Where Should the Steelers Address Each Position in the Draft?
From offense to defense to special teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers have needs all over the field. That is a lot to cover for any team, but particularly problematic for a team that builds almost exclusively through the draft.
With only eight selections in the draft, the Steelers will need to prioritize their positional needs as they look to upgrade their roster.
They bought themselves some time at several positions with low-cost free-agent signings, but even these signings are only temporary stopgaps and should not be considered long-term answers.
So how should Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and the Steelers spend their draft picks? Here is a look at in which round the Steelers should address each position.
Draft Priority: Seventh-Undrafted
Last season was not a banner year for the Steelers at the quarterback position.
Backup quarterback Byron Leftwich was also lost to an injury, leaving the Steelers with just Charlie Batch.
Despite Batch playing well in a win against the Ravens in Baltimore, it became painfully clear that the Steelers needed to upgrade their quarterback depth for the 2013 season.
They did just that after signing Bruce Gradkowski to back up Roethlisberger, as well as John Parker Wilson.
Gradkowski is an upgrade at backup and the Steelers could still re-sign Batch or another free agent to compete for the third-string role. But there is no need to spend a high pick on a developmental quarterback.
The Steelers should have Gradkowski as a backup for two to three years, and Roethlisberger will likely receive a contract extension after this season which will keep him in Pittsburgh for at least another five to six seasons.
Because of this, the Steelers should wait until the very end of the draft or even after the draft to find a young quarterback. It is not a position that should be high on the priority list.
Draft Priority: Second-Fourth
When the general manager and head coach of your football team both express disappointment with the running backs and indicate the need to upgrade the position, you can almost be certain that it will happen.
After the season, Kevin Colbert said (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."
Tomlin added (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette): "Obviously, we need to add to the pool of talent we have at that position."
The Steelers are going to add talent at the running back position, but where?
There is no first-round talent in this draft. Even if there was, the running back position is devalued in the NFL today and the Steelers need to find a back that can be successful in a passing offense.
Can the back run to all parts of the field? Does he have good hands in the passing game? Can he line up in the slot? Is he a capable pass-blocker?
It is tough to find the full package that can also carry the ball every down. But the Steelers will certainly try.
The Steelers' best bet would be to find a back in the early or middle rounds of the draft.
Between the second and fourth rounds, the Steelers could find Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard, Montee Ball, Joseph Randle, Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor, Christine Michael, Knile Davis, Jonathan Franklin, Le’Veon Bell and others.
There will be many options available for the Steelers to upgrade the position.
Draft Priority: Seventh-Undrafted
Heath Miller suffering an ACL injury at the end of the year last season really hurt the Steelers' depth at the position.
When he is healthy, Miller provides the Steelers with one of the best all-around tight ends in the league with an up-and-coming David Paulson backing him up.
But now Paulson will have to step into the starting role until Miller is ready to return, with Matt Spaeth filling in as the backup and David Johnson at third string.
Once Miller is healthy, the Steelers are fairly strong at the position and have no need to spend a draft pick on a tight end. But if he's going to miss most of the season, the Steelers may consider finding a young option.
They could invest a first-round selection in Tyler Eifert or a second-rounder with Zach Ertz. Either of these players would add a very good receiving option to work the middle of the field.
But while selecting a top tight end early would help upgrade the passing offense, a two-tight end passing offense does not seem to be the direction that the Steelers are moving in.
At most, the Steelers will add depth with a late-round selection, but the more likely scenario is that they will enter the season with what they currently have at the position.
Draft Priority: First-Third and Fourth-Sixth
For as many draft picks that the Steelers invest in the wide receiver position, you would think that they would be more than set.
Troy Edwards, Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes were all first-round selections at the position and none earned a second contract with the Steelers.
Now the Steelers have allowed Mike Wallace to walk away, and it is entirely possible that Emmanuel Sanders will not be with the team beyond this season. Beyond this, the Steelers just lack talent at the position right now.
When the rest of the league is boosting their passing attacks, the Steelers are moving in reverse. They want to upgrade the running back position and allowed their biggest offensive threat to walk away.
But that does not mean they don’t want to upgrade the receiver position.
Not only should the Steelers invest an early draft pick on a potential No. 1 receiving option, they should also consider drafting a second receiver later in the draft.
But as far as priority goes, the Steelers can find excellent options in the first two rounds.
In the first, Keenan Allen is a refined route-runner who has the size and speed to be a physical option opposite of Antonio Brown. Then there is an athletic freak like Cordarrelle Patterson that they could consider, or the undersized Tavon Austin. Even DeAndre Hopkins should be considered.
If they pass on a receiver in the first, there are still a number of options in the second including Robert Woods, Justin Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers, Terrance Williams, Quinton Patton and Markus Wheaton.
The Steelers need an immediate upgrade on the position. It should be one of the top priorities in the draft.
Draft Priority: Fifth-Seventh
After spending first-round picks on Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro and second-round picks on Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams in recent years, the offensive line will not be a priority.
With these four players as well as Ramon Foster, the Steelers have a young offensive line with plenty of upside to develop into a very good unit.
It may be tempting to solidify the line with Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper—it's just unlikely to happen, especially with the team lacking playmakers.
The only way I see them selecting a lineman in the first round is if one of the top left tackle prospects slides to the Steelers' selection. Even with two young tackles on the roster, you cannot pass on a franchise left tackle.
But that is unlikely. The Steelers will instead be looking for a versatile lineman who can play tackle and guard or guard and center late in the draft.
Khaled Holmes may be the perfect fit for the interior with Kelvin Beachum already slated as the top backup on the outside.
Regardless of who they take, there shouldn’t be a lineman’s name called until the later rounds of the draft.
Draft Priority: Sixth-Seventh
Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward have yet to live up to their potential and Brett Keisel is aging, but odds are the Steelers won’t select another defensive end high in the draft.
For what the Steelers ask their defensive ends to do, there isn’t much value to drafting a defensive end early. They can find players who are capable of occupying blockers later in the draft and invest in other positions earlier.
Margus Hunt will be tempting if available in the second, but beyond him, the Steelers should wait. A player such as Joe Kruger would be a much more viable option in the sixth.
Draft Priority: Second-Third (Luxury)
The Steelers are pretty deep at nose tackle right now with Steve McLendon, Alameda Ta’amu and Loni Fangupo. But while they are deep, there is a lot of unrealized potential in this group.
McLendon flashed in the preseason and regular season last year and has the look of a starter, but he doesn't have the traditional massive body of Steelers nose tackles of the past.
Ta’amu is the future of the position but struggled to make an impact in training camp and the preseason. He has a lot to prove.
There is a chance that the Steelers could re-sign Casey Hampton, but if that is not an option, there may be some quality nose tackles that slide.
Adding a quality nose tackle will not be a true priority in the draft, but rather a luxury. If Star Lotulelei somehow falls he would a no-brainer in the first.
A few more realistic options would be Johnathan Hankins, Jonathan Jenkins or Jesse Williams in the second or Brandon Williams in the third.
Each of these players would help upgrade the Steelers' defensive front with size and power.
Draft Priority: Second-Fifth
Larry Foote was re-signed to start at inside linebacker. Second-year linebacker Sean Spence is a question mark as he continues to recover from a catastrophic knee injury that he suffered in last year’s preseason.
Foote is a solid veteran, but he is slow. The Steelers indicated that they wanted to get more athletic on the inside with the drafting of Spence last year.
Luckily for the Steelers, inside linebackers is one of the easier positions to find in the draft. There is no need to draft one in the first round—there will be quality options throughout the draft.
As early as the second round, the Steelers could find some early contributors including Arthur Brown or Khaseem Greene, or wait until later in the draft for players such as Gerald Hodges, Jon Bostic and Kevin Reddick to name a few.
A late-round sleeper could also be Michael Mauti. He is coming off a knee injury and may not be ready for the season, but he would be a great developmental prospect to grab late in the draft.
Draft Priority: First-Third
When it comes to the draft, the elephant in the room will be the outside linebacker position. With no true standout prospects at the position, should the Steelers risk taking one early or go their normal route and grab a developmental prospect in the second or third?
Jarvis Jones was one of the hottest names out there until a poor pro day performance dropped his stock. To grab a higher-rated option such as Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah or Barkevious Mingo, the Steelers would likely have to trade up.
What it comes down to is how much they believe in Jason Worilds. If they feel that he can get the job done, they can afford to wait. If not, they’ll have to spend a high draft pick on a linebacker.
Considering that the Steelers tried to work out a deal with James Harrison to bring him back at a reduced salary, they may not be fully sold on Worilds’ ability to handle the job at right outside linebacker.
Another thing that must be considered is that Worilds is in the final year of his contract. If he underperforms, they will not want to re-sign him. However, if he performs as expected or beyond that, Worilds may price himself out of Pittsburgh.
The Steelers need insurance and they’ll have to spend a high pick on the position.
If it isn’t one of the players names already mentioned, they can look for Alex Okafor, Damontre Moore or Corey Lemonier in the second and Sean Porter and Jamie Collins in the third. There is also the possibility of grabbing Tank Carradine in the first.
When it comes to draft day, this will be one of the most interesting positions to watch out for.
Draft Priority: Any Round
The loss of Keenan Lewis hurt the Steelers’ depth at cornerback, but they should be just fine with Cortez Allen stepping into the starting lineup.
But there is concern behind him with William Gay and Curtis Brown as the third and fourth cornerbacks, respectively.
No team can ever have enough talent at cornerback, and with the loss of Lewis combined with Ike Taylor getting up in age, the Steelers could look to find a future starter at cornerback.
In the first, the Steelers may have a shot at Xavier Rhodes or Desmond Trufant, Darius Slay, B.W. Webb or Dwayne Gratz in the middle of the draft or Terry Hawthorne or Brandon McGee late.
There is talent all over the draf. The Steelers should add depth to the position at some point.
Draft Priority: First-Third
There is no immediate need for a safety. The Steelers will have Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark back next season and when healthy, they are one of the better duos in the league.
The problem is behind these two.
The Steelers do not have any safety worth mentioning outside of Robert Golden, who may develop into a decent backup.
If injuries pop up, the Steelers will be in trouble next season. Depending on how they handle the contracts of Polamalu and Clark, the Steelers need to invest in the future now.
It will take at least a year for a safety to develop. There are plenty of quality options available for the Steelers in the first three rounds of the draft.
They will need to spend a high pick on the position if they want to take advantage of the quality in this draft.
Kenny Vaccaro is the only safety worth a first-round selection for the Steelers, but even he may be a reach with the 17th pick.
Instead, the Steelers should focus on the second and third rounds when they could grab the ball-hawking Phillip Thomas or Bacarri Rambo. Though not ideal, they could wait later and take the solid but unspectacular Josh Evans.
Safety is one position that should definitely be considered a lock in the first three rounds if the Steelers want to get a future starter.
Draft Priority: Undrafted
The Steelers are set at kicker with Shaun Suisham. He was terrific last season and they’ll take his accuracy on field goals even if he lacks a little in power.
Greg Warren is as dependable as ever at long snapper.
While they are set at kicker and long snapper, the Steelers could use a challenger for Drew Butler at punter. They can find an option without spending a draft pick.
The Steelers have too many other needs to invest a draft pick on a punter.
Without Chris Rainey and with Antonio Brown moving into the No. 1 receiving role and Emmanuel Sanders into the No. 2 role, the Steelers have a need to upgrade their return game.
They will have to look at wide receivers, running backs and cornerbacks who are not only solid prospects at their respective positions, but also in the return game.
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