by Ryan Lang
Photo courtesy of Tribune-Review.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers about to begin play in 2023, Draft 412 will review each position, its depth and potential.
Today, the Steelers' defensive line group goes on the clock:
Cameron Heyward - 6’5” 295 lbs.
Heyward was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He has been a leader and the center of the Steelers' defense for years, and while some are waiting for the year where he slows down because of his age, it has yet to happen. Heyward, now at age 34, is still counted on to lead the defensive line.
Isaiahh Loudermilk - 6’7” 293 lbs.
Loudermilk was drafted in 2021 in the 5th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has played two seasons with the team but hasn’t had the impact that was expected. He has played 26 games in the past 2 seasons including 5 starts. In those games, he has posted 30 tackles, 1TFL and 1 sack. He will go into the season as a backup option in case of a Cameron Heyward injury.
Armon Watts - 6’5” 307 lbs.
Watts was drafted in 2019 by the Minnesota Vikings, and he played 3 years, totaling 7 sacks and 39 tackles. He spent last season with the Bears and earned 18 tackles and 1 sack. The Steelers picked him up this offseason and signed him to a one year deal, likely to be the third option at defensive tackle.
James Nyamwaya - 6’5” 305 lbs.
Nyamwaya is an undrafted free agent that the Steelers picked up this year. He attended Merrimack where he tallied 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 21 total tackles. Nyamwaya is more or less a practice body, and his best option may be making the practice squad.
Montravius Adams - 6’4” 304 lbs.
Adams was drafted by the Packers in 2017 and played four years. After a brief time in New Orleans, he was signed by the Steelers during the 2021 season. He started 9 games this past season and played well. He will not wow you on the stat sheet, but he does what is asked from him in the middle.
Breiden Fehoko - 6’3” 300 lbs.
Fehoko played his first three seasons with the Chargers before joining the Steelers this offseason on a one-year deal. He has gotten consistently better throughout his first three years and brings some needed depth. He is currently listed as the backup nose tackle, but rookie Keeanu Benton is breathing down his neck for playing time.
Keeanu Benton - 6’4” 309 lbs.
Benton was drafted out of Wisconsin in the second round by the Steelers in this past draft. Benton has impressed so far this offseason and has been making the most of his reps. He is currently listed as the #3 behind Fehoko and Adams but he could climb all the way to that starting spot at some point this year.
Jonathan Marshall - 6’3” 310 lbs.
Marshall was drafted in the 6th round by the Jets in 2021 and played in 4 games his rookie year. In 2022, he was signed to the practice squad and then the Steelers signed him to their active roster. With a lot of competition ahead of him, the practice squad is his best bet.
Larry Ogunjobi - 6’3” 305 lbs.
Ogunjobi signed a three year deal this offseason after his first season with the Steelers. He has returned to the field looking like a different man. He dialed in to training this offseason, returning to camp far leaner. The defensive line’s success will have a lot to do with how Ogunjobi plays.
DeMarvin Leal - 6’4” 290 lbs.
Leal was drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Leal played in 11 games last year but should see some more playing time in his second year. Right now, he will be a good rotational guy behind Ogunjobi. The Steelers see him as a player who can eventually work his way into being a starter. His continued progression will mean much needed depth for the team.
Leal can be used as a 3 or 5 technique and in some instances, at nose tackle. His rushing ability differentiates himself from the remaining part of the roster, and he’s expected to be counted on to play more this season on obvious passing downs. The Steelers expect Leal to break out this year and if he does, fans will see him bounce around on the defensive line, playing multiple positions.
Manny Jones - 6’4” 290 lbs.
Jones played last year with the Cardinals after being an undrafted free agent where he played a total of 4 games and totaled 6 tackles. The Steelers picked him up off waivers this past March. Chances are he is playing for a possible practice squad spot or for one of the other 31 teams to show an interest.
Draft 412 Analysis
The defensive line has been a work in progress over the past couple of seasons. Leal and Benton add some young talent that can help transition this line away from Cameron Heyward in the future.