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DeMarvin Leal is a riddle the Steelers must solve in 2023

The Steelers need to solve the DeMarvin Leal riddle to reach their defensive peak in 2023.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

There really can be no doubt. The 2023 offseason has already been the most exciting offseason in Steelers history, and Omar Khan is still making moves.

One thing's for certain, the Steelers have no plans to patiently rebuild their roster. They intend to contend, and they are determined to do so immediately.

Offseasons under former GM Kevin Colbert were painfully boring and predictable. New GM Omar Khan has been anything but predictable, and consistently aggressive. Khan's creativity has been impressive, and he hasn't mortgaged the future to strengthen the present. The Khan Artist has earned his nickname.

With Khan and company still actively adding talent to the training camp roster, there have been plenty of rumors floating around about the Steelers interest in some veteran linebackers, both of the off ball and edge variety. The whispers make sense, seeing how the Steelers could use additional depth at both positions.

We are going to focus on the edge position for this article. The Steelers possess the best edge tandem in the NFL in T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. However, the depth behind the starters is inexperienced and unproven.

The Steelers drafted Wisconsin whirling dervish Nick Herbig in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft, but Herbig appears destined to be a ILB/Edge hybrid. The Steelers front office has admitted no less, confessing their belief that he is capable of contributing at both positions eventually. Only time will tell, but Herbig is currently listed on the edge depth chart. Nick Herbig is talented, but after everything is said and done, he is still an unproven rookie.

The Steelers do have Quincy Roche on the depth chart, a player they originally drafted out of Miami in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Roche actually enjoyed an impressive training camp and preseason for the Steelers, but was a surprise subtraction during final cuts. Roche was quickly claimed off waivers by the New York Giants. Roche has been up and down from the practice squad to the active roster multiple times in the past two seasons with the Giants. He recently signed a reserve/future contract with the Steelers in January.

I have always believed that Roche could potentially carve out a role as a pass rushing specialist. Roche has an impressive pass rush repertoire, and he has 2.5 sacks on his NFL resume in extremely limited action. That being said, Roche is basically a one trick pony without noteworthy special teams abilities, so sticking around as the #4 edge might be his ceiling.

Needless to say, the Steelers could use some proven depth, hence the aforementioned rumors. Khan and company may decide to bring in some veteran help in the near future, or the Steelers might be counting on the versatility displayed by one of last year's rookies; DeMarvin Leal.

DeMarvin Leal is a riddle wrapped up in an enigma. What is he? Better yet, what position should he play? Leal is the classic tweener, lacking the ideal size and strength for the defensive line, and the speed and mobility to excel on the edge.

Leal was an All American defensive lineman in the SEC for Texas A&M in 2021, before deciding to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. Leal's testing numbers at the Combine were disappointing to say the least, and they caused him to fall in the draft, where the Steelers selected him in the third round in 2022.

The game film revealed a highly productive performer, but the testing numbers left much to be desired, resulting in a puzzling conundrum. Was DeMarvin Leal another Jarvis Jones situation? A collegiate standout who lacked the requisite athleticism to excel in the NFL.

Leal weighed in at 283lbs at the Combine, noticeably less than his collegiate playing weight, presumably to improve his testing numbers. Whatever the reason, it didn't work.

Leal's 5.00 forty and underwhelming explosive measurables revealed he isn't a quick twitch type athlete, and his 17 reps on the bench press suggested he needed to improve his functional strength, especially if his lack of quickness limited him to the defensive line.

All of the uncertainty didn't deter the Steelers from pulling the trigger on Leal in the third round. They saw a versatile hybrid with potential, possessing an old school baller's intensity. I saw a player capable of giving the defense valuable reps on the edge.

Leal didn't disappoint. He showed enough strength to set the edge, and enough mobility to effectively navigate through traffic to the ball carrier on outside zone responsibilities. He even showed some pass rush potential, especially during the preseason.

Although Leal's rookie season was impacted by an early season injury, he showed enough potential to suggest he should factor prominently in the Steelers defensive plans moving forward. It's anybody's guess exactly where that might be, meaning positionally.

That's another reason I am so interested in seeing Leal at the upcoming OTAs. What suggestions did the Steelers give Leal at his season ending exit interview? Focus on cutting weight and adding explosiveness, or bulking up and improving his functional strength. We should know more when he reports to the facilities.

Either way, I wholeheartedly believe that DeMarvin Leal factors heavily into the Steelers defensive plans for 2023, and beyond.