I’ve been really busy lately, and I haven’t had an opportunity to break down the draft the way I usually do. For that, I apologize to my readers.
With the draft rapidly approaching, I thought that I should at least give my take on the Steelers’ top draft needs.
There are a million NFL draft websites out there these days, and almost none of them agree about what the Steelers’ top draft needs are. I’ve seen various sources that have listed wide receiver, running back, rush linebacker, cornerback, safety, defensive end, nose tackle, and left tackle as the Steelers’ top need. And you could probably make a case for each of those. But I’ve got my own set of priorities for the upcoming draft. And so, here are my top draft needs for the Steelers.
1. Rush linebacker – Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 defense hinges upon having outside linebackers who can rush the passer. But in 2012, they got very little from the position. LaMarr Woodley has been a shadow of his former self for the past 2 years, and James Harrison was recovering from surgery. Since then, Harrison has signed with the Cincinnati Bengals and Jason Worilds is his probable successor.
Worilds hasn’t been able to stay healthy since joining the Steelers in 2010, and I’m a bit concerned about his durability. But even worse, the Steelers don’t have much behind him. Chris Carter and Adrian Robinson had a combined 8 tackles in 2012.
2. Safety – That’s right, safety. It’s not glamorous. The safeties don’t accumulate tons of sacks. But the safeties in the Steelers defense play a critical role. Just think about where the Steelers would be without Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. One could easily make the argument that both players were more important to the Steelers than Ziggy Hood. Or Keenan Lewis. Or Casey Hampton. Or Larry Foote. Or LaMarr Woodley. Or Brett Keisel. Or even Ike Taylor (although this would be a much harder argument to defend).
There’s no doubt that Clark and Polamalu are vital components of the Steelers’ defense. The only problem is that both of them are over 30 years old. Clark will be 34 years old this season, and Polamalu is 32. Despite being younger than Clark, Polamalu has put more wear and tear on his body. Troy has missed over half of the team’s games in two of the past 4 seasons. And I don’t think there are many Steelers fans who would be willing to bet their entire paycheck on Polamalu playing all 16 games this season.
As if having two aging starters weren’t enough, the Steelers lost BOTH of their backups in free agency. Ryan Mundy signed with the New York Giants, and Will Allen signed with the Dallas Cowboys. So the Steelers are left with aging veterans and little experience at backup. Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu have been great players for a long time. But it’s time for the Steelers to start setting the stage to eventually replace both of them.
3. Running Back – The Steelers had a difficult time running the ball in 2012. And their most talented running back now plays for the Arizona Cardinals. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are both serviceable running backs. But neither has the speed to break a long run to the outside. Baron Batch has the tools to be a good back in Todd Haley’s offense. But he just hasn’t shown much since coming back from his injury. So overall, the Steelers backfield could use an upgrade.
4. Offensive Tackle – Yes, I know the Steelers drafted both Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams in recent years, but the cupboard still seems pretty bare at tackle. I think that either Gilbert or Adams (or Kelvin Beachum, in a pinch) could potentially man the right tackle position. But I’m not particularly confident in either of them as a starting left tackle. Where is Max Starks when we need him?
5. Wide Receiver – Emmanuel Sanders may have signed a 1-year deal with the Steelers, but that didn’t leave me feeling particularly comfortable. But the Steelers are guaranteed to have his services for 2013, and that’s why I have wide receiver as the team’s #5 need. But at this time next year, wide receiver could easily be their #1 team need.
I have little confidence that Sanders won’t drag the team through the exact same thing next year. In fact, I thought it was a mistake to resign him. I would have let him walk and taken the draft pick. But if the team can get him signed to a long-term deal, then I’ll feel very different about the position.
6. Defensive end – Like at offensive tackle, the Steelers have invested draft picks into the defensive end position over the past few years. Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward were thought to be the eventual replacements for Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. And Ziggy’s play has been acceptable, but it hasn’t been outstanding. And that’s what I want to see from both of them. Brett Keisel continues to outplay both of them. Steeler Nation needs to see more from the two young defensive ends. If we don’t, defensive end may be high on the needs list next year.
7. Cornerback – Yes, I know that some websites list this as the Steelers’ top need. But I don’t agree. Ike Taylor is going to be his usual self. And Cortez Allen is going to make everyone forget Keenan Lewis (that’s why they let Lewis go in the first place). William Gay is back, and he’s proven as a nickel in this defense. And perhaps this is the year that Curtis Brown finally proves that he can be the cornerback that I thought he could be when the Steelers drafted him.
The Steelers should take a cornerback in this draft, but it certainly shouldn’t be in the first 2 rounds.
So that’s how I rank the team’s needs. I should note that the Steelers don’t draft based on need. They always take the best player available. But nevertheless, it’s fun to rank the team’s needs. So how would you readers rank the needs. Do you disagree with my rankings? If so, tell me why, and let me know how you would rank the team’s needs. Thanks.