Prospects for Steelers to Avoid in 2022 NFL Draft
The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a playoff campaign, but they are far from poised to contend in the AFC.
Pittsburgh squeaked into the postseason despite ranking 21st in scoring, 20th in points allowed and dead last in run defense. This isn't to take away from what the team accomplished during Ben Roethlisberger's farewell tour, but the Steelers—who have never experienced a losing season under coach Mike Tomlin—should have loftier goals in 2022.
Pittsburgh has quietly made some tremendous moves in free agency, adding the likes of James Daniels, Myles Jack and Mason Cole. Up next is the NFL draft, wherein the Steelers have seven draft choices and one in each of the first three rounds.
The Steelers can address their biggest remaining issues over draft weekend, which gets underway April 28. However, it can't afford to whiff on any high selections if it hopes to take a positive step in the playoff race. With this in mind, let's examine three prospects the Steelers should look to avoid in the 2022 draft and why.
Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. is the seventh-ranked prospect on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's big board. Should he slide in the first round, the Steelers may be tempted to snag him at 20th overall.
Pittsburgh was solid against the pass last year, ranking ninth in both yards allowed and yards per attempt surrendered. However, the Steelers have yet to re-sign veteran starter Joe Haden. The issue with Stingley is that his play has fallen off significantly since 2019, thanks in no small part to injuries. He missed all but three games in 2021 with a foot issue.
"Stingley's injuries and inconsistency over the past two seasons have led some scouts to wonder if he can regain his All-Star form when he reaches the pros," NFL Media's Bucky Brooks wrote. "Sure, the talent is intoxicating, but plenty of can't-miss prospects have underachieved and left scouts heartbroken in the past."
The Steelers are neither talented enough nor desperate enough to take a flier on a boom-or-bust prospect like Stingley. If they are hoping to return to title contention quickly, they need to nail their high draft picks this year.
Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean, B/R's 22nd-ranked prospect, is another defender who could land on Pittsburgh's radar in Round 1.
The Steelers run defense was atrocious in 2021, ranking dead last in both yards and yards per attempt allowed. While adding Jack should help, Pittsburgh must continue revamping its front seven.
Dean is another risky prospect, though, because of his size. At just 5'11" and 229 pounds, he could struggle to make the jump to the NFL.
"The questions with Dean come down to size and how many coverage tools he will need," Derrik Klassen of the B/R Scouting Department wrote. "He handled himself well from a physical standpoint in the SEC, but the NFL is a different level, and Dean's shorter frame could pose more issues than cropped up in college."
Pittsburgh took an undersized linebacker in the 2019 draft when it traded up for Devin Bush. He hasn't exactly thrived in the AFC North. While making a player-to-player comparison based on size alone isn't entirely fair, it should give Pittsburgh pause here.
Dean was productive at Georgia—he tallied 72 tackles, six sacks and two interceptions last season—and has a lot of intriguing skills. Again, though, the Steelers can't afford to make a huge gamble in the first round.
Brandon Smith, LB, Penn State
The Steelers may be best served by waiting until Day 2 or later to target a linebacker. And if they do, they should look to avoid Penn State's Brandon Smith.
While there's plenty to like about Smith—he's big (6'3", 250 lbs), he's agile and he's good in coverage—he doesn't fit the mold of what Pittsburgh needs. He's unpolished as a run defender, and that's a problem.
"Smith needs most of his development in the run game," Klassen wrote. "While he rarely false-steps and takes himself out of the play, he does not always trigger downhill quickly enough. He can be too willing to wait and see the full picture develop in front of him, perhaps because of his discomfort working through congested areas."
Simply put, the Steelers aren't in a position to be drafting and developing run defenders. They need players who can bolster the unit right away. If Pittsburgh can't field at least an average run defense in 2022, its chances of going deep into the postseason will be slim.
Without an improved run defense, the Steelers will also struggle to get past the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals. In two blowout losses against Cincinnati last season, the Steelers surrendered 294 rushing yards.