The Steelers have a number of position battles to keep an eye on this year. Here’s who could emerge victorious in the race for the last defensive tackle spot.
As you are well aware of by now, the Steelers lost Javon Hargrave to the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. During his time in Pittsburgh, the former third-round draft choice outplayed his former draft status and became a very solid rotational piece along Keith Butler’s defensive line.
This offseason, the Steelers executed an extremely rare trade with the Baltimore Ravens for former third-round defensive lineman, Chris Wormley. Though Wormley is guaranteed to make Pittsburgh’s roster in 2020, he doesn’t play the same role as Hargrave on defense. Instead, Wormley is much more of a 5-technique backup to Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward.
However, Wormley’s addition means that the fight for the last defensive tackle spot could likely come down to three players this year: Veteran, Dan McCullers, former XFL stud, Cavon Walker, and seventh-round draft choice Carlos Davis.
With Heyward, Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, and Chris Wormley all as locks to make the team, Isaiah Buggs is likely a shoo-in for the fifth spot. Pittsburgh typically sticks with six defensive tackles, meaning that McCullers, Walker, and Davis could be three dogs fighting for one bone.
Listed at 6’7” and 352 pounds, McCullers is easily the biggest of the three, but he’s also the least mobile. What he does provide, however, is a run-plugging presence in goal-line defense, and an anchor in field goal coverage. McCullers occasionally earns a few snaps at nose tackle in Pittsburgh’s base defense, but a lack of mobility leaves him as nothing more than a north and south run stuffer.
Walker is an intriguing player for a few reasons. Though he’s the smallest of the three defensive tackles in contention for the last roster spot (6’2” and 278), he is a penetrating 3-technique who has the ability to knife in the backfield and disrupt the quarterback in passing situations. However, Walker is much too small to rotate in at nose tackle in base 3-4 sets for the Steelers and the jump in competition from the XFL to the NFL could be a bit of a challenge.
Carlos Davis is likely the final option for this role. Though his 4.82 speed at 313 pounds is incredibly rare, he didn’t offer much on tape at Nebraska, and his college production was severely lacking. What Davis does have going for him, however, is that he is the youngest of the three defensive tackles and he has the size and raw physical tools to work with.
At the end of the day, it may come down to which type of fit the Steelers think they need on defense. McCullers is an experienced player against the run who can shuffle in at
nose tackle, while Walker is a pass-rush specialist. Davis may need a redshirt season on the practice squad unless he makes big strides from his senior sesaon to his first preseason.
I’ve bet against Dan McCullers before, but the Steelers seem to like him a lot more than we do. If I were to make my guess early in the process, I think he will hold down the job he’s had since 2014. Training camp will be huge for these three guys this year.