NFL Draft Picks Who Would Be Instant Starters for the Pittsburgh Steelers
As the Pittsburgh Steelers move to regroup after a disappointment 2012 campaign, the NFL Draft in April will be a huge source of assistance for the aging and beleaguered roster.
Several players available in this year's draft could be instant starters for the Steelers. Here's a look at five players who fit that description, some that may be gone unless Pittsburgh moves up from the 17th spot in the first round.
Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
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Milliner is going to be one of the most sought-after defensive players in this draft and could be a top-five selection in the first round. He has all of the makings of a shutdown defender with the ability to create turnovers, get into the backfield and to disrupt plays in coverage.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, acquiring just such a player is important. Ike Taylor's age means that he will likely only be around and effective for a few more seasons.
On the other side of the defense, Keenan Lewis is a free-agent and will likely command a decent-sized contract on the market.
If there's any way Pittsburgh can get Milliner without mortgaging the future, he would instantaneously be the best cornerback on the roster. He would likely get the starting job opposite Taylor and has already played in a pro-style defense against the top SEC competition.
Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
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Free agency will likely gut the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line depth in 2013. Starters Ramon Foster and Max Starks, along with backup Doug Legursky, are free-agents and likely to be let go by the team.
Likewise, starting guard Willie Colon will likely be let go by the team rather than be kept around to eat up a roster spot and over $6 million in cap space.
Cooper could be a first round replacement for one of them and would instantly be a candidate to start at guard in much the same was as David DeCastro was last season after his selection in the first round of the draft.
Cooper is a good athlete and his mechanics are near-flawless. The biggest problem with him seems to be a predilection for penalties. However, he would upgrade the Pittsburgh run-blocking, an area where the Steelers need to improve drastically.
Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
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With longtime starter Casey Hampton set to depart finally via free agency, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be in transition at the nose tackle position for the first time in over a decade.
Steve McLendon seemed the heir apparent at the position during the 2012 NFL preseason, but that quickly gave way to his being buried on the depth chart once Hampton returned healthy from a knee injury the previous year.
If McLendon, who is a restricted free-agent, is not the heir, Jesse Williams could be an instant fix at the position. He's a big-framed player with the ability to eat up gaps and keep the running game closed up. He doesn't have the skill to be a pass rusher, but the Pittsburgh system doesn't ask for that in their nose tackle.
Williams will be available when Pittsburgh selects in the middle of the first round and he's done enough to justify a pick there. Pittsburgh badly needs to start shoring up the run defense, which has slowly eroded the last couple of seasons.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
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Pittsburgh's rushing attack, once the cornerstone of the franchise's offensive prowess, has become one of the league's worst units.
With that in mind as well as Todd Haley's devotion to bringing a more-balanced attack to the team, Pittsburgh will rip apart the running back depth chart and start over once again.
One big way to upgrade their attack in the draft would be to take Eddie Lacy in the second or third round and insert him as the feature back.
Lacy is a big, bruising runner that has the quickness to evade tacklers and get into the open field. He has to power to punch the ball across a hotly-contested line of scrimmage. He's the goal line back the Steelers have lacked since Jerome Bettis retired after Super Bowl XL in 2005.
Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia
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The Pittsburgh Steelers may need to release outside linebacker James Harrison in order to get themselves under the projected salary cap for 2013. If Harrison is released, Jason Worilds is the most likely player to be promoted.
That is not, however, written in stone.
If Pittsburgh elects to draft a player like Alec Ogletree, he would be an upgrade over Worilds and would give the Steelers one of the draft's better pass rush prospects.
His skill set, including excellent athleticism and an ability to play in coverage (he's a former safety prospect), would do him well in a defense that asks so much of its outside linebackers. He can make splash plays both in the passing game and as a rusher.
Ogletree's biggest need is to get better in run defense, but that is something that could be accomplished with the right coaching. There's no better factory for NFL linebackers than the Pittsburgh Steelers, where Dick LeBeau and his staff have turned out some of the finest of the last 20 years.