The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a much different look in 2012 with the release of Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, James Farrior and Chris Kemoeatu.
These roster moves also signify that younger players will have the opportunity to not only make the team, but also to contribute this season. The 2012 draft class should be no exception.
Pittsburgh now has to add depth at wide receiver, defensive end, inside linebacker and guard. Out of those positions, inside linebacker is the only position without a returning starter, though both guards could be upgraded.
With these moves in mind, here is my latest mock draft.
Pittsburgh lost its defensive leader with the release of James Farrior and it also left them with a hole at inside linebacker.
While Larry Foote is expected to start the season at the position, it is one area of the defense (besides nose tackle) that the Steelers need to upgrade.
Dont'a Hightower would be a perfect fit for Pittsburgh.
Hightower is well-versed in the 3-4 defense, playing it at Alabama, where he had a productive senior season which included 11 tackles for a loss and four sacks.
Pittsburgh could groom him behind Foote, but Hightower would likely win the starting role as a rookie given his knowledge of the defense. He has very good instincts and recognizes plays well.
The knock on Hightower is his speed, which could hurt covering running backs in the flat and tight ends down the field. He has lined up at rush-end at Alabama and he could do the same for the Steelers.
Hightower is big at 265 pounds, and he ran well at the combine which did ease some fears. He could lose another 10 pounds which could increase his speed.
Overall, Hightower is a solid player who has few holes in his game. His disciplined game could allow Lawrence Timmons to roam free and make plays.
Previous Selection: Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia
As more time passes, the less likely it seems as though the Steelers will take a guard in the first round unless David DeCastro falls to the 24th selection.
There is a lot of depth at the position and they can find a quality player in the second, such as Kevin Zeitler.
Zeitler would be a great fit for the Steelers' offensive line, which needs to upgrade at guard. He would compete for a starting position as a rookie and at worst would have to wait until his second year to start.
Zeitler comes from a Wisconsin program which produces quality offensive linemen. He is very well-coached and would help upgrade the Steelers' run-blocking.
Though he is not the most athletic guard, Zeitler is pretty powerful on the field and would help open up holes for Isaac Redman.
While run-blocking is a strength, Zeitler is not as well-versed in pass-blocking and has trouble with speed. That can be masked by playing next to Maurkice Pouncey, who has plenty of experience helping out the guards next to him.
Zeitler may never be elite, but he should be a very good starter for a long time.
Previous Selection: Alameda Ta'amu, NT, Washington
Casey Hampton has an ACL injury at the end of his career while Josh Chapman has an ACL injury and has yet to start his NFL career.
That should not scare the Steelers away as Chapman has the potential to be an anchor of their defensive line for years to come.
Chapman is not a dynamic player, but he does not have to be. Like his teammate Hightower, Chapman is very experienced in the 3-4 defense and should not have much trouble adjusting to the Steelers' scheme.
Chapman is the perfect size for a prototypical nose tackle. He has a massive lower body and exhibits a lot of power, which is key in his ability to command double teams.
Beyond the fit for the Steelers, Chapman provides very good value in the middle of the draft.
Previous Selection: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
The retirement of Aaron Smith leaves a gap at backup defensive end.
Considering that the Steelers rotate at least three ends on their line, they need to find another option behind Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward.
The Steelers expressed interested in Derek Wolfe at the combine and he would be a fine addition to their defensive line.
Wolfe had a very productive senior season at Cincinnati, making plays behind the line both in defending the run and rushing the passer.
Though he would not be slated as an immediate contributor, Wolfe is a very interesting developmental prospect, and the Steelers may not want to risk losing him by waiting until later in the draft.
Previous Selection: Aaron Henry, S, Wisconsin
The Steelers can never have enough developmental prospects at tackle and Brandon Mosley is worth a shot late in the draft.
The 6'5", 305-pound offensive tackle is inexperienced but athletic, and that is exactly what the Steelers need for their line: more athleticism.
Mosley, a former tight end, is still growing into the position as a blocker, but moves well and played for a big-time program at Auburn in a big-time conference, the SEC.
Sean Kugler is an excellent offensive line coach, and a player with the potential of Mosley would be a great developmental prospect to work with. He could eventually end up as a starter.
Previous Selection: Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M
The Steelers have a couple of young outside linebackers behind LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, but they have a lot to prove.
Jason Worilds was rather pedestrian in his action last year and must take some significant steps forward this year, while Chris Carter was injured for much of the season.
It is always worth trying to find a pass-rusher at some point, and Brandon Lindsey is a solid prospect this late in the draft.
Lindsey is a player from Pitt, and as I do every year, I try to find one who could fit the Steelers' needs.
Lindsey isn't overly strong or fast, but has been productive and has potential as an outside rusher at the next level.
Previous Selection: Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
In this Alabama-heavy draft, the Steelers finish off this mock with Marquis Maze.
Maze is undersized at only 5'8", but he could eventually develop into a slot receiver.
Of greater importance, though, is his ability to return punts and kicks. With Antonio Brown solidified as the second option at receiver, his return duties will be decreased and Maze could battle it out with Emmanuel Sanders for the job.
At this point, Maze is a pure luxury selection for Pittsburgh, who would be trying to find a player who can see the field as a rookie this late in the draft, something that I value in late-round picks.
Previous Selection: Chad Diehl, FB, Clemson