The question posed now is a crucial one: How can Pittsburgh catch up to Baltimore in next year’s AFC North race?
The Steelers could do with some outside-the-box thinking in order to close the gap between themselves and their most bitter rivals. Pittsburgh's GM Kevin Colbert has suggested the team would be unopposed to taking on a player with character issues, as long as they feel he would be a good fit for the team.
However, those aren't the only risks the Steelers could take to climb back into contention in 2013.
Let’s take a look at the chances that some high-risk, high-reward prospects end up in Pittsburgh next season.
The Risk: Da'Rick Rogers left Tennessee for Tennessee Tech when he was suspended indefinitely for failed drug tests.
The Steelers have parted ways with players with drug history before, such as Santonio Holmes. However, they also have given Ohio State tackle Mike Adams (tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine) a chance to prove himself with positive results in his rookie season.
The Reward: The wideout might be the best prospect at his position and acquiring him would likely not entail using a high-round pick.
He reminds me most of Julio Jones, whom I had rated as a better prospect than A.J. Green before the 2011 NFL Draft.
Rogers is tremendously physical and blends that with a rare combination of size and speed. He is tough, and he has not stepped out of line during his time at Tennessee Tech.
The Verdict: 30 percent chance.
Rogers would fill definite need and, if he is available in the second or third round, I expect his chances to join the Steelers to skyrocket.
The Risk: “The Honey Badger” was kicked off the LSU football team for repeated drug violations before the 2012 season.
Rather than enrolling in another school, Mathieu took the entire season off, so there are questions regarding whether his play might have eroded since 2011. To make matters worse, Mathieu was arrested again after his dismissal for possession of marijuana.
On the field, Mathieu’s 5’9” 180-pund frame has some draftniks wondering whether he will be overwhelmed physically at the NFL level.
The Reward: Coach Tomlin, you asked for more “splash plays." Well, here you go.
Mathieu has a nose for the ball, forcing 11 fumbles and picking off four passes in his career. He is also a dangerous factor in the return game.
There is no doubt that Mathieu produced when he was on the field and Dick LeBeau could deploy him in a variety of ways in Pittsburgh.
The Verdict: 5 percent chance.
Mathieu’s laundry list of issues is extensive, and it is much more likely that another team will take a flier on him than the Steelers. Still, if he is available late in the draft, the Steelers could give him a shot.
The concerns regarding Lattimore are wholly injury-related. The running back suffered a gruesome knee injury that ended his college career, and there is no guarantee he will be ready to play in the season opener.
The fact his sophomore season ended as well due to a knee injury further complicates matters, as Lattimore could be too fragile to contribute at the next level.
The Reward: Simply put, Lattimore can play ball.
He doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he isn’t slow. He is a powerful, shifty runner who is also a threat out of the backfield.
He is one of the finest pass-protecting backs in the draft, and he should not be a frequent fumbler at the next level.
The Steelers are in need of a back, and rolling the dice on Lattimore could yield a huge reward.
The Verdict: 25% chance.
Obviously, the doctors’ opinions will go a long way towards deciding Lattimore’s true risk to NFL teams. However, backs like Willis McGahee have done a fine job coming back from similar injuries, and Lattimore has the work ethic to maximize his chance of a successful return.
The Risk: Georgia’s star outside linebacker suffers from spinal stenosis, which has negatively impacted his draft stock.
Jones transferred from USC after team doctors wouldn’t clear him to play and that will likely turn off several teams at the NFL level.
The Reward: On the field, Jones is an absolute terror.
He is the most exciting pass-rush prospect in the draft and he is well above average both against the run and in coverage.
The Bulldog is a workout warrior and he would be just the guy the Steelers need to put the teeth back into their pass rush.
The Verdict: 15 percent chance.
This climbs to the high 80's if Jones slips out of the top 10 picks in the draft, because I’m convinced the Steelers will trade up if he is available close to where they are picking.
As it stands, I’m thinking Jones’ combine performance will cement his place in the top five where he belongs.
The Risk: Ezekiel Ansah is a raw prospect who hasn’t played much football in his career.
After coming to the US from his native Ghana, he originally pursued a collegiate track career and joined the football team upon the urgings of a track coach. This raises questions about his fire for the game and also his grasp of football’s subtle nuances.
The Reward: The BYU product has shown flashes of potential as a pass-rusher, rocketing up draft boards because of his similarities to Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants.
He has shown a knack for batting down passes and has superior quickness to many more experienced prospects.
Like Jones, if the risk pays off, Ansah would shore up the pass rush in a big way.
The Verdict: 15 percent chance.
Ansah could be out of the Steelers’ reach at No. 17 by the time draft day rolls around.
Traditionally, the Steelers also like to see a track record of success for their draft picks, especially in the first round.