More experienced Pittsburgh Steelers have long trained themselves to brace for relatively quiet free-agency periods. Although they occasionally offer up a surprise, their practice has long been that teams are built through the draft, and this year figures to be no exception.
Holding two picks in the top 32 and three in the top 50, they have the opportunity to make substantial additions to a team in need of an infusion of talent. And where might that come? WPXI’s Jenna Harner got the impression in speaking to Steelers president Art Rooney II that he has some preoccupation with the defensive side of the ball.
Speaking with Chris Carter for the Locked on Steelers podcast, Harner discussed her one-on-one interview with the top dog, and she shared his response when asked about target areas in the draft and how his immediate attention gravitated toward one area.
“At least right now, we’re not focused on particular positions, but on the defensive side of the ball, I feel we could use help at all levels, I’d say, whether it’s d-line, linebacker, defensive back”, she quoted him as saying. “I think we’ll be looking at the best opportunities, the best available athletes, if you will, as we get closer to the draft”.
The Steelers’ last couple of draft classes have skewed heavily toward the offense, with each of their top two picks in both years being devoted to that side of the ball. They added first-round talents in running back Najee Harris in 2021 and then quarterback Kenny Pickett in 2022, supplemented by second-round tight end Pat Freiermuth behind Harris and wide receiver George Pickens behind Pickett.
“You have to be able to defend. You’ve got to hold teams in the low 20s, maybe high teens”, Rooney also added in a separate response, reaffirming his and the organization’s belief that championships are still won through playing defense.
The Steelers went 9-3 in games in which they held their opponents to 20 points or fewer during the 2022 season. They lost every single game (0-5) when they gave up more than that. Kind of hard to do when you only score more than 20 points five times yourself, and never higher than 30 points.
While the team certainly has significant needs on defense, and as Rooney suggested it really is on all three levels, there are offensive needs and wants to consider as well. Chief among them is the offensive line, of course, but they’re going to have to add another wide receiver at some point, as well, and possibly another tight end if they don’t re-sign Zach Gentry (though I imagine they will).
With that being said, I would hardly be shocked if at least two of their top three picks, including their first-round selection, go to the defense. And if it’s not defense, then they’re probably addressing the offensive trenches. Though with a new front office, there are wildcard elements at play we will only be able to learn from over time.