The 2021 NFL Draft isn’t for another seven months. With that taken into account as the NFL season gets into full swing, the needs of every team are becoming more evident — some more than others. The Pittsburgh Steelers are not excluded from this, and the following entails their biggest needs in the 2021 NFL Draft.
1. Inside Linebacker
Currently On Roster: Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Marcus Allen, Robert Spillane, Ulysees Gilbert III
To say the Steelers currently lack talent at linebacker would be incorrect; to say they lack depth would be more accurate. Vince Williams and Devin Bush are arguably one of the best tandems on the inside in the NFL. That said, the tandem does lack proven depth behind them. Safety Marcus Allen is second on the depth chart behind Vince Williams, and Robert Spillane and Ulysees Gilbert III are the two reserves. The position is very thin should Bush or Williams miss any amount of time. On top of that, 2021 is the final year of Williams’ contract, and he will be 32-years-old at the end of next season.
The 2021 draft class isn’t short on the supply of quality inside linebackers. Unless the Steelers plan on trading up much as they did for Bush in 2019, they won’t be landing Penn State’s Micah Parsons. Depending on how the draft order shapes out, they may get close enough for a quick trade-up and be able to land Alabama’s Dylan Moses, who missed all of last season due to knee surgery but is the unquestioned leader of the Crimson Tide defense.
Nick Bolton from Missouri would be another choice should he be available when Pittsburgh is on the clock. He is one of, if not the hardest hitters in this class. He has an outstanding nose for the ball and is very stout in pass coverage as well. He was second in the SEC in tackles in 2019 (103) and would be a solid weapon to add to the linebacker’s room.
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If Pittsburgh would be looking to address the position in later rounds, Erroll Thompson out of Mississippi State would be a name worth watching. The senior has a combined 14.5 tackles for loss in his last 17 games and is coming off back to back 80+ tackle seasons. Through two games, Thompson ranks fourth in the SEC in tackles (23).
2. Defensive Tackle
Currently On Roster: Tyson Alualu, Isaiah Buggs
Pittsburgh lost starting defensive tackle Javon Hargrave in free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles, which left them somewhat shorthanded at the position. Tyson Alualu looked very good in camp and his versatility to play in four lineman packages and anywhere in goal-line formations earned him the starting job where he has not disappointed. He has 10 tackles and one sack in three games thus far, and he has been disruptive in both the run and passing game, accounting for thee hits on the quarterback and three tackles for loss.
While Alualu has played well on the inside, he is 33-years-old and this is the final year on his current contract. It’s pretty apparent that Isaiah Buggs is not a future centerpiece, but rather a depth piece that will be a solid reserve to mix in along the rotation. Even if the Steelers re-sign Alualu, it will likely be a short-term deal, as all signs indicate he’s not the future of the position. Pittsburgh would be much better off drafting his replacement and having whomever they select, pencil in between Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.
Marvin Wilson out of Florida State is a big guy that would give offensive line coaches headaches just off the matchup alone. At 6,5″ and 320 pounds, he is an absolute behemoth up the middle. He had 44 tackles in 2019 along with five sacks. His height comes into play, as he notched four pass deflections at the line of scrimmage. His big frame would be a nightmare for offensive lineman who already have the task of trying to contain Heyward, Tuitt, Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt.
Jay Tufele out of USC is another prospect that the Steelers could target should Wilson be off the board. He is sitting out the 2020 season to prepare for the draft, but looked fantastic in 2019, notching 42 tackles and 4.5 sacks. His quick first step and ability to break off his block to break into backfields would make him a great addition to the Pittsburgh front seven.
Currently On Roster: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs
While it may end up not being a popular decision with Ben Roethlisberger, it is inevitable that he will one day be gone, and it would serve Pittsburgh well to find his replacement sooner rather than missing out on their opportunity. Roethlisberger is playing very good football right now. He has thrown seven touchdowns to just one interception and the Steelers sit at 3-0 largely because of him.
Regardless of how Roethlisberger is playing, it’s clear that neither Mason Rudolph nor Josh Dobbs are the future of the team once Roethlisberger does decide to hang up the cleats for good. Could Pittsburgh make a move for someone like Sam Darnold? It’s possible, but assuming they don’t, they will need to look to the draft for their future signal-caller, much like they did in 2004 when they drafted Roethlisberger 11th overall.
One name that Pittsburgh fans should keep an eye on is Trey Lance from North Dakota State. There is a very real chance that he is available when it is the Steelers’ turn to pick, and if he is, I’d be very shocked if they didn’t take him. Lance is much like Kyler Murray, but taller. At 6’4″, Lance accumulated 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns while not throwing an interception throughout the entirety of 2019. He also ran for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns, making him the total package.
Seeing more-and-more quarterbacks have some form of dual-threat to their game, Lance has all the tools to be the next in line of quarterbacks of that style. Can you imagine having a quarterback who could throw downfield bombs to Chase Claypool and then run for a 50-yard touchdown? This would be a home run pick if Lance is available.
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Pittsburgh could also pull off a similar technique that the Green Bay Packers explored, by trading up for their next quarterback, if the Steelers have an interest in the Ohio State signal-caller, Justin Fields. While others such as Kyle Trask from Florida and Sam Ehlinger from Texas will be available in later rounds, the Steelers need to get aggressive and take one of these top quarterbacks to lead them into the future. Lance has looked like a can’t miss prospect, and if they have any sort of way to get him in a Steelers’ uniform, they need to do it.