General manager Kevin Colbert has a lot of work to do if the Steelers are going to have a shot at the playoffs in 2013.
Anything less than a Super Bowl is considered to be a disappointment for the Pittsburgh Steelers. As you can imagine, an 8-8 finish last season means that changes must be made.
General manager Kevin Colbert indicated that the Steelers cannot sit still and expect different results in his end of the season address.
“If we don’t change a roster that produced 8-8, we’d be silly to expect a better result,” Colbert said (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
The changes could mean allowing long-time veterans Casey Hampton and Max Starks, as well as two of the team’s best skill position players—Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall—to walk away. That doesn’t even include the players who could be released to help the Steelers get under the salary cap.
We won’t know what an individual player will cost until he gets out there,” Colbert said (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). “Going into this thing, we’re not married to anybody.
With changes on the horizon and limited cap space to work with, the Steelers will once again stick to their philosophy of building the team through the draft.
Even though Colbert has plenty of work to do at upgrading nearly every position on the team, there are several positions that the Steelers must address through the draft.
Colbert made it clear that he was not happy with the production from the running back position last season (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
“Where we were in the running game last year was indicative of the talent at the position…That group of players didn’t produce the way we anticipated they would.”
No blame was placed on the offensive line by Colbert in that statement. It is clear that he believed that the backs should have performed better.
Rashard Mendenhall is an unrestricted free agent and both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are restricted free agents. Not being committed to any of their top three rushers allows the Steelers a lot of freedom in reloading the offensive backfield.
But with Redman being a solid short-yardage back and Dwyer fitting in nicely as a backup, the Steelers have a couple of pieces. The missing piece, however, is the feature back. That is where the draft comes in.
While there are no running backs worth the 17th selection in the draft, there are a number of quality backs that could be taken in the second round or later.
One of the most popular names with Steelers fans will be Eddie Lacy from Alabama.
Lacy is a powerful back that can run between the tackle, which is exactly what the Steelers need. He was outstanding last season with 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns. His most impressive stat may have been his 6.4 yards per carry.
Pittsburgh could also go with another between the tackles back in Stepfan Taylor from Stanford. He ran for 1,530 yards and 13 touchdowns while bringing in 41 receptions as well. He is a good all-around back who was very productive in a pro-style offense.
Other names of note could include Mike Gillislee from Florida or Montee Ball from Wisconsin.
The most talented running back may just be Marcus Lattimore, and if not for two major knee injuries, he would have been a high first-round selection. It would be a risky pick, but Lattimore could provide a big payoff.
Mike Wallace is not likely to be re-signed and Emmanuel Sanders is also a free agent, leaving the Steelers with just Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery.
Even if they bring back Sanders, the Steelers will lack a true top target without Wallace.
Brown and Sanders bring speed and quickness to the lineup, but lack the size and physical style of play to beat the press coverage. As a result, they struggle in the red zone.
Cotchery is still dependable, but lacks the speed to separate from cornerbacks. He also does not have the veteran savvy that Hines Ward had to find the soft spots in the zone.
It is important that the Steelers find depth at the position, whether or not they re-sign Sanders.
Ideally, the Steelers will draft a big, physical presence at receiver—one with a wide catching radius would be a nice addition to the roster. In his limited time, Plaxico Burress used his catching radius to make a few play that no other receiver could make on the team.
To achieve this, the Steelers will have to spend a high draft pick on a player like Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson or Justin Hunter.
California’s Keenan Allen, Baylor’s Terrance and Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins are all coming off of productive seasons. More importantly, each player has good speed and excellent size.
In fact, each receiving prospect mentioned so far is over six feet tall, which would instantly make them the tallest wide receiver on the Steelers’ roster.
If the Steelers want to wait until later, the Steelers could look at Robert Woods from USC, Ryan Swope from Texas A&M or Markus Wheaton from Oregon State. All three have size, but unique skill sets as well.
Woods is a well-rounded receiver who has good speed and is a good route-runner. But he doesn’t have the elite speed of Wheaton, who could be the best pure speed receiver in the draft.
Swope is a slower receiver, but he is not afraid to go over the middle of the field and would add some toughness to the Steelers’ receiving unit.
Whether the Steelers take a receiver in the first three rounds or in the back half of the draft, they have to add talent to fill out their depth chart and any receiver with size and a physical style of play would be a huge bonus.
It doesn’t matter if it is an inside linebacker or an outside linebacker, the Steelers need talent and depth at both positions—in fact, they may need to draft players for both positions.
The Steelers lack a solid pass rush at this point and need to upgrade the position.
LaMarr Woodley has been battling injuries the past two seasons and James Harrison has been showing signs of aging with nagging injuries that have impacted his play.
Jason Worilds is in a contract year and will have to have a Keenan Lewis-like breakthrough season if he is to earn a long-term deal with the Steelers.
The young player that showed the most potential may have been rookie free agent Adrian Robinson, but he only flashed against players who did not make NFL rosters.
There is a lot of talent at outside linebacker, but there are a lot of questions about these players that will need to be answered as the draft evaluation process progresses.
BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah may be the most interesting prospect after having a strong performance at the Senior Bowl. However, there are concerns as to if he can drop into coverage.
LSU has a couple of prospects in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo who figure to be high picks. Mingo may be one of the most athletic prospects, but he lacks strength, which may lead to struggles early in his career.
Dion Jordan of Oregon and Alex Okafor of Texas are two more potential first-round prospects while Stanford’s Chase Thomas and Texas A&M’s Sean Porter should be available in the second or third round.
Porter would actually have the ability to play either outside or inside linebacker for the Steelers, which would make him a valuable mid-round draft pick.
Larry Foote is a free agent, and even if the Steelers bring him back, he would only be a stopgap player until either Sean Spence is ready to return from injury or a rookie linebacker is capable of stepping in.
First-round prospects include Notre Dame star Manti Te’o, Georgia’s athletic linebacker Alec Ogletree or LSU’s Kevin Minter.
A couple of Penn State linebackers could be favorites as well as mid-late round picks.
After passing up on Sean Lee just a few years ago, Gerald Hodges or Michael Mauti are two productive players from "Linebacker U." Either player would be a nice fit for the Steelers’ defense.
Drafting two linebackers would be ideal for the Steelers, but they absolutely need to take one and there are plenty of talented options from the beginning of the draft to the end.
Out of all of the positions mentioned, safety is the only one that is set with two starters heading into 2013. However, it is the age of Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark that makes this a need for the draft.
At some point the Steelers will need to groom a safety or two to take over for this great safety tandem. With the 2013 draft being deep at safety, now is as a good as ever.
Texas’ Kenny Vacarro may be the most well-rounded safety in this year’s class while LSU’s Eric Reid has the best overall physical attributes.
But selecting a safety in the first round may be a bit of a stretch considering that they may not start for two or three years.
Instead, the Steelers could look to Florida’s Matt Elam in the second round or take a chance on Georgia’s big play safety Bacarri Rambo in the third.
Any safety drafted by the Steelers will have the luxury to sit back and learn the complicated position for a year or two behind two of the NFL’s best safeties.