If you believe raw talent is a leading indicator of performance you’ll love how many former first-round draft picks will be playing on defense for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season.
Exactly how many first-rounders are expected to start for Pittsburgh’s defense in 2020? To borrow verbiage from NBA star LeBron James, not one “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven….”
As noted by Grant Gordon, digital content producer for NFL.com, “among the Steelers’ projected starters, there are seven first-round draft picks—which would be tops in the NFL.”
Actually, it could be eight if Tyson Alualu starts on the interior of the defensive line, which is a distinct possibility considering that the only true nose tackle on the Steelers’ roster is career backup Dan McCullers. Alualu was selected tenth overall in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Pittsburgh’s Projected Starters on Defense
As for the seven other first-round picks, those are: Inside linebacker Devin Bush (Steelers, 2019, No. 10 overall), safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (Dolphins, 2018, No. 11), safety Terrell Edmunds (Steelers, 2018, No. 28), outside linebacker T.J. Watt (Steelers, 2017, No. 30), outside linebacker Bud Dupree (Steelers, 2015, No. 22), defensive end Cameron Heyward (Steelers, 2011, No. 31) and cornerback Joe Haden (Browns, 2010, No. 7).
For the most part, the seven individuals on this list are drawing rave reviews from NFL observers. For example, T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward are both considered to be among the 50 best players in the NFL. Joe Haden was recently described as one of the top 3 cornerbacks in the NFL. And Minkah Fitzpatrick was recently named to a list of the NFL’s Top 25 Under-25. Finally, Devin Bush is among two second-year Steelers who are considered potential breakout players for 2020.
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Terrell Edmunds: Safety on the NFL’s ‘All-Average Team’?
On the other hand, one of the players on the above list hasn’t yet lived up to his draft status. In fact, Terrell Edmunds was recently listed as the safety on what was described as an NFL All-Average Team, not where you want to be if you’re a former No. 1 draft choice. That’s why it’s widely believed that Edmunds needs to take a big step forward in the next season or two, otherwise he’s liable to be replaced by much less expensive player, with Antoine Brooks Jr., the team’s sixth-round pick in 2020, among the possibilities.
In the meantime, Pittsburgh seems poised to build on last year’s success, which saw its defense allow just 18.9 points and 304.1 yards per game, fifth in the NFL on both counts. Last season the Steelers’ defense allowed 30 points in a game just once, that during a disastrous season-opening loss to the New England Patriots, a result that may have contributed to the organization’s decision to surrender its 2020 first-round draft pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick—a trade that occurred little more than a week later.