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2022 NFL Draft

Saunders: Evaluating Steelers Needs Entering 2022 NFL Draft

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Steelers GM Kevin Colbert 2022 Draft Combine

The 2022 NFL Draft is just a few days away, and with the signing of strong safety Terrell Edmunds made official on Monday, it is unlike that the Steelers will make any more moves between now and the draft. General manager Kevin Colbert said on Monday that he believes he has set up his team to be able to draft the best player available when pick No. 20 rolls around on Thursday night, because of the work that has been done already through free agency.

Colbert is largely correct, as the retention of Edmunds, Chukwuma Okorafor, Ahkello Witherspoon and the additions of Mitchell Trubisky, James Daniels, Mason Cole, Myles Jack and Levi Wallace have gone a long way to shoring up the Steelers’ depth.

But the team still has plenty of needs entering the 2022 NFL Draft, so let’s break them down.

IMMEDIATE STARTING NEEDS

These are positions where the team currently lacks a projectable NFL starter, and while Colbert said he has NFL-ready players at every position, but I’m going to disagree with him here.


Wide Receiver: The Steelers have two starting-caliber NFL receivers in Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson. They play three most of the time.

There’s no one that figures to replace the departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot. The additions of Miles Boykin and Gunner Olszewski can, to some degree, replace what was lost in James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud, but the Steelers are still one starting wide receiver shy entering 2022.

There are internal options in Steven Sims and Anthony Miller, and should the team choose to move Claypool to the slot, Cody White and Rico Bussey, but none of those players are established NFL regulars at this point. The team needs to draft a wide receiver, and it needs to be one that will make an immediate impact.

UPGRADE NEEDS

These are positions where the Steelers do have those starters that Colbert talked about, but they are players that could potentially be upgraded upon. These are picks that could be day one or day two selections, but also could not be taken at all if the board does not fall favorably because those starters are in place. It will probably be impossible for the team to hill all three of these spots in one draft class.

Quarterback: Trubisky stabilized the position, with he and Mason Rudolph expected to compete for the starting job. But the Steelers still do not have a player that figures to truly replace Ben Roethlisberger as a franchise quarterback.

If the team can get a player with a higher upside than Trubisky (Malik Willis) or a player more likely to reach their upside (Kenny Pickett or Desmond Ridder), expect them to pull the trigger. Even longer shots like Sam Howell and Matt Corral would not be out of place in a quarterback battle with Trubisky and Rudolph.

Tackle: The Steelers retained Okorafor at right tackle, and while he was not stellar in his second season as a starter, he was probably the most consistent offensive lineman they had in 2021.

That can’t be said at left tackle, where Dan Moore Jr. struggled mightily as a rookie fourth-round pick. That was probably to be expected, but the Steelers could absolutely upgrade on this group.

Unfortunately, this draft class seems like it’s going to make that hard to do. The only tackles I see as clear upgrades are Charles Cross, Ickey Ekwonu and Evan Neal, and they will likely be long gone by the time Pittsburgh picks.

Center/guard: Much like Moore, Kendrick Green struggled as a rookie. Unlike Moore, Green was displaced by journeyman vet J.C. Hassenauer by the end of the season and the team openly discussed moving him to guard.

The addition of Daniels solidifies one spot, and Kevin Dotson, if he can stay healthy, should be able to hold down the other, with Green and Cole battling for the final one. That’s not a terrible interior offensive line, but a player like Ben Linderbaum, Kenyon Green or Zion Johnson would be a noticeable upgrade.

Liberty Football takes on Army at home in Williams Stadium November 27, 2021 (Photograph by Chase Gyles)

FUTURE NEEDS

These are places the Steelers are relatively set for 2022, but have contracts coming up or players nearing the end of their career without a replacement plan in place.

Inside linebacker: There’s no two ways around it, Devin Bush was not very good in 2021, and while there is reason for optimism for 2022 if he can return to health now one year removed from his knee surgery and get some improved defensive line play, his slow 2021 means the Steelers are likely not going to pick up his fifth-year option, and he will be set to be a free agent next offseason.

Myles Jack was brought in to stabilize the other inside linebacker spot, but he is only on a two-year deal. The Steelers have depth options like Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen and Ulysees Gilbert III, but no one that projects to be a future starter. There are lots and lots of good fits in the 2022 NFL Draft class if the Steelers want a linebacker.

Defensive line: Stephon Tuitt’s status for 2022 is still up in the air, and while Chris Wormley proved himself to be an adequate fill-in in 2021 and Tyson Alualu is set to return from injury, the Steelers have a future need at the position whether Tuitt returns or not.

Alualu will be 35 and in the final year of his deal. Wormley is in the final year of his contract. Stalwart Cam Heyward will be 33 this year. Even Tuitt, if he returns, will be 29. This is not a young unit and it could use an influx of young talent.

Cornerback: The Steelers shored up this spot by adding Wallace and re-signing Witherspoon, but those are only two-year contracts and Cam Sutton is entering the final year of his deal.

They could always sign extensions, as none of the group is at an age where a decline should be expected, but at a position where four or five players can get significant playing time, adding to the group seems ideal. But there are more pressing needs, and this could be a position that gets left until next year.

Jordan Davis

DEPTH NEEDS

These are positions where the team has solid starters, but lacks depth behind them and could address those needs, especially on day three.

Outside linebacker: T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith seem entrenched, but the Steelers really wanted to add a third man to the rotation last year when they signed Melvin Ingram. That didn’t work out, but expect the team to be active in finding another pass-rusher, even after signing Genard Avery.

Running back: Najee Harris probably should not be taking as high of a percentage of the team’s offensive snaps as he did in 2021, and if he were to suffer an injury, the group behind him has not proven to have the faith of the offensive staff. Either a pure backup or a change of pace option would make sense.

Tackle: If the team is not able to make an upgrade to the tackle group, there is also a spot open for the team to grab a fourth tackle at the bottom of the depth chart, as well.

Tight end: Pat Freiermuth was impressive as a rookie and Zach Gentry took massive steps in his third season, but practice squadders Kevin Rader and Jace Sternberger are all that follows in terms of depth. A third tight end, particularly one that can do some different things in the passing game, makes a lot of senes.

Quarterback: The death of Dwayne Haskins means that even if the Steelers do the expected and take a quarterback in the first round, they will still be one light at the position on the depth chart. They could end up drafting two, or looking for a priority undrafted free agent at the spot.

Tyler Allgeier

PARADISE, NV – SEPTEMBER 04: BYU running back Tyler Allgeier #25 scores a touchdown during the Good Sam Vegas Kickoff Classic featuring the Brigham Young University Cougars and the Arizona Wildcats on September 4, 2021 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire)

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