The overlooked need Steelers can't afford to ignore in free agency

Quarterback, offensive line, and cornerback are three positions that many address as needs for the Steelers in the offseason, but there's another pressing need that is often overlooked.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens / Rob Carr/GettyImages

Despite making the playoffs last season, there is no denying the Steelers have work to do this offseason. They have needs at several positions and must plan for the future in positions that may become glaring holes soon.

The Steelers have been linked to numerous veteran quarterbacks, as well as to spending their high-end draft capital on either an offensive lineman or a cornerback. However, the one position that often gets overlooked as a need is the defensive line.

Interior Defensive Line has been a Major Weakness for Pittsburgh for Several Years

While many associate the Steelers with having a dominant defense, the unit has been much more flawed than people realize. This unit masks its deficiencies with splash plays, creating turnovers in crucial situations, and having its stud pass rushers make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

However, in recent years, this unit has been gashed by the run game and has had little answer for top rushing offenses. With Cameron Heyward only getting older, this unit will only deteriorate more when his play inevitably starts to decline.

The loss of Stephon Tuitt was a devastating one for Pittsburgh, and one that the team still hasn't fully recovered from. Tuitt was expected to be a bookend on the opposite side of Heyward for years to come. However, after injuries and tragedy in his personal life, Tuitt never played another snap for the Steelers after the 2020 season. This loss is extremely underrated as Tuitt will only be turning 31 this spring, and would've been an integral part of the unit.

The Steelers appear to have found a gem in Keanu Benton in the draft this year as he has helped fortify this unit alongside Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi. However despite having three capable players, the Steelers lack depth, and this has harmed this unit.

Many successful teams in recent years have proven that you can never have enough defensive linemen or pass rushers. This is a philosophy that the Steelers should adopt, as adding to the defensive line will only improve the play of the three starters the team already employs. Having depth will keep the players fresh, and help ensure there's never a weak link for an opponent to run directly at.

The Steelers should Make a Splash in Free Agency for an Interior Defensive Lineman

This year's free agent class is very strong on the defensive line, and the Steelers should take advantage of that. Obviously, big names like Chris Jones and Leonard Williams are available, and while they are great players, they are a bit older and will be very expensive.

Instead, the players I believe that the Steelers should target are Justin Madubuike, Christian Wilkins, and D.J. Reader. Madubuike and Wilkins would be the bigger splashes, and while Reader is a little older, he would be much cheaper than the other two and would serve as a nice fallback option if the other two end up out of the Steelers' price range.

Madubuike would be a huge add for Pittsburgh as he is only 26 years old and just had a career year with 13 sacks. He would greatly improve the run defense, while also providing plenty of punch as a pass rusher, which would make it harder for teams to double TJ Watt on the outside. Add in that they would be stealing him away from the arch-rival Baltimore Ravens, and it's easy to see why he'd be a massive signing for Omar Khan.

Similarly to Madubuike, Christian Wilkins would provide much of the same punch to the Steelers. Wilkins had a high pedigree coming out of Clemson and has proven to be an extremely disruptive player during his time with the Dolphins. The only reason Madubuike gets the edge is age, as he is two years younger than Wilkins, but both would be massive additions to the Steelers defensive line.

Adding any of these players to the defensive line room would be massive for the Steelers. The team needs to get better against the run and put more pressure on the quarterback from the interior. Furthermore, adding help up front will help out the secondary, as it will provide more 3rd and longs, and will help shorten the amount of time the cornerbacks have to cover.

Cam Heyward isn't going to play forever, and the Steelers must begin to plan for life after Heyward. Adding help on the defensive line in a loaded free-agent class will help the defense now and in the future while allowing the team to focus on its other needs in the draft.