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Can the Steelers Rebuild Their Defense by Leaning on CFL Talent to Fill Roles?

Updated on January 20, 2015

Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason

Shawn Lemon will look to terrorize NFL quarterbacks in 2015.
Shawn Lemon will look to terrorize NFL quarterbacks in 2015. | Source

Pass rush and pass coverage

The need for the Steelers to rebuild their defense has been well documented recently, and the expectation is that they will dedicate most of their offseason moves toward that effort. With the Steelers currently in a bad salary cap situation with Lamar Woodley's cap hit still on the books, they have to get creative in order to make the most of their situation. The Steelers recently brought in outside linebacker Shawn Lemon for a workout, and signed him soon after. They also brought in cornerback Delvin Breaux, but with 18 teams interested in signing him, he has yet to make a decision on where he will play football in 2015. With these two players possibly being the best in the CFL at their positions, it is not hard to believe that they could be solid contributors on defense for the Steelers in 2015. With these players unlikely to get a huge contract by NFL standards, both their contracts fit nicely under the cap on the Steelers 53 man roster. Adding these players also gives the Steelers a better idea of what their draft needs are well before hand. A closer look at the skill set of the player the Steelers already signed, and the skill set of the player they are interested in signing, will help to give a better idea of how much they could contribute to the Steelers defense in the coming seasons.

Shawn Lemon

Lemon played defensive end in the CFL last season, but his size makes him a better fit at outside linebacker in the NFL. He excels as a pass rusher, but at 6'2, 250 pounds he has the size to set the edge consistently as a strong defender against the opposition's ground game. With his high motor regularly on display, Shawn Lemon was able to lead the CFL in sacks. Many of these sacks ended in forced fumbles by Lemon as he put his playmaking abilities on display. In the CFL he had the strength to overpower offensive linemen when rushing the passer, along with the quickness to beat them to the edge. A variety of pass rush moves made Lemon even more lethal when his closing speed regularly allowed him to run down quarterbacks who had escaped the pocket. All of this does not mean that Lemon will be a star in the NFL, but players with similar athletic abilities have had plenty of success in their NFL careers. By adding athleticism from an edge rusher who can set the edge on running plays, the Steelers now have a nice complement to their other outside linebacker who fits a similar mold. Former first round draft pick Jarvis Jones and Shawn Lemon figure to be strong candidates to earn starting roles as book ends in the Steelers defensive front.

Delvin Breaux

The issues in the Steelers secondary were evident for most of the 2014 season, even though they were able to overcome them to win 11 games. Delvin Breaux would bring the athleticism, coverage ability and toughness that the Steelers secondary has lacked for the past few seasons now. At 6'1, and close to 200 pounds, Breaux is capable of being a physical playmaker who disrupts opposing passing games. Playing coverage in the CFL is not as easy as it might to people that are unfamiliar with the way Canadian football is played. Receivers often get a running start to the line of scrimmage to start plays, and with only three downs, every down could be a passing down. This puts plenty of pressure on members of CFL secondary's, and the players that are able to perform at a high level there, are often legitimate NFL talent. Breaux is not just a quality cover guy however, as he is a willing tackler who is always in great position to come up and make the stop on the running backs that carry the ball outside the tackles. This makes him a great fit for just about any NFL secondary, but especially the Steelers who have placed significant value on defensive backs who are quality tacklers on the perimeter. While Delvin Breaux is unlikely to sign with a team that will not offer him the chance to compete for a starting job, the Steelers would be more than willing to allow him to earn a starting job on their defensive unit.

Can CFL talent make an impact for the Steelers?

By adding Shawn Lemon, and looking to add Delvin Breaux, the Steelers are not turning to average Canadian Football League talent in their effort to rebuild their defense. These two players are the best defensive players in the Canadian Football League right now. With the Steelers only having seven picks in the upcoming draft and not much cap space, adding these players allows them to create the necessary depth to once again produce strong defensive numbers. While the Steelers are still likely to add another defensive back and outside linebacker in the draft, adding Shawn Lemon allows them to take the best player available when it is their turn to pick in the first round. Ideally the Steelers defensive rebuilding effort will get off to a flying start if they are able to add impact nose tackle Danny Shelton in the NFL draft this April. Drafting Shelton might not be a possibility if the Steelers still had a huge hole at outside linebacker across from Jarvis Jones.


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Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason

Will Shawn Lemon help the Steelers defense to return to a championship level?

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