Breaking Down the Steelers' 2013 NFL Draft Needs by Value
Following the failed 8-8 season the Pittsburgh Steelers just put together in 2012, the front office and fan base alike demanded significant changes. And although we're still just under a week away from pro football's biggest game (which the Steelers biggest rivals will be playing in), Pittsburgh's offseason started nearly a month ago.
The Steelers will have some big decisions to make heading into 2013. Former high draft choices, key players and big names will be up for free agency and the aging and somewhat declining team needs to find ways to get better.
Pittsburgh has traditionally used the draft for these situations and, relatively speaking, they've been pretty good at it.
Free agency and the re-signing period will dictate much of how the Steelers draft goes, but until we reach that point, we can still get a pretty good look at what positions the team needs to be interested in. Let's check out the position-by-position need value for Pittsburgh in the 2013 offseason.
Need Value: 6
A lot of you may be surprised to see the need value at the quarterback position so high, especially with two-time Super Bowl Champion Ben Roethlisberger leading the charge.
But the Pittsburgh Steelers' problems start when you look past Big Ben.
It's been a long time since the Steelers' franchise quarterback played the entirety of a season—since 2008, in fact. And those games haven't gone so well for Pittsburgh, especially in 2012.
When Roethlisberger left early in the game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Steelers were a 5-3 team on the upswing, having won their previous three contests. What followed was an unmitigated disaster. Behind Byron Leftwich and then Charlie Batch, the Steelers snuck out an overtime win against the Chiefs before falling to the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals. In the four game stretch where Ben missed time, Pittsburgh scored more than 20 points just once.
The Steelers poor quarterback play forced Roethlisberger to come back a little early from the shoulder and rib injuries, and the results weren't what everyone expected. Pittsburgh finished 1-3 under Ben and much of the results can be traced back to the back-up quarterback situations.
Both Batch and Leftwich are on the wrong side of 30 and have a clearly diminishing skill set. For Leftwich, the addition of Todd Haley at offensive coordinator could ultimately spell his demise while Batch could be headed for retirement.
Either way, the Steelers need to invest in a young quarterback behind Roethlisberger. The team could go through free agency, but there are some nice options for the team in the draft, if the front office is willing to spend the pick.
Zac Dysert—Miami (OH)
What better way to back up Roethlisberger than with the QB who broke most of his school records. Dysert isn't the biggest signal caller, but he's got a fast arm and a quick release that fits the Steelers scheme. Projected Round: Mid-Late 3rd
At one point in his career, Jones was considered the next great QB prospect. But after some erratic play, Jones slid down draft boards. He's a project, but he's got some good upside. Projected Round: Late 3rd-Early 4th
Alex Carder—Western Michigan
Carder was one of the more underrated prospects in this class, but he's still quite talented. He has some mobility and good upside, but needs time to develop. Projected Round: 6th-7th
Need Value: 7
Of all the facets on the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense, the running game had to be the most disappointing. Pittsburgh was near the bottom of the league on the ground as they struggled to find a back who could be consistent and carry the load.
Making matters worse for the Steelers, both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are slated to be restricted free agents, and former No. 1 pick Rashard Mendenhall will hit the open market.
Add in the fact that Pittsburgh has all but severed ties with promising young back Chris Rainey, and you've got a real conundrum on your hands.
Right now, all signs are pointing to both Dwyer and Redman coming back while Mendenhall will most likely be looking for a new job in 2013. But just because two of three will be coming back doesn't mean the Steelers are set in the backfield.
Pittsburgh could go in one of two directions, but both lead to the team taking a running back in the draft. The team could search for a new player to carry load and be the teams workhorse, or they could find a situational back like they had in Rainey.
Either way, expect the Steelers to come away from April's Draft with a new face in the backfield.
Lacy is a true Steelers running back. A big rumbler, Lacy uses his extreme leg drive to punish opposing defenders and blow through. There may not be a premier back in this years draft, but Lacy is the cream of the crop. Projected Round: Late 1st-Early 2nd
Marcus Lattimore—Douth Carolina
Before a devastating knee injury, Lattimore may have been that premier back that this class lacks. Like Lacy, he's got great power in his legs, and if he can return form, he'd be a huge pick up for any team. Projected Round: Late 2nd-Mid 3rd
Graham has the skill set that the Steelers would like to see in a situational player. Plus, he's a local product. Projected Round: 5th
Theo Riddick—Notre Dame
Riddick was the feature back for the Notre Dame Irish, and despite his size, he carried the load for the team. He's also got good receiving skills out of the backfield. Projected Round: 5th-6th
Need Value: 0
For a position that has changed and devolved over the last decade, the Pittsburgh Steelers are pretty set right now at the fullback position. Undrafted Will Johnson proved this season that Pittsburgh now has a legitimate threat out of the backfield.
The Steelers don't typically look for fullbacks in the draft, and I don't expect that to change in 2013.
Need Value: 7
Given the performance of the Pittsburgh Steelers' receivers in 2012, this need value might as well be a 10. Pittsburgh made almost zero explosive plays last season which is shocking considering they have one of the most explosive receivers in the game in Mike Wallace.
It's pretty well documented that Wallace and the Steelers are going to have a hard time coming to an agreement on a contract this offseason, and that could leave Wallace looking for a new team and the Steelers looking for a deep threat.
The Steelers will also have to decide if they're going to bring back Emmanuel Sanders who had a somewhat disappointing season himself.
Pittsburgh is already entering the offseason well over the cap; meaning, it's highly unlikely they'll be bringing Wallace back. And although he's still got the ability to be a big part of the offense, the money just may not be there.
That leads the Steelers to a draft that's deep at receiver, just not top heavy. Mid round guys can provide good players for the team in 2013.
Allen could be big for the Steelers for two reasons. One, he's got the big frame on the outside that the team desperately lacks. Two, he's got enough speed to be able to efficiently replace Wallace. Projected Round: 1st
Woods was once considered the best receiving prospect in the class, but fell off a bit in 2012. He can still be a top flight receiver at the next level. Projected Round: 2nd
Stedman Bailey—West Virginia
With the way the Steelers offense is headed, small, quick receivers will do well with this team. Bailey does a great job running routes and can get away from defenders. He can make some plays with the ball in his hands. Projected Round: 2nd-3rd
Ryan Swope—Texas A&M
Here's one of the most blue-collar players in this years draft. Swope is never flashy, but he just gets the job done. Projected Round: 5th
Need Value: 4
Long-time Pittsburgh Steelers' tight end Heath Miller is coming off the best year of his career. Unfortunately, he's also coming off a major knee injury he suffered in Week 16 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Many came into the season thinking the Steelers would be in the market for a tight end anyway, but most thought it was because Miller would be on the decline. But now, Pittsburgh could be looking for an end because of his injury.
The Steelers got a nice 7th round pick last season in Oregon's David Paulson who played in 15 games this year and started the season finale. His numbers may not show a whole lot, but he got some much needed playing time.
If the Steelers are going to look in the draft for a tight end, it's going to be late and only until they get Miller back. It's highly unlikely Pittsburgh takes a tight end early.
Fauria needs to get better on the blocking end, but he's one of the best pure receivers in this years draft. Projected Round: 5th-6th
Need Value: 3
Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected two tackles in the draft a year after taking Marcus Gilbert in the second round. Both Mike Adams and Kelvin Beachum saw significant time this season and looked to improve with each snap.
But the problem is, all three tackles spent significant time on the injury report in 2012 and it killed the depth the team had built at the position.
Long-time left tackle Max Starks is again due to be a free agent and word is even he doesn't think he'll be back this time.
If one of the elite-level tackles were to fall to Pittsburgh at No. 17, they might be tempted to pull the trigger. But I'm not all for them going offensive line so early again. They should take a season to see what they have in Gilbert and Adams and fill out late in the draft with depth.
Eric Fisher—Central Michigan
Fisher's name has been tied to the Steelers for some time now and he could be the answer at LT if Starks leaves. But is he worth the price? Projected Round: 1st
Faulk is a mammoth of a tackle and may be better suited for the right side. His major college experience and SEC resume along with his size make him an intriguing prospect. Projected Round: Late 3rd-Early 4th
Need Value: 5
Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers spent their first round pick on a guard that most called the best interior lineman prospect since Steve Hutchinson. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh never really got a good look at David DeCastro because of a torn ACL he suffered in the preseason.
The guard position is interesting because the Steelers could be forced to cut ties with Wille Colon, who has played only 13 games in the last three seasons, and is set to make $17 million over the life of his contract. Colon did impress in his first season at guard, but between the nagging injuries and money, the Steelers hands could be tied.
Pittsburgh could also lose Ramon Foster, leaving them thin at guard. But if they keep Colon, they'll still need to add depth.
The big mauler from Alabama could also come with a big price tag. If Warmack is still around at No. 17, the Steelers could completely rebuild their offensive line. Projected Round: 1st
If the Steelers keep Colon, Sullen could provide great depth across the front. Projected Round: 6th-7th
Need Value: 2
If there's one position the Pittsburgh Steelers are truly set on, it's center. Maurkice Pouncey headed to his third Pro Bowl in as many years and remains one of the top centers in the league.
The only way the center position can go haywire is if the team loses back-up interior lineman Doug Legursky. He's proven to be a very reliable backup center for the Steelers and they'll do their best to bring him back.
My guess is Legursky is coming back to Pittsburgh so the Steelers won't be in the market for a center. More likely than not, if they lose him, they would find a backup in free agency.
Need Value: 7
Here's a spot that, in my opinion, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to greatly improve in and, sadly, they've tried.
In two of the more recent drafts, Pittsburgh spent first round picks on defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward. So far, the pay off hasn't been what was expected.
Hood is a contributor on the defense, but his play hasn't lived up to the once lofty expectations. In 2012, teams ran the ball mostly at Hood and away from opposing defensive end Brett Keisel. Heyward has simply played limited snaps since coming to Pittsburgh.
I've heard the excuses that Heyward just needs a chance to prove himself, but if that's the case, wouldn't the Steelers have given him a bigger role with Hood's struggles? The point is, that Hood and Heyward are just about the same player. They can work in a rotation, but right now, neither guy is a starter.
The Steelers don't have to dive into the end pool early in the draft if they're interested in the position. Remember, stallwarts like Keisel, Aaron Smith and Kimo von Oelhoffen all came in the later rounds.
If this guy drops, there's no way the Steelers could pass on him. Lotulelei may be the safest pick in the 2013 draft and would give the team an instant starter up front. Projected Round: 1st
Short is an interesting prospect who really held his own on a defense that didn't exactly surround him with talent. I think he's got a good shot to be a real player at the next level. Projected Round: 2nd-3rd
Kapron Lewis-Moore—Notre Dame
Lewis-Moore is going to be coming off a knee injury he suffered during the BCS National Championship that could hurt his draft stock. He'd bring a pass rusher to the 3-4 end position. Projected Round: 5th
Need Value: 8
The nose tackle was once considered the main cog in the 3-4 defensive scheme. And the Pittsburgh Steelers had the best in the game in Casey Hampton.
But nearly a decade later, Hampton's skills have diminished to the point of no return and the Steelers will have to look for their next great piece in the middle. They thought they had the heir to the throne last year by taking Washington's Alameda Ta'amu in the fourth round, but he's run into some legal trouble and his future with the team remains uncertain.
Steve McLendon showed some promise, but he's not your prototypical nose tackle and the team uses him primarily in pass rush situations.
If the Steelers truly believe that Ta'amu can resurrect his career and become the starter, there's no need to spend a draft choice on a nose. If not, they should be in the market for one pretty early.
Jenkins is big. That's about the only way to describe him. He's also potentially the strongest guy in the draft and a terrific space eater up front. Just what the Steelers need. Projected Round: 2nd
Brandon Williams—Missouri Southern
Williams is a bit of an unknown commodity, but he's got the makings of a great nose tackle. He's got a big frame and strong lower half that he uses to bulldoze his competition. Projected Round: Late 3rd-4th
Need Value: 9
Of all the positions on the field, if I had to pick a spot the Pittsburgh Steelers needed the most help, it would be outside linebacker. And it's not for simply one reason.
The once feared pass rush of the Steelers has gone by the wayside over the last two seasons as the team has been in the bottom half of the league in sacks in each of those campaigns. A lot of this has to do with injuries to both LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison.
Woodley and Harrison have both missed significant time over the last two years and both for different reasons. Woodley has come into camp out of shape the last few seasons and was even called out by his position coach Keith Butler last offseason.
Harrison is a whole different story. At age 34 (soon-to-be 35), the former DPOY is in the twilight of his career and given his salary, six sacks isn't going to cut it.
Pittsburgh has also missed on players like Jason Worilds, Chris Carter and Thad Gibson at the position, leaving them thin when their starters are injured.
Once considered the best prospect in the 2013 draft, Jones injuries have been questioned, especially the spinal injury he suffered at USC. Jones is still an elite prospect and would be a steal at No. 17. Projected Round: 1st
Jordan is a raw and physically gifted prospect who grades out favorably to the San Francisco 49ers Aldon Smith. He'd be a bit of a project, but an immediate threat in terms of pass rushing. Projected Round: Mid-Late 1st
Okafor came on big time late in the season, and his stock will be soaring by the time the draft comes around. He's physically gifted, but it's uncertain if he'll be able to handle the switch to outside linebacker. Projected Round: Mid 1st
Sean Porter—Texas A&M
Porter may seem a little undersized, but he's a great pass rusher. If he can return to the form he had two years ago, he'll be a mid-round steal. Projected Round: 3rd
Need Value: 5
Here's where everyone's going to start getting a little crazy, especially over a name like Manti Te'o.
But is it really worth the Pittsburgh Steelers time to spend a high pick on a position they're actually pretty set at? Lawrence Timmons was probably the teams defensive MVP and Larry Foote led the team in tackles in 2012.
So, why all the fuss over Te'o?
Well, simply put, Foote is on the wrong side of 30 and there's no doubt that Te'o makes the Steelers better in the middle especially for the long term.
But I still think the Steelers needs are bigger than inside linebacker. I'm not a huge fan on Sean Spence, especially for this defense, but he does deserve a shot to compete for a job. If the Steelers go inside linebacker in the draft, I'd expect it to be more towards the middle rounds.
Manti Te'o—Notre Dame
I'd admittedly be interested in Te'o at No. 17, but it all depends on who's still on the board. Projected Round: Late 1st
Minter is a nice prospect inside and he could end up working his way into the late first round. He's got good size and would be a good addition inside. Projected Round: Early 2nd
Kevin Reddick—North Carolina
Reddick has some great size to him, but underachieved at UNC. He needs some coaching, but with polish he could turn into a nice player. Projected Round: 4th-5th
Need Value: 5
I'll say it all right now. The entire need value of the Pittsburgh Steelers' cornerback position hinges on the teams ability to bring back starting cornerback Keenan Lewis.
Lewis did a great job this season developing into a good starting NFL cornerback and helped Pittsburgh regain the title of the league's No. 1 pass defense. He was near the league leaders in passes defended in 2012.
The Steelers will have cap woes, but with Ike Taylor's age and the uncertainty surrounding Cortez Allen, if Lewis can be a starter, he will be on top of their offseason list.
If the Steelers can't retain Lewis, they're going to be in some trouble. Allen showed promise with Taylor out at the end of the season, but it's still not clear if Allen is ready to be a starter. If Lewis doesn't return, Pittsburgh should look at corners early.
Jonathan Banks—Mississippi St.
Banks has really nice ability and at 6'2", his length is going to intrigue most of the NFL teams. The Steelers love big corners and Banks would be a big addition. Projected Round: 1st
David Amerson—N.C. State
Amerson may be the best ball-hawking corner in the draft and that would be huge for a defense that was amongst the worst in takeaways. Projected Round: Late 2nd-3rd
Need Value: 6
The Pittsburgh Steelers had a ton of injuries in 2012, but one of the most affected positions on the field was at safety when the team lost Troy Polamalu for nine weeks.
Simply put, Ryan Mundy and Will Allen aren't going to cut it, and with Polamalu's injury history, it may be time to start grooming the next safety for the Steelers secondary.
Pittsburgh doesn't have to jump out early in the draft to grab a safety, especially if you watch the tape on Polamalu at the end of the season when he's fully healthy. He played like the old Troy and if he can do that, he's still got some good years ahead of him.
Ryan Clark had a great season and was voted as a Pro Bowl alternate.
Reid is one of my favorite players in this years draft. He reminds me a lot of Polamalu because he plays so well in the box. He'd develop nicely into the Steelers defensive scheme. Projected Round: Late 1st
Elam is a big hitter, simply put. He can lay the wood and, despite some issues in coverage, he can be a very good player at the next level. Projected Round: Early 2nd
Rambo would have been a high pick in the 2012 draft, but off-field issues will force him down the board. The Steelers have taken chances in recent years and Rambo could be a big pay-off. Projected Round: 4th