The Pittsburgh Steelers have been working hard over the last few seasons to rebuild their defense. Since 2011, and with the exception of 2012, the organization has spent their first round draft pick on a defensive athlete. As the first week of free agency calms down, the Steelers have yet to make a splash on the defensive side.
There are several areas that need to be addressed to give a more comfortable feel to the organization going into the 2016 season. The retirement of veteran Heath Miller left a gaping hole at the tight end position. This was recently addressed with the signing of LaDarius Green, who was picked up in free agency officially on Thursday. This then leaves the defense that needs improved after being ranked 30th in passing yards allowed.
Still Needs Addressed:
While many fans had mixed feelings when the name Eric Weddle came up, his name will no longer be associated with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yesterday, he signed a four-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens worth up to $26 million dollars. He will be guaranteed $13 million which includes $9 million in his first year. It seems like he was more concerned with the money aspect rather than receiving a Lombardi Trophy with Pittsburgh.
The Steelers need depth at the safety position. Re-signing Robert Golden was an excellent move Pittsburgh did this offseason. I actually argued that Golden could have what it takes to be the next starting safety. He still needs to improve going forward but he certainly is an excellent athlete who has shown potential when given the opportunity last season. In the upcoming NFL Draft, a safety would not be a bad idea with the first round draft pick.
A player that has been discussed is Boise State's Darian Thompson, who is an incredible, hard working, athlete. Recently the Pittsburgh Steelers have shown interest with Thompson according to Chris Trapasso, an NFL.com Editor.
Considering Weddle announced his team yesterday, this then leaves a void that still needs to be filled. As for the NFL Draft and the safety position, we will just have to wait and see.
This is arguably one of the major defensive areas that needs to be addressed. Let it be known the Steelers have not drafted a first round cornerback since 1997. Just let that sink in. While many NFL analysts and our very own Jeff Hartman, believe the organization will once again target another defensive area before they go corner. Don't get it twisted, this draft class is absolutely filled with top corners who I believe will succeed in a Keith Butler style defense. The only thing is it may be best to wait until the second round just in case an outstanding player is still on the board.
One athlete that stands out to me is the University of Houston's corner William Jackson III. Jackson III is a physical freak who has all the fundamentals Pittsburgh looks for in an athlete. His aggressive ball skills, break on the underneath routes, and his ability to use his length to his advantage, certainly makes him a better corner than what the organization currently has.
Jackson III would be an excellent pick up for the organization if he is still on the board in the second round. If the Steelers do indeed go corner in the first round, I believe Eli Apple could help the defense succeed going into the 2016 season. The top cornerbacks in the draft will be selected by various teams before the Steelers are on the clock. This then leaves Eli Apple, William Jackson III, Harlan Miller, Cyrus Jones, and a few more who are projected later in the draft. Again, we will just have to wait and see what Pittsburgh does this offseason and in the draft.
Nose Tackle Depth:
When it comes to the nose tackle position it hasn't been solidified since Casey Hampton left in 2012. The Steelers added undrafted free agent Steve McLendon in 2009 and he had a solid 2015 campaign. McLendon was not re-signed prior to the start of the signing period, making him a free agent. The depth at this defensive position is very weak and needs to be addressed in free agency or the NFL Draft. Cam Thomas, who was drafted in the fifth-round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers, was picked up by Pittsburgh in 2014. Thomas is another free agent nose tackle who has interest from the Seattle Seahawks, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The departure of these two defensive players would leave a gaping hole at the position.
The Steelers had an interview with defensive tackle/ nose tackle Vernon Butler from Louisiana Tech. Butler is an upcoming 2016 prospect who can play in both a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. Last season he registered 50 total tackles and 3 sacks. I believe Butler could fill the void if both nose tackles end up leaving due to free agency. Drafting a player like Butler all depends on if the organization believes the defensive front is more important than the secondary. It's now just a matter of waiting to find out.
The last major defensive area that needs to be addressed either in free agency or the NFL Draft is the linebacker depth currently on the roster. The team is in danger of losing a few inside linebackers due to free agency. Terence Garvin, an outstanding special teams player, visited with the Washington Redskins recently. Sean Spence had a visit with the Miami Dolphins and could end up with that organization in the coming days. This leaves the main starters and a respectable backup player in Vince Williams, who has the experience and is highly capable of filling any void that is needed next season.
Finding a linebacker in free agency who maybe has been a solid special teams player for another team is not a bad idea. Just adding some depth at these positions is a good idea just in case any player gets hurt and the "Next Man Up" mentality breaks in.