Nobody wants to admit it, but the Pittsburgh Steelers have a talent problem on their current roster. Here’s why their choices in the draft are to blame.
You might not like to hear what I have to say, but the Pittsburgh Steelers have a problem that runs deeper than the offensive coordinator and can’t simply be solved by the recent quarterback change. I hate to admit it, but they have a talent problem… and it stems from missing too often in the NFL Draft.
When comparing this roster to others around the NFL, the Steelers are lacking talent both in terms of starters at several key positions as well as depth around their roster. When T.J. Watt is healthy, Pittsburgh has a strong edge defender duo, but the depth is remarkably weak with just Malik Reed and Jamir Jones. The same could be said for the offensive line.
Wide receiver is probably the deepest and most promising position on the Steelers roster, but when it comes to important positions like offensive tackle and cornerback, Pittsburgh has some of the worst units in the league.
Sadly the Steelers did this to themselves. Some of it comes from sheer neglect in addressing valuable positions while the rest can be attributed to misses in the NFL Draft. Since 2015, Mike Tomlin’s team has had far too misses in the first through fourth rounds.
The biggest miss of all was Devin Bush. Even if he proves to be an average NFL linebacker in 2022, Bush is likely in his last season in Pittsburgh and he initially cost the team a first, second, and third-round pick in a trade-up in 2019. Busting on players like Artie Burns, Senquez Golson, Sean Davis, and James Washington in the first two rounds doesn’t help either.
That’s a lot of draft capital that could have been used elsewhere. If you go back to years before this sample, the team swung and missed on Jarvis Jones. Apart from a great draft class in 2017, this ugly stretch of decisions in April has forced the Steelers into their current state.
Now instead of building through the draft with cornerstone players who can be around for the long haul, the team is left to do a patchwork job in free agency each year in an effort to fill their holes and try to keep their head above water for one more season.
Steelers must shift draft philosophy
Their efforts in the NFL Draft clearly have not panned out. If not for striking gold on T.J. Watt in 2017, Pittsburgh could have had one of the worst hit rates in the draft over the past seven years. Even some players who panned out (like Bud Dupree and Javon Hargrave) didn’t stick around long term.
It’s time for the Steelers to change their approach in the NFL Draft. They need to learn from their mistakes. Even if Devin Bush would have turned out to be one of the better linebackers in the league, it’s hard to justify spending a first, second, and third-round draft choice on an off-ball linebacker. For one thing, Pittsburgh needs to start prioritizing ‘cornerstone’ positions that are more important.
Over the past decade, the Steelers haven’t invested enough early draft capital into ‘money positions.’ This loosely used term is used to describe the highest-paid positions in the league: quarterback, offensive tackle, edge defender, cornerback, and wide receiver.
Admittedly, the Steelers are one of the better teams when it comes to investing in and developing wide receivers. However, they have spent just two early picks on cornerbacks over the past 10 years since taking Bryant McFadden in 2005, via Pro Football Reference. When it comes to the offensive tackle position, Pittsburgh hasn’t invested a first-round pick here since taking Jamain Stephens in 1996.
The Steelers have either misjudged the talent or targeted less important positions over the years, and it’s really starting to show. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh now has a talent problem, and they need to start hitting more often on cornerstone players in the NFL Draft.