Why Steelers should avoid spending top draft capital on a safety

Defensive back Lewis Cine #16 of the Georgia Bulldogs. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Defensive back Lewis Cine #16 of the Georgia Bulldogs. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

The Steelers are in need of a starting safety alongside Minkah Fitzpatrick, but here’s why they aren’t worth spending elite draft capital on.

In the mid-2000s, the Pittsburgh Steelers arguably had the best safety tandem in the NFL with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. While their defense was pretty talented across the board, Polamalu were difference-makers and enforcers on the back end.

We are now over a decade removed from the peak of their careers, and the NFL game has really changed. As offenses get more innovative, the quick-passing game now thrives as offensive coordinators seek to quickly get the ball into the hands of their best-skill players.

Over the past several years, the value of the safety position has steadily decreased, and most safeties around the league have a relatively low impact on the outcome of the game. Sadly, this isn’t a trend that NFL teams have caught up to yet.

It was just a few years ago that running backs were overvalued. Despite their short shelf-lives being dependent on the players in front of them in order to do their job, teams were still using elite draft capital on running backs and paying them way too much money on second contracts.

The Steelers are guilty of the former as they recently spent the 24th overall pick on a player who proved to be inefficient as a rookie due to the offensive line performance. Nowadays, it seems like safeties are becoming the running backs of the defense.

Sadly, this may not prevent the Steelers from targeting a safety early in the NFL Draft. But should they?

Steelers should not spend a high pick on safety

There are several safeties set to enter the 2022 NFL Draft who could be an upgrade over Terrell Edmunds — I have little doubt about that. As a former first-round pick, Edmunds has been underwhelming (though he has shown improvement in recent years).

However, we need to ask ourselves: is the difference between Edmunds and the safety the Steelers would draft worth elite draft capital? The short answer is probably not.

If Pittsburgh elects to go with a safety in the first round (which is possible) Michigan’s Daxton Hill and Georgia’s Lewis Cine seem like the most likely options. While these are quality prospects, I don’t have a true first-round grade on their player.

In addition, taking one of the safeties would almost certainly force them into a starting role from day one. Meanwhile, Terrell Edmunds just turned 25 years old this offseason and already has four years of starting experience under his belt. Getting him back on a cheap deal seems like a much wiser option than spending elite draft capital on a safety.

There are always some exceptions, like if Kyle Hamilton slipped in the draft, for example. Hamilton was a consensus top-five player in the 2022 NFL Draft before a slow 40-yard dash time dropped his stock. While I still don’t think he slides this far, Hamilton would certainly be worth considering if the Steelers got a shot at him.

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When it’s all said and done, I have a feeling that if the Steelers draft a safety, we will find that this pick would have been better spent elsewhere. Pittsburgh would be wise to sign and replace safeties through free agency rather than spend elite draft capital on a player who may not be better than what they had in Terrell Edmunds.