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Steelers Post-Draft Roster Review, Part 7: Outside Linebackers

The NFL Draft is over and the Steelers have added many new faces to the roster. In this series, we’ll take a look at each position and what you need to know as the offseason rolls on. In Part Seven, we’ll break down the Outside Linebackers.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers OTA Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers Outside Linebacker (OLB) position group has a lot to boast about, but there’s also cause for some concern. Let’s dive right into this polarizing group of players.

The Players

T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Derek Tuszka, Genard Avery, Tuzar Skipper, Delontae Scott, T.D. Moultry, Tyree Johnson

Group Breakdown

The Steelers like to do things differently than the rest of the NFL. We know that. But one of the more interesting differences is in how they designate player positions. Only two of the players mentioned above are actually labelled outside linebackers (Tuszka, Avery), while the rest are given the simple designation of linebacker (LB).

In a way, it speaks to the versatility that the team requires of its EDGE defenders. In the traditional 3-4 defensive scheme the Steelers have deployed since the early Dick LeBeau years, Steelers’ OLBs are not strictly pass-rushers, as they are frequently asked to drop back into coverage on Tight Ends and Running Backs. That being said, Pittsburgh currently boasts the best pass-rusher in the business in none other than T.J. Watt, the reigning 2021 Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY).

To borrow a Mike Tomlin catch phrase, the volume of Watt’s work speaks for itself. It is not hyperbole to say Watt should be the favorite to repeat as DPOY in 2022 and be one of the best players again in all of football, regardless of position.

Watt’s running mate on the outside is the ever-improving Alex Highsmith. All the signs are there pointing to a potential breakout year in 2022 for the UNC Charlotte alum. The Steelers are looking for this breakout intently to take some of the pressure off of the All-World Watt, and establish the duo as one of the best in football. Highsmith’s work ethic and tenacity cannot be questioned, and if he can combine his improving talent with those qualities, watch out for the 3rd-year pro.

This is where it get’s a little cloudy for Pittsburgh. After Watt and Highsmith there is a serious drop-off in experience and production, with Derek Tuszka and Genard Avery having the best combination of the two, but still leaving the Steelers without a truly impactful 3rd rusher. Finding a player to fit that role is crucial, and could easily be an area the team addresses before the start of the season.

That's not to discount Tuszka, who showed flashes of ability with 2 sacks in the final three games of the season, or Avery, who also has some solid tape out there, specifically his rookie season in Cleveland. Also, the team brought back training camp sensation and fan-favorite Tuzar Skipper, an undrafted free agent (UDFA) in Pittsburgh in 2019, after brief stints with the Giants and Titans. Could he recoup some of the magic that earned him a spot on the original 53-man roster in 2019? If not, he’ll have on his heals the likes of Delontae Scott, T.D. Moultry, and Tyree Johnson, who all similarly have something to prove as UDFAs and/or former practice squad guys.

Depth Chart Prediction

This specific Roster Review exercise is all about who steps up at the number three EDGE role. The Steelers will likely take a long look at what they have in house before attempting to fill that spot with a veteran Free Agent who may or may not end up having a “hostage” mentality. We all know how that flies with Coach Tomlin. It doesn’t. Right now, my money is on Derek Tuszka earning those reps early after a strong finish to his 2021 campaign.

Expect big seasons from both T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith in 2022, with the latter taking another step in his development as a Bud Dupree-like force opposite the incomparable Watt. In order for this team to be a legitimate contender in the AFC, the Defense will need to be a difference-making unit, and that starts with continued success for these two key contributors.

LEFT OLB: T.J. Watt, Derek Tuszka

RIGHT OLB: Alex Highsmith, Tuzar Skipper

PRACTICE SQUAD: Delontae Scott


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