Roster Breakdown: Analyzing Steelers defensive line in 2019

Here we will take a look at the Steelers defensive linemen. This may be the strongest group on the Steelers.

Steelers 53 Locks

Cameron Heyward is the leader of the Steelers defense. He is also one of the best players the Steelers have. According to Pro Football Focus, he has a 84.9 rating which puts him at the top of the defense.

Heyward has two more years left on his deal and so there could be a contract extension coming in the summer of 2020. He will be playing to prove that he still has some mileage left and I would assume that he does. This contract extension that he might receive is probably the last one he will get in his career for any significant money.

Stephon Tuitt is the other defensive end on the defensive line and he is one of the better players on this team. The knock on Tuitt is that he might be injury prone, but he has played well when healthy.

It doesn’t appear that any of his injuries are significant enough that they could cause a decline in his pay. He still is only 26 and that leads me to believe that he will be the Steelers left defensive end for years to come.

Javon Hargrave is the Steelers nose tackle. He was a bargain in the third round as he has played well when called upon. The nose tackle doesn’t play every down in the Steelers defense. When in nickel or dime, Hargrave is often asked to pass rush from the inside.

Hargrave is entering the last year of his contract and so I am guessing the Steelers will let him test free agency. If this were more of a running league, like in the 90s, Hargrave would be negotiating an extension right now.

PITTSBURGH, PA – DECEMBER 31: Tyson Alualu #94 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates with Javon Hargrave #79 after a sack of DeShone Kizer #7 of the Cleveland Browns in the first quarter during the game at Heinz Field on December 31, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Tyson Alualu just earned himself a two year extension. He has been the Steelers top substitute at defensive end. Alualu also can play the zero-technique when needed. He is up there in age at 32 but he didn’t slow down last year and so that is a sign that he can play into his mid 30s. Alualu was a draft bust as he was taken tenth overall but has made a nice career as a backup for not that much money with the Steelers.

On the Inside Looking Out

Daniel McCullers is a player that is relatively safe to make the roster. The reason that I don’t put him as a lock is that he has never lived up to his potential. He has turned himself into a steady backup nose tackle and that should earn him a helmet on game days. It would be convenient if a young guy could outplay him for less money and a younger age. There isn’t a specific nose tackle that I have in mind that might unseat him.

Roster Bubble

Isaiah Buggs is on the bubble. He was drafted in the sixth round and I think he was good value for where he was picked. It will help his cause to make the team that he has played the 3-4 at Alabama and is capable of playing the inside and the outside. I think he will make the team, but I am not sure because he is a sixth round pick and those guys don’t always stick. What makes him a fit for the Steelers is his physicality.

On the Outside Looking In

Lavon Hooks has been on the Steelers practice squad twice and that is rare. That is a sign that the Steelers like him and think he deserves a shot at the roster over someone new who is an unknown. He is up there in age and would be one of the older rookies in the league if he made the team. I think Buggs has the edge to be the sixth but it is a sign that they like him that they did not resign LT Walton.

Battling for a Practice Squad

Casey Sales is a familiar face as he played the preseason with the Steelers last year. He also was on the Steelers affiliate for the suspended Association of American Football’s Birmingham Iron. He did well in the AAF and so that earned him another shot with the Steelers.

Greg Gilmore is back with the Steelers in 2019. He was an undrafted free agent in 2018 and played in the preseason for the Steelers. He did not make the NFL and so he played in the Association of American Football with the Memphis Express. He did average for them so it is somewhat a surprise that he is getting a second chance with the Steelers. My guess is the Steelers liked him a lot pre-draft and he did enough in camp to get a second look.

Henry Mondeaux has bounced around practice squads. He was originally signed in 2018 as an undrafted free agent to the New Orleans Saints. He stuck on their practice squad before being cut from the Saints. He had a brief cup of coffee on the Chiefs practice squad as well. Now he gets his third shot with the Steelers in camp.

Winston Craig has been in the league since 2017 but is a journeyman already. He has bounced around the league and so he is getting another shot with the Steelers. My guess is that he won’t make the practice squad as there are already 4-5 candidates. This is probably his last shot at the NFL.

Next: The 5 most important players to the Pittsburgh Steelers future

Conor Sheehy is a guy who got a shot with the Packers and will now get another shot with the Steelers. He is able to play the inside and the outside of the defensive line. He is not much of a play-maker and isn’t the best athlete. He is a steady player and that will be his chance at the practice squad.