While the Steelers offense comes into the 2020 season almost exactly the same, and with their franchise quarterback presumably healthy and back at the helm, the defense has a had a few more changes this offseason.
The team decided to let two high draft picks in Artie Burns and Sean Davis walk. These first- and second-round picks respectively were once thought to be key pieces to the Steelers long-term plans, but neither lived up to the billing. Also gone are defensive lineman Javon Hargrave who had a strong season filling in for the injured Stephon Tuitt and linebacker/hybrid Mark Barron who had a underwhelming first season with the team.
To replace Hargrave, the Steelers made a rare in-division trade, acquiring Chris Wormley from the Baltimore Ravens. The team also bolstered its depth by signing multiple former-XFL players and in the draft, picking Charlotte linebacker Alex Highsmith in the third-round, Maryland safety Antoine Brooks, Jr. in the sixth and defensive lineman Carlos Davis in the seventh.
It wasn’t a wild offseason of changes, but why mess with a defense that allowed the fifth fewest yards and points in the NFL last season?
Losing Hargrave hurts, the fourth year nose tackle has started nearly every game for the Steelers since being drafted in 2016 and was a key figure replacing Stephon Tuitt after he went down with injury. The Steelers hope ex-Raven Chris Wormley along with some of their depth players can fill his roll with the team.
The team sacrificed a ton of depth with the losses of Tyler Matakevich and Anthony Chickillo, as well as special team acumen. Barron was supplemented by Bush, but brought experienced depth. The biggest issue now could be that behind Bush and Williams at inside linebacker there is now very little left. If either starter goes down, the team will have to rely on unproven Ulysees Gilbert or Robert Spillane. At outside linebacker the team drafted Alex Highsmith, but he probably won’t see much playing time with Dupree and Watt getting most of the snaps and Ola Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper also in the mix.
Antoine Brooks Jr.
After a promising start to his career, Artie Burns was basically just a special teams player. Sean Davis spent last year hurt. Kam Kelly, who was brought in as an AAF free agent, started versus the Patriots in game one and then spent most of the season on the bench, replaced by Minkah Fitzpatrick and eventually getting cut mid-season. Behind Fitzpatrick and and Terrell Edmunds, however, the team is dangerously thin at safety. Marcus Allen and Jordan Dangerfield and fourth-round pick Antoine Brooks Jr. figure to fight to be the primary backups.
The Steelers had one of the best duos in the league at corner in Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, who was a revelation in 2020. The Steelers also have very capable slot/nickel cornerbacks in Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton.
Boswell bounced back in a big way and the Steelers will roll with the “Wizard of Boz” again in 2020. Undrafted free agent Corliss Waitman was brought in in the offseason to challenge presumptive starter Jordan Berry.