Steelers Draft '15: Defensive Line

A backup to Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, with edge-rushing ability, is the perfect fit for the Steelers.

Rush and cover. It's become the obvious theme of this draft.

But what about the run defense that was more porous per carry than any other Pittsburgh Steelers defense in 50 years?

Yes, last year's Steelers defense allowed 4.36 yards per carry, the worst in Pittsburgh since the 1964 Steelers allowed 4.39 per carry.

That team had even bigger ends than did the more current group, and that problem will get worse with the loss of 262-pound end Jason Worilds.

Of course, few talk about Worilds as an end because he's officially listed as an outside linebacker. But on a team that put its 4-3 nickel on the field almost 50 percent of the time, the outside linebacker put his hand on the ground as a defensive lineman and was being targeted by opposing running games.

James Harrison is the other 260-plus-pound defensive end in the Steelers' nickel, and he's likely playing his last season, so it's a legitimate question for a team that wants to run its nickel out there even more often to match up with the 3-WR base offenses that are so prevalent these days:

How likely are the Steelers going to find a 260-plus-pound defensive end who can drop into coverage?

Not bloodly likely.

Bud Dupree is one, but he'll be gone.

Owamagbe Odighizuwa is another, but many believe he's only a true 4-3 end and the Steelers have shown little interest.

The Steelers could instead draft a true 4-3 end, but they might have to work him as a backup 5-tech end for their 3-4 base. That just might be the reason the Steelers brought Preston Smith in for a visit a couple of days ago.

Smith (6-4.7, 271, 4.73) started 24 games at Mississippi State and totaled 16 career sacks. He has long arms, big hands and enough agility to run a 7.07 3-cone and 4.28 short shuttle. At MSU he was versatile enough to drop into coverage occasionally as an outside backer or play nose tackle on passing downs.

Za'Darius Smith (6-4.7, 273, 4.83) of Kentucky is similar to Preston Smith in size, position and versatility, but isn't as quick or strong.

The Steelers could just ignore the problem at their nickel end for another year and continue their rote scouting of 3-4 outside linebackers and defensive ends. In fact they brought in one of the best 3-4 ends, Xavier Cooper, for a visit.

Cooper (6-2.3, 293, 4.84) started 34 games as a 3-4 end for Washington State and compiled 13 career sacks. He's big, fast and versatile, but is being knocked for his short 31 1/2-inch arms.

But Cooper's so active on tape that he could turn out to be a second-round steal, and may even be able to give the Steelers some pass rush off the edge in their nickel. Arik Armstead (6-7.1, 292) of Oregon and Henry Anderson (6-6.2, 294, 4.99) of Stanford are built like the Steelers' prototypical defensive end, and played plenty of 5-tech in the PAC-12, but are likely to cost too high of a pick for a team that just needs a reserve interior player or an edge rusher.

If they're lucky, they can find someone to do both.


1. Leonard Williams, 6-5, 302, USC.

2. Malcom Brown, 6-2, 319, Texas.

3. Danny Shelton, 6-2, 339, Washington.

4. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, 6-3, 267, UCLA.

5. Preston Smith, 6-5, 272, Mississippi State.


Second Round -- Preston Smith, Mississippi State; Xavier Cooper, Washington State.

Fourth Round -- Za'Darius Smith, Kentucky; Derrick Lott, Chattanooga.

Sixth Round -- Anthony Chickillo, Miami.

(Check out Dave-Te' Thomas' Defensive Draft Value Board as well as's in-depth scouting reports on the position and our Top 100.)

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