Defense remains focus as Pittsburgh Steelers prepare draft strategy

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 12: Skyler Howard
AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 12: Skyler Howard /

The Pittsburgh Steelers are headed to their second-straight defensive minded NFL Draft.

Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. That’s all Pittsburgh and their fans were focused on during the 2017 season as they mentally prepared for the NFL Draft. Right up until the season ended.

Now, a quarterback isn’t even on their mind. With Ben Roethlisberger headed back for the next three seasons, the urgency to draft the next gunslinger in Pittsburgh has become nonexistent.

In a draft filled with four or five first-round quarterbacks all showing superstar potential, the Steelers easily could’ve taken advantage of Big Ben’s retirement. But having No. 7 return is way better than drafting anyone. As a future Hall of Famer, what Roethlisberger brings to this team is unreplaceable.

So, once again, Pittsburgh’s draft has become “fill in the blanks on defense.” Last year it was an edge rusher. This season, the Steelers’ needs reign at inside linebacker and safety.

Luckily, as stacked as this year’s draft is with quarterbacks, there are plenty of stars on the defensive side of the ball as well. Maybe there won’t be an inside linebacker drafted in the top 10, but once the 28th pick comes about, Pittsburgh will have plenty of stars they could call on. Malik Jefferson, Leighton Van Esch, Rahsaan Evans, just to name a few.

Pittsburgh’s first pick needs to be an inside backer. Ryan Shazier’s future is still unknown, and for the foreseeable future, it will remain uncertain. As great as L.T. Fort was when called upon as a starter, there needs to be a playmaker replacing the Pro Bowl linebacker.

Then, there’s the issue of safety. Sean Davis is the future. No one’s thinking of replacing him, nor should they be. The tenacious attitude he brings to the field is what Pittsburgh football has always been about.

Mike Mitchell could be someone on his way out, though. His value to this team was undoubtably greater during Artie Burns’ and Sean Davis’ first year. But now, the third-year defensive backs are capable of holding their own, and therefore, Mitchell’s leadership isn’t needed.

Talent wise, Mitchell is someone who can make or break a defense depending on his play that week. The problem, is that the Steelers are in a position where they only need one or two pieces to be one of the best defensive units in the NFL.

Keeping Mitchell isn’t a bad move. He’s a veteran who can handle being a side piece to a secondary. But if Pittsburgh wants to turn this defense into a next level unit, they’ll need to create a Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark backfield. Sean Davis isn’t Polamalu yet, but he’s on his way. Unfortunately, Mitchell isn’t Clark, which means it could be time to find someone who is.

Next: Breaking down the Steelers free agency situation

Safety draft prospects include players like Jordan Whitehead, Terrell Edmunds, Ronnie Harrison and plenty of others. With the amount of talent at the position this year, taking a safety, most-likely in the second round, is an option the Steelers need to explore.