Steelers Urged to Add Another Former First-Round Pick to Defense

Mike Tomlin

Getty Head coach Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers are being encouraged to sign cornerback Bradley Roby.

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed two former first-round picks to their defense this past offseason. But the Bleacher Report NFL staff is calling for Steelers general manager Omar Khan to target another ex-first rounder for his defense in free agency.

Bleacher Report identified cornerback as the team’s biggest weakness after the 30-7 Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on September 10. In response, the Bleacher Report NFL staff is urging the Steelers to pursue signing free agent cornerback Bradley Roby.

“They brought in Patrick Peterson to join Levi Wallace as the starting outside corners until Joey Porter Jr. is ready to break into the starting lineup, and Chandon Sullivan is the starter in the slot. But it’s all one injury away from getting scary pretty quickly,” wrote the Bleacher Report NFL staff.

“The Steelers added Desmond King after he was released by the Texans, but it wouldn’t hurt to add another capable veteran in Bradley Roby.”

Pittsburgh may not need another cornerback just for depth. The Steelers secondary played poorly in Week 1, as it allowed 7.6 yards per pass attempt. Only seven teams yielded a higher average on opening weekend (excluding Monday Night Football).

How CB Bradley Roby Could Fit With the Steelers Defense

Roby began his career with the Denver Broncos as the No. 31 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. He played 75% of the team’s defensive snaps as a rookie and then played 623 snaps on Denver’s terrific 2015 defense, which led the team to a Super Bowl title.

Roby didn’t start a lot of games early in his career, but he continued to play a lot. He lined up for at least 620 defensive snaps in each of his first four seasons.

In 2018, he became a regular starter, playing a career-high 926 defensive snaps.

Over five seasons with the Broncos, Roby posted 236 combined tackles, 60 pass defenses, 7 interceptions and 3 sacks. He returned 2 of his picks for touchdowns.

Roby then spent two seasons with the Houston Texans (2019-20) and two with the New Orleans Saints (2021-22). Last season, he started 10 games for the Saints, registering 36 combined tackles and 5 pass defenses.

The 31-year-old has played more than 600 snaps on defense in eight of his nine NFL seasons.

That experience could be useful to the Steelers secondary, which performed poorly in Week 1. Veteran Patrick Peterson, the No. 5 pick for the Arizona Cardinals in 2011 who the Steelers signed this offseason, struggled to cover 49ers wideout Brandon Aiyuk.

New safety Keanu Neal, the No. 17 selection for the Atlanta Falcons in 2017, failed to make an impact in run defense. The Steelers yielded 5.5 yards per carry; Neal couldn’t tackle 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey on a 65-yard touchdown at the beginning of the third quarter, which essentially ended the game.

If the Steelers want to add another veteran with a first-round pedigree to help the secondary, Roby is an option.

Pittsburgh’s Secondary Answer is Already on the Roster?

It’s only Week 1, so it’s important to not overreact. But if Pittsburgh’s revamped secondary doesn’t work this season, it will likely be because it’s relying too much on over-the-hill former first-round choices.

Signing Roby could exacerbate that potential problem.

The answer to the Steelers secondary is likely already on the roster in rookie Joey Porter Jr.

The No. 32 overall pick played only 7 defensive snaps in Week 1. That was a little surprising, especially when the blowout seemingly allowed the opportunity for Porter to receive some experience in a non-pressure situation late in the game.

It makes sense that the Steelers coaching staff doesn’t want to give Porter too much responsibility too early. His long-term development is the priority.

But any more games like the ones from Peterson and fellow starting cornerback Levi Wallace in Week 1, the Steelers will need to turn to Porter right away.

Newly-signed Desmond King is also an option. Pittsburgh signed King on August 30, so he wasn’t ready to dress in Week 1.

King is a former fifth-round pick, not first rounder, but he is an ex-All-Pro from 2018. He also fared much better according to the Pro Football Focus player grades last season than Roby.

The PFF player grades ranked Roby dead last among cornerbacks who played at least half his team’s defensive snaps last year.

If the Steelers are concerned with their cornerback depth, Roby is a potential addition. But to see significant secondary improvement the rest of the season, Pittsburgh should have better options already on the roster.

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