Pittsburgh Steelers: Current Team Grade by Position
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a good football team. They are one of the best teams each year, and that consistency is somewhat of a rarity in the NFL. Good teams are built of good players, something the Steelers have many of, but even good teams have weaknesses at certain positions.
With news centering around the upcoming NFL draft, most fans tend to ignore the current makeup of a team and instead focus on who could be there, rather than who is. The Steelers have a roster that will return eight starters on defense and nine on offense from from the beginning of last season.
In this slideshow, each position will be evaluated and graded on a scale of one to five, with one being terrible and five being excellent.
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At the quarterback position, the Steelers have one of the best in Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger was a Pro Bowl selection last year and was mentioned in the MVP race before he suffered a high-ankle sprain that limited his numbers and the Steelers offense severely.
When healthy, Roethlisberger is among the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league due to his excellent accuracy and mobility, both in the pocket and out of it.
Behind Roethlisberger, the Steelers re-signed Charlie Batch and would like to bring back Byron Leftwich as well to compete for the primary backup spot. Leftwich has been often injured during his time in Pittsburgh, and Batch, while playing well when given the chance, is about as old as quarterbacks come in the league.
The Steelers will need to add younger depth and more stability at the position behind Ben, but they are still in excellent shape.
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With Rashard Mendenhall going down last season with an ACL tear, the workload was given to Isaac Redman to carry.
During his opportunities, Redman performed very well, gaining 121 yards against the Broncos in the playoffs and averaging 4.5 yards-per-carry on the season.
Behind Redman, Pittsburgh has a bunch of talented, yet unproven, running backs. They have Jonathan Dwyer, who has been a favorite of head coach Mike Tomlin and has performed well when given the chance.
John Clay is a big bruising back who has promise. Baron Batch is an unknown in the group, having injured himself before the season even started, but is thought to be the clear-cut choice for the third-down back role.
With an uncertain future at the position, Pittsburgh will look to add another back in the draft to compete with the current ones. Possible choices are Oregon's LaMichael James and Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead.
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Mike Wallace is the elephant in this room. With the Pro Bowl receiver threatening to hold out for as long as he has to over his contract situation, Pittsburgh may or may not need more receiver help.
Pittsburgh is by no means in bad shape without Wallace, though, as they still have the very versatile Antonio Brown and another young receiver in Emmanuel Sanders. Jericho Cotchery is the other receiver in the mix.
Some would argue that Brown is a more complete and better receiver than Wallace, and that he showed it by putting up comparable numbers to Wallace even though he was mostly out of the spotlight during the first half of the season.
Sanders' year was cut short due to injury, but he was looking to be the No. 2 receiver behind Wallace before he went down. That talent should still be there and will help the Steelers dramatically.
Cotchery returns to the Steelers and will be a veteran presence in the unit. He also shows good rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The shape of the receiving corp all comes down to whether Wallace plays or not.
Rating With Wallace: 5
Rating Without Wallace: 4
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Heath Miller is the best blocking tight end in the NFL. Miller has some of the surest hands on the team as well and is a great target over the middle.
Miller's numbers have been down the last few seasons, though, partly to blame with Bruce Arian's not holding the position in high regard, and he is getting older.
Behind Miller you have...well, exactly. The second-string tight end is David Johnson, who is used more as the fullback than a real tight end.
Pittsburgh will need to add something to the tight end position in order to create some depth and some competition for the second tight end spot.
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In another article, it was said how the Steelers' biggest weakness is the offensive line; that is true. The offensive line is the biggest issue on an otherwise championship-caliber team.
Here is an excerpt from that same article about the projected starters:
Here's a quick breakdown of the starters if the season started today:
- Maurkice Pouncey: Pouncey is the starting center and the best the line has to offer. He made the Pro Bowl the last two years (though he probably didn't earn it last year) and has shown signs of being one of the best around. His only drawback is that he hasn't put together a full season yet due to injury.
- Marcus Gilbert: Gilbert is a second-year tackle out of Florida who showed very promising signs during his rookie year. He played the year at right tackle, but it was announced that he'll be moved to left tackle for the season. The jury is out on how he'll do, but fans are hopeful.
- Doug Legursky: Legursky is the backup center and, as it projects now, one of the starting guards. He played well in relief of Pouncey during injuries last year, but hopefully he won't have to play center again.
- Ramon FosterL Foster has done all right during his tenure with the Steelers. He is young but has done well with run-blocking. He is the other guard for the team.
- Willie Colon: Colon will be trying to return from two consecutive seasons that ended with knee injuries. He will return to playing right tackle now that Gilbert has moved over.
The line will have to be added to during the draft and should be a serious area of concern. Here are the ratings by position:
Center Rating: 4
Guard Rating: 2
Tackle Rating: 3
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The defensive line has been the target in the two of the last three first rounds of the NFL draft and, as such, has become a unit that will be strong for years to come.
With Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward looking prime to become the next pair of starting defensive ends for the Steelers, the position looks solid. Brett Keisel is still with the team, though, and is still a very good player for the team, and one of the current starters at DE.
Casey Hampton, and the defensive tackle position as a whole, are the weakness of the line. In the past, Hampton was a monster in the middle, frequently commanding double-teams and stuffing the run, but he has lost a few steps in recent years.
The depth at the position has also disappeared with the retirement of Chris Hoke. Defensive tackle will surely be one of the positions the Steelers target in the draft.
Defensive End Rating: 4
Defensive Tackle Rating: 2
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The cornerstone of the Steel Curtain is also the strongest unit on the defense.
The Steelers' linebacking core is one of the best in the NFL, even with the release of longtime stalwart, James Farrior.
With the ever-nasty James Harrison and the young and dangerous Lamar Woodley on the outside, Pittsburgh is sure to have a strong pass rush when the two are on the field together, something that didn't happen too often last season due to injuries to both.
Lawrence Timmons is a great backer in the middle, being both tough against the run and athletic enough to help in pass coverage.
The vacancy of Farrior's spot has been something of debate in recent months, though. Experts have the Steelers selecting Dont'a Hightower to fill the spot, but Pittsburgh also has veteran Larry Foote and young upstart Stevenson Sylvester looking to take the job.
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Ike Taylor is the only sure starter at this point. With the departure of William Gay in free agency, the other spot will be up for grabs.
Taylor, despite being the scapegoat for the Steelers' overtime loss in Denver, played exceptionally well last season, putting his name into the Pro Bowl discussion, and should be a very solid starter once again.
The other corner spot will probably be held by either Cortez Allen or Curtis Brown, both entering their second years. Allen was shown to have picked up the defense faster, as he was included in several defensive packages even though he was just a rookie. Either of these two will look to step into the role opposite of Taylor.
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The Steelers have one of the best safety tandems in the NFL in five-time All-Pro Troy Polamalu and stalwart defensive back Ryan Clark.
Polamalu is arguably the best safety in the league and has been named to seven Pro Bowls during his career. While his age is starting to show a little due to his injuries, Polamalu is still a defensive threat on every play due to his incredible quickness and exceptional feel for the game.
Polamalu can accurately guess the snap count, sniff out the running plays and jump routes for interceptions better than anyone.
Clark was possibly the better of the two safeties last season, though, showing great consistency and being a strong part of the secondary. Clark was thought to be the best free safety in the division last season for his play, quite the accomplishment when Ed Reed also plays in the AFC North.
Depth at the position is a bit of a problem, as Ryan Mundy is the only other safety with any playing time, and he is best suited for a backup role rather than a starting job.