes on their roster, but is the biggest one along their defensive front?

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have holes on their roster, there is no denying this simple fact. When you are trying to rank them, it depends on who you talk to as to what position tops the list.

Just some of the glaring needs on the roster which still remain after the first wave of free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft would be:

  • A genuine CB1
  • Running back depth
  • Defensive line depth
  • Slot wide receiver
  • Inside linebacker
  • Depth at outside linebacker

I’m sure those reading this could add more positions to this list, but recently ESPN decided to take a stab at the biggest hole on all 32 teams’ rosters. What might surprise some, they had the defensive line as the biggest hole on the 2022 Steelers roster.

See their explanation below:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Biggest hole: Defensive line

The Steelers’ defensive front is shallow and getting long in the tooth, even if Cameron Heyward, 33, remains an unblockable menace (10 sacks, 53 pressures in 2021).

At the other two spots, Pittsburgh is relying on a pair of players, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, who combined for 57 snaps in 2021. Tuitt missed all of last season due to a combination of knee injury and mourning the death of his brother. He has yet to commit to anything for the coming season — the team remains hopeful but vague whenever asked about Tuitt’s status. Nose tackle Alualu was lost in Week 2 to a broken ankle and is entering his age-35 season.

Behind them are journeyman Chris Wormley and third-round pick DeMarvin Leal of Texas A&M, a middling athlete who disappointed on tape, though playing end in a 3-4 front might be suited to his skill set. Obviously, the Steelers can still generate a pass rush, but they were 27th against the run by DVOA last year. Unless Tuitt and Alualu return to form, that may not improve much.

As I stated before, it isn’t as if the defensive line isn’t a concern, or a hole as ESPN put it, entering the 2022 season. But is it the biggest hole?

To me, that’s a difficult answer.

The Steelers defensive line depth was improved this offseason, mainly in the drafting of DeMarvin Leal in the 3rd Round of the 2022 NFL Draft. While many viewed the Leal pick as Tuitt’s replacement, I saw it as an insurance policy. If Tuitt can return, Leal will play sparingly and be able to get his feet wet at the NFL level. If Tuitt, for whatever reason, doesn’t play in 2022, Leal provides quality depth, and options along the line.

When you consider the depth the team has assembled currently, even if you leave Tuitt off the list, you have to wonder who will, and won’t, make the 53-man roster.

Cam Heyward
Tyson Alualu
Chris Wormley
DeMarvin Leal
Isaiahh Loudermilk
Carlos Davis
Khalil Davis
Montravius Adams
Henry Mondeaux

These aren’t even all the players listed on the team’s roster. There are the undrafted rookie free agents (UDFAs) and those on reserve/future contracts I didn’t list above.

But back to the question at hand, is the defensive line really the biggest hole on the roster? Yes, a lot hinges on the return of Tuitt, but I don’t necessarily feel as if the defensive line is so depleted there would be a giant drop off even if Tuitt doesn’t return.

On the flip side of this argument is what fans witnessed in 2021 when both Tuitt and Alualu were lost along the line. Loudermilk, who many thought would get a year to learn the position at the NFL level, was thrust into the lineup, and Adams played just days after being taken off the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad.

Maybe the defensive line is the biggest hole on the roster, but for me the depth along the line isn’t far-and-away the biggest need like it was a year ago. But I’m curious what you think? Do you agree with ESPN’s analysis, or are there other needs which need addressed first? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.