Every year, they let free agents walk out the door without fear while never over-spending on anyone.
Pittsburgh has built through the draft since 1969. Prior to that, they were trade-happy and had no success because of it, like the Washington Redskins. When Chuck Noll came to Pittsburgh, everything changed.
Pittsburgh is not the kind of team that normally reaches for players, and rarely (only twice) traded up in the first round to get a player they coveted. Those players? Troy Polamalu and Santonio Holmes, which we can agree have been great successes.
Here is what I believe is going to happen come April when Pittsburgh is on the clock.
Most mock drafts have the Steelers going with a lineman in the first round. By my calculations, there will probably be 8-10 taken before Pittsburgh selects 32nd. As I said before, Pittsburgh does not like to reach for players.
Sean Smith, CB/S, Utah: Smith has all the size (6-foot-4-inches, 215 lbs.) and speed (4.5 second 40) to be a force in the Steelers secondary. I love Ryan Clark, I really do, but the hits he delivers are going to shorten his career. He is already 30 and entering the last year of his contract.
A converted WR, Smith can be the deep man while Taz...er, Troy roams the field like he does. Mike Mayock, the NFL Network draft guru, likens Smith to former Steelers great Mel Blount. That is good enough for me.
The only starter from the Steelers Super Bowl victory on the offensive line that is not young is center Justin Hartwig. He is 30, but nowhere near what Steeler Nation has grown accustomed to in the middle of the line. Guys like Mike Webster, Dermonti Dawson, and Jeff Hartings have all been the anchor of our line. Hartwig does not fill those shoes.
Max Unger, C, Oregon: Many people do not believe that Unger will be available late in the second round. I think the Steelers may trade up to get him. Most teams are reluctant to take a center in the first round, due to the money that will have to be paid out. Most teams prefer to go with a tackle. Due to this, Pittsburgh will trade their fourth round pick to move up and grab Unger.
Hines Ward, as much as I love him, is starting to show his age. Limas Sweed should have no trouble taking over as No. 3 receiver, but an eventual replacement is going to have to be brought in sometime for Ward.
Brandon Gibson, WR, Washington St.: Gibson stands at six feet and 210 lbs. He has decent hands, but not elite speed. With Hines Ward starting to slow down a little, Gibson can watch for a couple years before stepping in as a third WR. With a couple years of learning how to block and how a smaller, slower receiver should play (from the best of them in Hines Ward), Gibson could eventually be his replacement.
Traded to move up in the second round.
Every player we had last year on the D-Line was over the age of 30. Pittsburgh needs to add some youth to the rotation in order to keep the dominance of the D intact for years to come.
Terrance Knighton, NT, Temple: Knighton is big (6-foot-3-inches, 321 lbs.), and could be the eventual replacement for Casey Hampton. Knighton was selected to the first team All-MAC in 2008. He can start as a fill-in, and can either play DE or NT in the 3-4.
Anything picked after this point is strictly for future. These people will be practice squad, if they make it that far.
Deshea Townsend is almost a fossil. It is time to bring in someone that can eventually take his place.
Donald Washington, CB, Ohio State: Washington has good size (six feet, 197 lbs.) but had a pedestrian time of 4.46 in the 40 at the combine. He does, however, have a 45-inch vertical. Even with the drafting of Sean Smith in the first round, he is more of a safety. Washington could eventually develop into a nickel back, and maybe eventually be a starter.
With most of the re-signings of our starting O-Line from the Super Bowl, we need more youth on the defensive side of the ball.
Antonio Dixon, NT, University of Miami (Fl): Dixon could have been drafted much higher had he not suffered a knee injury his senior year. He Has good 3-4 size at 6-feet-3-inches and 328 lbs. and plays well against the run, and that is really what is required when it comes to a position like this.
These are my guesses as to what may happen. However, if I am wrong on every pick, I have no problem with that. When it comes to the Steelers drafting, these guys know what they are doing.