5 Draft Prospects That Could Be Instant Upgrades for the Pittsburgh Steelers
With more than 10 free agents that aren't expected back, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have a lot of holes to fill during free agency and the draft. Despite recent rounds of restructuring for their big money players, they likely won't have a ton of money to spend.
That means that this year's draft is crucial to not only the future, but also the present.
If the Steelers can pick up some of these players, they will have instantly upgraded their roster for 2013 and beyond.
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Mike Wallace, the Pittsburgh Steelers' best deep threat for the past few years, is a free agent. Given the way his season played out in 2012 and the holdout that preceded it, there's no chance he dons the 17 jersey for Pittsburgh again.
One potential replacement is Scouting Combine star Tavon Austin. His speed, deft receiving skills and ability to impact a game as both an offensive threat and a special teams contributor make him attractive to any team looking to add some scoring.
Scoring more points is certainly a priority after the Steelers ranked in the bottom-half of the league in offense last year.
Austin would be an instant upgrade over Emmanuel Sanders, who is excellent in the slot, and possibly even Antonio Brown, the team's other starter.
He will be available in the middle of the first round, but it may be more advantageous to Pittsburgh to trade back several spots and try to grab him at the bottom of the round while accumulating more picks to fill more holes.
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
The Pittsburgh Steelers seem poised to completely gut their rushing attack in 2013. Rashard Mendenhall, the team's starter for several years, isn't coming back. Backups Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are restricted free agents but also may be let go.
Pittsburgh needs an impact back to energize the ground game. Todd Haley's scheme is predicated on an effective running game. That's something that the Steelers didn't have in 2012. They had one of the league's worst.
A player like Montee Ball, a bigger back with the ability to slash a defense and cut back effectively, would bring a style that Pittsburgh couldn't discover with their current stable of backs.
Ball will be available in the middle rounds and would be a good target for the Steelers in the third round. Pittsburgh would be able to use him as a starter immediately.
Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky
Willie Colon should be either taking a massive pay cut or a ticket out of town. He's one of the worst investments the Pittsburgh Steelers have made in the last few years. Counting around $7 million against the cap is out of the question because he continually gets hurt and plays without much mental toughness.
The Steelers need to upgrade along the offensive line at guard. They have the other positions along the line down and filled with young talent.
One guard spot remains.
This draft is tremendously deep along both the offensive and defensive lines. Warford is a player with a ton of potential who will likely fall into the middle rounds because of sheer numbers.
Warford could start before the year is out and could slot in perfectly at right guard. This would allow David DeCastro to move over to the left side and would stabilize the offensive line.
Zac Dysert, QB, Miami (Ohio)
Not all instant upgrades have to be starting players. The Pittsburgh Steelers are razor-thin at far too many spots when it comes to depth. They need to get a few upgrades later in this year's draft.
One of those spots crying for attention is the most important in the game. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rarely plays a full season (once during his career). Last year, the team and coaching staff found out just how thin their depth is at the position.
Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch couldn't get it done. The team's playoff hopes were dashed as Roethlisberger first missed three games and then returned too soon and played injured.
A player like Zac Dysert could change that. He's a raw talent with a ton of athleticism who will be a project for whichever team drafts him.
He is a mobile guy who could take off easily. He also is a good player for throwing the ball with a strong arm. Pittsburgh needs a guy with those two skill sets. While his accuracy needs improvement and he needs to learn a pro-style offense, he's worth a fifth-round choice.
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
The Pittsburgh Steelers may have a difficult time retaining cornerback Keenan Lewis this offseason. Lewis is a young, talented player at the peak of his earning potential. It will take a huge effort by the team to fix their salary cap situation enough to afford Lewis.
If Lewis departs, the team will move Cortez Allen up to be the starter opposite Ike Taylor. Allen has developed well, but he may not be starting material. He also might be. That's what next year will be about.
This isn't about Allen. It's about the depth behind him. Justin King, Josh Victorian and Curtis Brown are not good nickel options at this point because none has ever flashed consistent skill.
A player like Desmond Trufant could be a star in the NFL and is worth the 17th overall pick. He brings a big play ability and the potential to be a shutdown corner in the NFL.
If Trufant is available, he will be hard to pass up. He could instantly become the nickel back and move up to be a starter within a year or two.