With limited draft capital, the Steelers need to be able to do more with less. The best way around that is by finding a trade back partner.
With draft prep now back in full focus, the Steelers will be updating and finalizing their draft board. This draft year is a bit peculiar though, as the Steelers traded away their 2020 1st round pick to bring in Minkah Fitzpatrick. They don’t pick until the second round (pick 49) and only have six total picks in this draft.
Luckily for the Steelers, they’ve done a great job at filling out their starters after free agency, as only NT remains without a starter after Javon Hargrave left in free agency. Considering the depreciation of the position, to have a hole there isn’t the end of the world. Outside of that, the team doesn’t have a glaring need for a starter.
That said, the team did suffer some losses to their overall depth at the expense of keeping some of the starting talent they had. While a starter may not be needed at those positions, depth and long-term talent are needed. Overall, the Steelers have some depth issues at OL, WR, OLB, ILB, and S. If you’re keeping count at home, that is a total of eight needs (OL breaks down into three positions) with only six picks to fill it.
If ever there was a time to trade back in the draft, this is the year for the Steelers. With only two picks in the top 102 slots, the Steelers would benefit from spreading around their draft picks. Normally one of the big arguments against moving back is that since the Steelers pick so late they would have to move out of the first round. This poses a problem since a first-round pick is entitled to a 5th-year option, making their contract more flexible with the team. Having dealt that first pick away, the Steelers have no shot of having a rookie on a first-year option, meaning a trade back is more realistic.
Even better, there isn’t a position like last year where an instant contributor is needed (ILB with Devin Bush). With the holes being filled like they were before the draft, the Steelers can go in multiple different directions with their first pick. While NT is without a starter, that position will only see 200-300 total snaps, meaning a mid-round rookie will be more than adequate to fill in there.
As well, with the other depth issues present, adding extra picks will help fill the void at depth. On defense, every position besides DE and CB has no backup plans for injury. The top ILB backup is Ulysees Gilbert III, a 6th round pick from last year that only played special teams snaps before going to IR. At OLB, the backups are unproven as well, with Ola Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper being the prime candidates to fill in if there was an injury. Worse yet is S, where the Steelers have essentially no option to fill in for either starter if there was an injury. Worse yet with the position, the Steelers tend to use a third S in sub-packages.
The offense is a little deeper but still has some depth holes. The OL can work as is, but one more option either on the inside or outside would be a boon for the flexibility on the line. The starters at WR are set, but the team would have to utilize either Ryan Switzer or Deon Cain if a starter went down for a significant amount of time. Even TE has some long-term issues, as the position doesn’t have a guy that the team can firmly say will be on the roster for the next two years.
While the Steelers can roll the dice and use day three selections to fill in as immediate depth, the safer option is day two guys to be top backups as they (hopefully) learn the ropes their first year as they develop into starters. Considering they don’t have one or two positions that need a heavy contributor next year, trading back from 49 would provide the team with more options to fill more positions.
While projecting trades this far off is far from an exact science, a potential deal should involve the Steelers 2nd round pick and perhaps one of their 4th round picks in exchange for a low 2nd/high 3rd, another 3rd, and a 5th or 6th round pick. Teams that would make sense (based on the draft picks) would be Green Bay (62nd overall), Kansas City (63rd overall), Detroit (67th overall) and the Jets (68th overall). In a scenario like this, the Steelers move back at most 20 picks, but they’ll have three total picks in the top 102 selections and gain an extra draft pick overall. With the extra selections and additional higher round picks, the Steelers can add three players who, realistically, should come in and be top backups based on their draft pedigree.
Obviously, there won’t be any talks of a trade until the Steelers are on the board and they know who is available to select. As well, if a top talent falls to them at 49, they should take him if they believe he will be a good asset next year. Considering the state of the team though, this draft class may favor more of a quantity over quality in order to better fill the holes the team currently has.