Steelers best shot at finding a stud IDL might come with an oversized edge defender

Steelers, Lukas Van Ness
Steelers, Lukas Van Ness / Joseph Cress / USA TODAY NETWORK

Even with an offense that scored just 18.1 points per game during the 2022 season, we know how much Mike Tomlin values the defensive side of the football for the Pittsburgh Steelers. This team has no shortage of needs, and the front office could look to improve the cornerback and linebacker positions early in the 2023 NFL Draft.

One position that's flying under the radar for the Steelers is their interior defensive line. Since the sudden departure and retirement of Stephon Tuitt that began before the summer of 2021, Pittsburgh has yet to find a suitable replacement to pair with Cameron Heyward along the interior defensive line. What's worse is that Heyward turns 35 years old this offseason, and the Steelers can't continue to expect him to drink from the fountain of youth.

Eventually, this team is going to need to find the next generation of strong, long interior defenders that they love. The problem is this draft class doesn't have a lot of those guys... that is unless you consider prospects who could make a positional change.

Steelers could transition an EDGE prospcet to IDL

Most of the best interior defensive line prospects this year only have adequate size and length (with just a few exceptions). Florida's Gervon Dexter is one of the few who fits the mold of what Pittsburgh looks for. However, don't be surprised if the Steelers target an oversized edge defender who could transition inside at the next level.

Lukas Van Ness is a player the team is reportedly interested in. After meeting with Van Ness in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine, Nick Farabaugh of Pittsburgh Sports Now reports that the Steelers have a formal meeting scheduled with the talented defender.

At Iowa, Van Ness lined up at multiple positions over the past two years but played most of his snaps as an edge defender during the 2022 season. Van Ness is a player who could be shooting up draft boards still thanks to his rare blend of size, length, power, and athletic traits.

If he does fall to the Steelers, Pittsburgh could view him as a future 5-technique who could transition to the inside and play alongside Cameron Heyward. Van Ness will need to add weight, but he's already incredibly stout at the point of attack. When he has played inside, he uses his long arms to stack and shed against weaker guards or drive them back to collapse the pocket.

Another player who fits a very similar mold is Michigan's Mike Morris (another guy the Steelers have met with). Morris Is tall, long, and heavy for a base defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, but he has more than enough size to put on a bit more weight and play solely as an interior defender at the next level.

Morris is a one-year wonder with modest production this past season, but he's a 21-year-old player with extremely rare traits thanks to his size, length, and quickness.

It's certainly worth noting that both Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt were base defensive ends in college and often rushed from the edge. Both were oversized players for their positions who made the transition to the inside in the NFL and both worked out beautifully for Pittsburgh.

Next. One realistic free agent target at every position for the Steelers. dark

The Steelers aren't guaranteed to draft one of these players, but there certainly seems to be some interest on their part. If they truly are looking for this rare breed of a tall, long, and strong football player, they may want to consider drafting an oversized edge defender who could transition at the next level.