Comparing Steelers' Top Free Agents to 2013 Draft Prospects
It's become more and more inevitable for the Pittsburgh Steelers that, given the team's money woes and the virtually unchanging cap, they'll be departing with most if not all of their high-value free agents.
Guys like Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis and Max Starks will all most likely be playing elsewhere in 2013 and the Steelers will have to find a way to replace some of their big guys.
Traditionally, Pittsburgh has done so through the draft and we shouldn't expect that to change this year. So, let's take a look at some of the guys who compare favorably to this year's crop of free agents.
Mike Wallace, WR
Heading into the season, it was pretty clear that Mike Wallace was going to be the Steelers No. 1 priority in the 2013 offseason. But after a somewhat disappointing campaign, Wallace has fallen out of favor with the fans in Pittsburgh.
But the fact still remains, Wallace is still one of the best deep threats in the game and the Steelers offense works better when he's on the field. Still, with the money Wallace is going to get from other teams, the likelihood of him hanging around is slim to none.
Comparison: Robert Woods / USC
Woods came into the 2012 season with all the hype of the top receiver in the class but, like Wallace, had a bit of a down season and was passed by Marquis Lee for tops on the Trojan receiving list. Woods got into a few tussles with the coaching staff as well in his final season at Southern Cal.
However, Woods is still a very talented player with top-end deep speed who can really stretch the field. He's not the biggest receiver in the class, but he can make some big plays.
Woods should still be around when the Steelers are picking in the second round, and he'd be a good value there for the team.
Keenan Lewis, CB
Wallace may have supposed to be the top priority for the Steelers heading into the offseason, but Keenan Lewis was the top dog by the end of the season. Lewis had a great 2012 and solidified himself as a bona fide starter in the NFL.
But it appears, with the signing of William Gay, that the Steelers don't believe they'll have enough cash to bring back Lewis for 2013 and beyond. Inevitably, they'll have to let him walk.
Comparison: Johnthan Banks / Mississippi State
Like Lewis, Banks is a long, lanky cornerback who has excellent zone-coverage skills. In fact, Banks is almost strictly a zone-cover cornerback.
Banks is a little taller than Lewis but the thing that sold me on this comparison is the willingness of both players to come up and play the run. Banks recorded 63 tackles in his final season with the Bulldogs, which included five games with at least six stops.
Despite having a subpar combine, Banks is still expected to be one of the first cornerbacks off the board, meaning the Steelers will need to grab him in the first round if they want him. With the way their secondary is shaping up, that seems a little farfetched at the moment.
Casey Hampton, NT
Casey Hampton is a legend in Pittsburgh. He's by far the greatest nose tackle to play for the Steelers (before anyone says anything, Mean Joe Greene was NOT a nose tackle) in their team's illustrious history and deserves a lot of recognition nationally for what he's done for the position.
But it's hard to ignore the steady drop-off in Hampton's production over the last few seasons, with his worst season being 2012.
With the way the Steelers are headed monetarily and the way Hampton's headed skill-wise, I don't see any way these two sides can come together.
Comparison: Brandon Williams / Missouri Southern State
Brandon Williams is a bit of an unknown commodity to the average draft fan, but if you ask around D-II circles, people will rave about this guy. At Missouri Southern State, he dominated his opponents and was a force to be reckoned with.
He and Hampton both share a similar size and skill set. Simply put, they're space-eaters which fits in perfectly in what the Steelers want at the nose tackle position.
Best of all, Williams could come for a bargain in the third or fourth round. Not bad for a guy who could have an immediate impact on this team.
Larry Foote, ILB
This was one of the Steelers more under-the-radar free agents, but inside linebacker and leading tackler Larry Foote is currently on the chopping block given what he wants to be paid.
Foote has been very good for the Steelers since returning two years ago, but can Pittsburgh afford him right now?
Comparison: Kevin Minter / LSU
Minter has a bit of a size advantage on Foote, but they both play the same type of game: downhill.
Minter was a tackling machine for the Tigers and would fit in very well next to Lawrence Timmons as the Steelers "buck" linebacker in the 3-4 defense. But like many prospects right now, Minter has a rising stock and would have to be grabbed in Round 1.
If Foote is released, then grabbing Minter in the first is a good move. If not, count on the Steelers looking elsewhere.