Pittsburgh Steelers: 6 Under-the-Radar Draft Needs
The release of James Farrior has left a gaping hole at inside linebacker. It should be expected that Larry Foote, who shared time at inside linebacker with Farrior last season, will enter the season as the starter.
Stevenson Sylvester will be the primary backup, but he has the athletic ability and potential to push Foote for playing time.
At the center of the defense, Casey Hampton is coming off of an ACL injury and is likely in his last season with the team, leaving Steve McLendon as the only healthy option at nose tackle right now.
Pittsburgh has a history of offensive line problems, and the weak spot along the line this season will be at the guard positions.
Ramon Foster is is a solid option at right guard and has improved over his first couple of seasons in the league, but left guard Doug Legursky is undersized and can be handled by the larger defensive tackles in the league.
Besides these positions, Pittsburgh has depth issues at a number of other positions, and if they are to be successful this upcoming season and in the future, they must address these under-the-radar needs in the draft.
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If Mike Wallace re-signs with the Steelers, they have a very good receiver. Until then, the only experienced receivers on the roster are Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
Brown and Sanders have a combined 135 receptions in their two years with the Steelers, and both only look to get better. However, they cannot do it alone.
Assuming Wallace is on the roster this year, Pittsburgh still only has three receivers, and they will need at least one more for their four-wide sets as well as insurance for injury.
Ideally, they can find a cheap veteran later in the offseason, but they still will look to keep five receivers on the roster.
After having success drafting receivers in the the middle to late rounds recently, it may be worth a shot for the Steelers to look for depth in the third round or later.
Nick Toon, Marvin McNutt and Marvin Jones are mid-round prospects who could add some much-needed size to the lineup.
Later in the draft, the Steelers like to get players who can also step up on special teams, so a player such as T.J. Graham, Danny Coale or Marquis Maize are all multi-dimensional options. Derek Moye won't be a returner, but he is a sleeper prospect with excellent size.
The Steelers like to throw the ball around with Ben Roethlisberger, and they need to ensure that they are well-stocked at receiver.
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For some people, the backfield of Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch and John Clay are enough. For others, drafting a running back is a need.
Redman has 726 yards and has averaged 4.5 yards per carry in his two years in the league, but has never had to be the main back in Pittsburgh's offense.
That will change this season, as Redman will take over for Rashard Mendenhall, who has an ACL injury. According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mendenhall may not be ready until 2013.
Redman will provide the Steelers with a power back who rarely loses yards, but is not a home-run threat. They also have power backs backing him up with Dwyer and Clay.
Batch is a versatile back who is the favorite to be the team's third-down back with above-average blocking ability and good hands out of the backfield.
Pittsburgh could potentially use more of a game-breaker at running back without Mendenhall, but they will not take one too early in the draft unless the value is too good to pass up.
A player such as LaMichael James would be a big-play back that could fill a variety of roles for the Steelers, but they would have to spend a second- or third-round choice on him.
Isaiah Pead is another mid-round option who can also fill the role as third-down back and could eventually develop as a solid No. 2 back, if not feature back.
If the Steelers pass on these players, they can take a flier on one of the quality late-round backs who would then compete with the current group for a roster spot.
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Pittsburgh has a consistent, and very good, tight end with Heath Miller, but for all of the two tight end sets that they run, an upgrade should be considered.
Pittsburgh's back-up tight end, Weslye Saunders, has been suspended for the first four games of the 2012 season for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.
David Johnson, the team's H-back, is not a viable option as the top backup.
The problem with finding a legit back-up tight end is, this year's tight end draft class is weak.
Pittsburgh will not take a tight in the first few rounds, or at least they shouldn't. If there is value, the Steelers will wait until at least the fourth round to address the position.
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The Steelers have spent two first-round draft picks on defensive ends in the past three drafts, and yet, they lack depth at the position with the recent retirement of Aaron Smith.
Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel figure to be starters with Cameron Heyward getting significant action as the third defensive end in the rotation.
Normally, this would be enough depth to see playing time, but Keisel has not played a full 16-game schedule since 2007. Even if it is for only one or two games per year, the Steelers need additional depth at defensive end.
With so much already invested in the position, Pittsburgh will wait until later in the draft to address the position, and there are some good prospects that they will be able to select from.
Derek Wolfe is a prospect who has seemed to quietly rise up draft boards, and he should, given his productive senior season at Cincinnati in which he had 9.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss.
Matt Conrath is a late-round prospect who was productive last season with three sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. He will need to bulk up if he is going to play end in a 3-4 defense.
This is one area that the Steelers do not want to be too thin on entering the season.
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Gay started at cornerback opposite of Ike Taylor last season, and he had the ability to play inside as the nickel corner.
Though Gay may not have been the starter at corner this upcoming season with up-and-coming corners in Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, he did provide depth in a wide-open NFL when it comes to passing.
Teams cannot have enough good cornerbacks, and while it appears as though the Steelers have three good, young options, they will not pass on a chance to add another, whether it be early or late in the draft.
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A team can never have enough good corners or pass-rushers on defense, and while the Steelers have three good, young prospects at cornerback, the young options at outside linebacker have not inspired confidence.
Pittsburgh's pass-rush suffered last season with injuries to LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, and they do not want to be in the same situation next season.
It may be a bit much to ask for, but if the right player falls in the first round, it is not out of question that the Steelers would add a pass-rusher with their top pick, and there are some good ones.
Courtney Upshaw figures to be gone, but a player such as Nick Perry would be a great fit in Pittsburgh's defense.
Bruce Irvin is very athletic and seemed to be a good developmental prospect until he was arrested last week.
Drafting an outside linebacker early may seem like a luxury pick, but having a great pass-rush can carry a team a long way (see the New York Giants), and the Steelers still need a future replacement for the soon-to-be 34-year-old Harrison.
If they do not take one early on, it would not be surprised if the Steelers spent a late draft choice on an outside linebacker.
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