The Pittsburgh Steelers were always a team who tried to ease their rookies into the mix. Then, the new CBA came. Teams are now rewarded by getting rookies onto the field faster due to their cheap salary cap hit. Teams recognize windows to spend money in between strong rookie contracts which creates an advantage.
You can see by the trend in the way that the Steelers have gotten their first-round picks onto the field since 2012 that they caught onto the idea and have been looking to get that same value from rookies in year one.
David DeCastro 12%
Jarvis Jones 58%
Ryan Shazier 26%
Bud Dupree 50%
Artie Burns 77%
T.J. Watt 76%
David DeCastro was the last year of the “ease along rookie”. Ryan Shazier obviously lost time due to an injury but would have been up with Burns and Watt as far as top playing rookies.
So, when the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Terrell Edmunds in the first round it raised the question as to how they are going to get this rookie on the field.
Next year, he may not. How do the Steelers get value? Dime defense.
Similar to getting rookies on the field, the Steelers are noticing the trend that has seen teams need to go as many as six defensive backs deep as a sub-package unit. Essentially, teams run nickel as their base defense, and they can go heavy, which is the old version of base, or they can go even lighter with a dime defense.
Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers relied on William Gay for this role. While Gay was technically a cornerback and Edmunds is a safety, the role is as a sixth defensive back. The picture below is the Pittsburgh Steelers from Week 16. You can see that the team would hope that Jon Bostic upgrades from Fort, Morgan Burnett is an upgrade on Mitchell who is unpictured, and then Edmunds, the first round pick is an upgrade from William Gay. Their three biggest offseason additions.
Edmunds is raw but is going to be more athletic than Gay. They can essentially bring him in to defend specific tight ends and running backs that can create in the passing game. The team is also high on his upside in terms of communication.
So while it is not T.J. Watt stepping for James Harrison the Steelers do have day one implications in terms of a specific role that will help them win next season.
With that in mind, there is still a question of how much that means he will get on the field. Last season, William Gay saw the field 27% of the time. With the Ryan Shazier asterisk, that would be a low dating back to DeCastro.
Still, it was mentioned that the team would probably be incentivized to run this defense more often next year with the younger upside of Edmunds in the mix and the way in which the league is trending.
There also may be specific players in terms of tight ends or running backs the team likes his athletic matchup on. That could get him on the field as well.
Edmunds is obviously going to have every chance to prove that he deserves to be on the field more as well. Still, in you are likely not going to see Terrell Edmunds in the same capacity as Watt or Burns as rookies.
The realistic guess is slightly over 30% of the defensive snaps played with a ceiling of about 40% of the snaps played.
They drafted Terrell Edmunds off of their mentality to ease rookies along. They can do that in his role as a starting safety while still getting him on the field and getting the value of the first round rookie contract. This idea provides the Steelers with the best of both worlds.