The Steelers have lots of needs on defense to fill. Unfortunately, they have quite a few key holes to fill on the offensive side of the ball as well, and there aren’t just enough quality picks to fill them all.
I’d be a fool to think that I can accurately predict who and what positions the Steelers will choose and when. But, I can make a pretty educated guess that the team will be seeking out a corner, wide receiver, and either another corner or nose tackle within the first three rounds to four rounds of the draft. That’s 117 players selected before the Steelers might consider a defensive end – another need for the defense due to the aging and unsigned Brett Keisel.
How many defensive ends go in rounds 1-3 are unknown, but guys like Jadeveon Clowney and Stephon Tuitt are going early. The defensive end class isn’t extremely deep talent wise despite there being 61 draft eligible ends this year. Two potential players that might still be available to the Steelers by the third or fourth round could be North Carolina’s Kareem Martin and Missouri’s Kony Ealy. Both possess the size that is equivalent to Keisel (Martin is 6’6″ and 272lbs, Ealy is 6’4″ and 273 lbs, Keisel is 6’5″ and 257 lbs) and both have similar skill sets. They both have their weaknesses however, but it’s nothing that some coaching and reps at the NFL level couldn’t help improve. Martin has really long arms but doesn’t have the knack for knocking down passes or gaining a good edge around the tackles, Ealy is a very good pass rusher and explodes off the ball but tends to come up high off the snap making himself vulnerable for cut blocks.
Those things considered, if the Steelers could nab one of those two gentlemen or even someone like Aaron Lynch out of South Florida, they would be in a very good spot for working with a developmental defensive end. Developmental does not equal starter when you’re a Pittsburgh Steeler, which means the defense will need someone effective and ready to start. Enter Brett Keisel.
The Beard is still waiting in the wings, but I believe his time will come after the draft to be signed for one final season with the Steelers. They just aren’t in a place to draft a defensive end early and will need someone like Keisel’s veteran and energetic presence to get the job done. Don’t expect to see anything more than three sacks in a season from the big man – he averages three a year anyways. But, I think he will still have an effective presence and will help groom whatever rookie the Steelers pick up in this year’s draft.
Tomlin has stated that the team has not ruled out bringing Keisel back. Speaking about the defensive end position, “Obviously it’s incomplete. We’ve lost more than we’ve added. We’ll rectify that.” Obviously.
The Beard will be back – he’ll be part of that equation. And he shall still be feared.