2023 Steelers Post-Draft Roster Review: The Outside Linebackers
The major events of the 2023 NFL offseason are now complete. With the free agency period and the NFL Draft now behind us, we look ahead at how the Steelers roster has molded from the end of last season until now, and evaluate those changes heading toward training camp, the preseason, and the regular season.
End of Season Depth Chart
2022 was a season that saw the Pittsburgh Steelers utilize some creativity by necessity at the outside linebacker/EDGE position.
Watt, a perennial defensive player of the year candidate, suffered a pectoral injury in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals. After harassing Joe Burrow, Watt landed on the injured/reserved list and wasn’t reactivated until November 11. His counterpart, Alex Highsmith, stepped up his game as a result while the Steelers asked Jamir Jones (17 games, zero starts), Ryan Anderson (5 games, 0 starts), and a mixture of interior linebackers and defensive ends – like DeMarvin Leal – to hold down Watt’s side along the defensive line.
The Steelers’ defensive schemes were highly rotational and based on what their opponent, week-in and week-out, would require them to ask of rostered players on defense until Watt was able to get back onto the field.
Free Agency Review
On January 24, 2023, Quincy Roche was signed to a futures contract in a second stint with the Steelers after he spent 2022 with both the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans. Joining Roche in free agency, former Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Markus Golden signed with the Steelers on May 24, 2023.
Ryan Anderson signed with the Chicago Bears and Malik Reed (listed as an ILB, but a guy asked to play OLB at times in Pittsburgh) signed with the Miami Dolphins. Pittsburgh also released Jamir Jones.
NFL Draft Review
The Steelers entered the 2023 NFL Draft with linebacker as a top need. They selected Wisconsin linebacker Nick Herbig with the 132nd overall pick. Herbig, whose brother Nate joined the team as a free agent offensive lineman, was the only true outside linebacker added via the draft.
Post-Draft Depth Chart
- T.J. Watt
- Alex Highsmith
- Nick Herbig
- Markus Golden
- Quincy Roche
- David Perales
- Toby Ndukwe
At this point, before training camp starts, it appears that Watt and Highsmith are firmly entrenched as the starting outside linebackers for the Steelers.
Just this week, Golden – a ninth-year veteran – was asked about his role while at off-season training:
“Whatever coach wants me to do, I’m going to be ready to come in and hunt and do what the team needs me to do… I’m all about winning at the end of the day.”
Golden is the most likely top backup contender with the amount of experience he has in the league. He will become a critical factor in how Herbig also adapts in his transition into the NFL. Although Roche has limited experience, he adds the depth the group needed on defense and likely on special teams as well. That leaves Perales and Ndukwe as the final pieces.
Outside linebacker is still an area where fans feel some trepidation over, though. Should Highsmith or Watt miss any time, will Golden, Herbig, or the other three currently-roster outside linebackers be enough to fill the gap… or will the Steelers be forced to be creative once again in 2023? That’s such a hypothetical question, though, that there is no way to give a reasonable answer.
As this position group stands, it will be interesting to watch as it develops throughout training camp. It isn’t as uncertain as the competition that will be underway among the interior linebackers, however.
Already, the limited information out of team activities seems to point to the outside linebackers working well together as a unit. But, it’s work that has to be put in if the Steelers want the group to cohesively perform and communicate during the 2023 season.
It’s never going to happen overnight,” Watt told Joe Rutter recently. “It’s going to take some time, but we want to take each and every step in the right direction. We have a lot of time from here to there. It’s about getting everybody on the same page as quickly as possible so it makes everything go smoother.”