Could Steelers be targeting an edge defender with the 24th pick in the NFL Draft?

Jayson Oweh #28 of the Penn State Nittany Lions. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Jayson Oweh #28 of the Penn State Nittany Lions. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The Steelers have shown a surprising amount of interest in high-profile edge defenders. Could they be poised to take one in the first round?

We still have a few dozen NFL Pro Days to go, but we are starting to get a really good feel for the positions the Steelers could be targeting early in the 2021 NFL Draft. While many believe that running back, offensive tackle, center, and cornerback are among the biggest needs on the team, perhaps we aren’t spending enough time talking about edge defenders this offseason.

Since 2013, Pittsburgh has spent three first-round picks on outside linebackers in an effort to bring some heat on opposing quarterbacks. However, two of those three players (Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones) are no longer with the team, and there is a glaring lack of depth currently on the edge for the Steelers.

While former third-round pick, Alex Highsmith was admittedly impressive during his rookie season, it’s hard to tell at this point what the Steelers think of him and whether or not they view him as a full-time starter or a great rotational piece. Some of their pre-draft visits this opposite might suggest the latter.

The Steelers have now had representatives on hand for Pro Days at Georgia, Penn State, and Michigan. While these are talented teams with a number of prospects Pittsburgh could be eying, they each possess a first-round-caliber edge defender, and the team has reportedly met with all three of them. Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, Michigan’s Kwity Paye, and Penn State’s Jayson Oweh are widely considered to be three of the top edge rushers in the 2021 NFL Draft, and it wouldn’t be a bit surprising if Pittsburgh was eying one of these players with the 24th overall pick this year.

Why an edge defender for the Steelers?

Though I certainly think there are other positions that the Steelers have bigger needs at this year, I also know Pittsburgh’s infatuation with talented edge defenders, and I understand that it is one of the most important positions in football. Between outside and inside linebackers, the Steelers have spent a whopping 5 first-round picks on these players over the past 8 years. Now that just two of these linebackers remain (T.J. Watt and Devin Bush), Pittsburgh could be looking to replenish their linebackers in an effort to keep their defense elite – specifically their pass rush.

While Highsmith was impressive in limited action, losing Bud Dupree could turn out to be a bigger loss than we realize, and without Dupree, Tyson Alualu, and even Mike Hilton this year, Pittsburgh’s isn’t going to want to go into the season without a number of players that can get pressure on the quarterback.

In addition, Azeez Ojulari and Kwity Paye would both be deemed good value, by most accounts, with the 24th overall pick, while Jayson Oweh is another very intriguing prospect. Though Oweh lacks elite tape or production, he tested out as one of the best athletes we have ever seen at the position – even topping Cleveland’s Myles Garrett.

Related Story. 3 players added to Steelers draft radar after Penn State’s Pro Day. light

This could all be smoke by the Steelers, but they really don’t play that game. There is some serious interest on their part in the top edge defenders in the 2021 NFL Draft. Based on what they have shown this offseason, it’s certainly going to be tempting for them if they have their choice at a few of these guys with the 24th overall pick this year.