The Steelers have plenty of positions where the ability to draft a starter in 2021 NFL Draft would improve their depth, both as players that can step in and fill a role in 2021 and as future starting players.
But there’s another category of need that the Steelers and all other NFL teams have, and it’s to find players that can step into a backup role right away. Even if the team doesn’t have a present or future starting need at a position, depth is important, as injuries and other unforeseen roster situations can thrust unexpected players into the lineup.
These are places on the team where the Steelers’ backups are not necessarily up to snuff and could be improved upon with a rookie draft pick.
The Steelers have a future need with Eric Ebron’s contract expiring, but they also have the ability to provide an upgrade on their current depth, as well.
Zach Gentry missed most of 2020 with an injury and has not developed into a contributor the way the team hoped after joining as a 2019 third-round pick.
Kevin Rader worked his way into a role late in 2020 and impressed on special teams, with Mike Tomlin delivering him specific praise for his role in the regular season finale at Cleveland, but is athletically limited and probably won’t ever be a big part of the offense.
Ebron struggled with blocking responsibilities at times in 2020, so if the Steelers are looking for a No. 2 tight end, expect it to be someone that can excel in that area.
The Steelers’ outside linebackers appear to be set, with All-Pro T.J. Watt joined by promising second-year player Alex Highsmith.
But behind those two starters, there isn’t much in the way of depth. The Steelers brought back Cassius Marsh after he was a mid-season acquisition last fall and just recently signed former Notre Dame product Jamir Jones, but neither player projects to be more than a regular special teamer.
It’s possible that the Steelers could draft two players at this spot, depending on how much they like Marsh, but you can be safe to assume that at least one edge rusher will hear his named called by the Steelers this month.
It’s the position that won’t stop coming up. The Steelers have an immediate starting need at cornerback to replace lost starters Steven Nelson outside and Mike Hilton, with Cam Sutton expected to take one of those spots.
They also have a future need at cornerback, with Joe Haden entering the final season of his contract at 31 years old and no heir apparent on the roster to take his position.
But there’s also an immediate depth need to replace Sutton as the team’s Dime defensive back. There are options on the roster here, as both Justin Layne and James Pierre played a bit of Dime in 2020, with Pierre winning more playing time as the season went on.
But there’s still an opportunity to improve on the team’s immediate depth.
The Steelers are set for starters at safety and with both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds able to be retained for 2022 via fifth-year option, but the depth behind those two is certainly lacking.
Sean Davis has departed as a free agent and Jordan Dangerfield has not been retained, leaving just 2020 draft pick Antoine Brooks Jr. and practice squad member John Battle as the lone backups at the position.
The Steelers recently hosted Karl Joseph for a free agent visit, so they could be looking to fill this need elsewhere, but if they don’t, it could be a spot they look to later in the draft.