I am not going to sit here and say that the Pittsburgh Steelers do not need to employ a defense-heavy draft strategy this May. On the contrary, I would love to see Pittsburgh’s coaching staff and scouts try to fill the holes which exist at almost every positional unit on that side of the ball in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Many are presently clamoring for the Steelers’ brass to take a defensive player in the first round, and a sizable amount of those people are keen on the franchise selecting a nose tackle with the 15th overall pick.
My desire to see the defense fixed aside, I would definitely be uneasy if Pittsburgh chose any defensive player in the first round. Furthermore, what worries me the most about the Steelers potentially taking a nose tackle with their first round pick revolves around how much the youngster would actually play and contribute.
As far as a nose tackle playing as a rookie is concerned, I have a hard time believing that they would see the field at all during his first or even second season. Defensive linemen rarely play or contribute on the defensive side of the ball early in their careers under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
Don’t believe me? Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward are two recent and prime examples of this ideology.
Remember, Hood only saw extensive action in his second and third years due to season-ending injuries sustained by Aaron Smith. Although Cameron Heyward might have established himself as one of the better five-techniques this fall for Pittsburgh, he was forced to rot on the pine for the first two years of his professional career.
While Steve McLendon and Al Woods are not a fantastic duo, I have a hard time believing that LeBeau would simply hand playing time to any inexperienced nose tackle over either of them once the regular season started if the Heyward and Hood examples are any indication.
Even if a rookie was allowed to suit up and contribute on the defensive side of the ball early in his career, one has to wonder how much playing time he would even see in today’s pass-happy NFL.
Teams like New England, Green Bay, New Orleans, etc. have all enjoyed measures of success against LeBeau coached defenses when they have spread them out and thin on the field. With extra receivers in the game, Pittsburgh’s defense was forced into their sub-package sets and extra defensive backs were eventually inserted as personnel.
Instead of running the ball into the teeth of a Casey Hampton-led front, those offenses passed to set up the run and forced the non-pocket collapsing nose tackle off of the field. Although someone like Notre Dame’s nose tackle Louis Nix III has some pass-rushing moves at his disposal, he hardly projects as a consistent pocket collapsing force at the professional level.
Plus, if teams go into hurry-up or no-huddle mode, how effective would the gargantuan nose tackle be at generating pressure if he is stuck on the field for extended amounts of time?
As many of you can tell by now, I am not on the ‘nose tackle in round one’ bandwagon for this May’s draft. This is not to say that I do not believe the Steelers’ brass should ignore the position altogether. It simply means that this team is better off finding a mid-late round prospect who can be developed and coached up by one of the best in the business in the form of Mitchell.
Selecting a player in round one who would likely have no immediate impact and potentially a minimal impact down the road is an extremely risky venture. What makes the move itself an even bigger gamble is when one considers the type of talent at the tight end and wide receiver positions which could be available to the Steelers at number 15 overall.
I certainly would not pass on a playmaker like Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro, Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Mike Evans for a guy who might see less than 100 snaps during his rookie campaign. Moreover, in today’s pass-first NFL, passing up prospects like the ones I mentioned above for a nose tackle would be nothing short of ridiculous for a rebuilding team like Pittsburgh that must add a tall, physically imposing force to their passing attack.
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