The Pittsburgh Steelers will need a top-to-bottom success in this month’s draft to restock their roster with enough players and depth to contend in 2013 and beyond. This is a crucial year for Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to get things right and make the tough decisions in free agency count for something more than salary relief.
The middle rounds of the draft have been good to the Steelers over the years. Recently, players like Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis have all been brought in during those rounds.
Several mid-round prospects could make a huge immediate impact with Pittsburgh. Here’s a look at five that would be perfect fits.
Stedman Bailey could go in the second or third round depending on how much teams value his speed.
For Pittsburgh, speed is a huge concern after Mike Wallace’s departure. The Steelers don’t have the personnel to stretch the field now. Antonio Brown is fast, but not fast enough to really destroy a defense by himself.
Inserting a player like Bailey into the lineup out of the slot would be a great way to make the offense more dangerous and effective. Bailey’s hands and speed would give Pittsburgh a chance to make things interesting on first and second down and would force teams to stay away from double teams on Brown or Emmanuel Sanders on the outside.
If Bailey is available in Round 2 or 3 and Pittsburgh hasn’t addressed the receiver position earlier, he will be hard for them to pass up.
Running back is the biggest area of need for Pittsburgh. Not only does the team have a very empty cupboard at the position, they also rely heavily on the rushing attack to generate positive yardage and set up their passing attack.
Le’Veon Bell is the kind of back who could set Pittsburgh up for the future. He has all of the skills that teams seek in a feature back. He has good speed, not breakaway speed, but his size and strength are excellent.
Pittsburgh needs a back to go with Jonathan Dwyer who can carry the majority of the burden in the backfield. Getting Bell would be a good way to begin building a backfield for the future that can execute Todd Haley’s system.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers bid farewell to James Harrison last month, it signaled a changing of the guard on defense that will likely continue for a few years as Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel play their final seasons.
Replacing Harrison in the immediate term falls to either Jason Worilds, who has shown flashes but hasn’t been able to stay healthy or consistent, or a draft pick that shows the ability to step up immediately and unseat Worilds.
Sean Porter could be that guy. He’s a defensive end/linebacker hybrid that specializes in the pass rush (as LaMarr Woodley was coming out of Michigan) and plays with aggressiveness and speed. He should be available in the middle rounds thanks to the wealth of talent at the position this year.
If Pittsburgh can get Porter, they can insert him during his rookie season and help revive their flagging pass rush.
Inside linebacker is another position of need. The Pittsburgh Steelers have re-signed Larry Foote and Stevenson Sylvester. Both of those signings indicate that second-year man Sean Spence isn’t ready to return from his injury.
Neither player represents a good option for the long term. Foote could certainly fill in this season once again, but finding a long-term solution must be prioritized by the front office.
Nico Johnson from Alabama is a player that could immediately push Sylvester back to the unemployment line and could eventually step in to replace Foote on the inside opposite Lawrence Timmons.
Johnson is an aggressive player who is excellent as a run defender. The priciple weakness he has is in pass rushing, but that can be made up for by playing with Timmons, who is adept at that. Johnson also could develop under Keith Butler and Dick LeBeau.
Marcus Lattimore’s injury will keep him off of some draft boards and lower than his talent dictates on many others. He will still be drafted and will be a steal for whichever team manages to land him.
Lattimore’s gruesome injury last season derailed an otherwise spectacular collegiate career. He’s a complete back that can hit the hole with authority and strength, break tackles and get into the second level of a defense.
The question, of course, is health. If Lattimore can prove healthy enough to satisfy the Pittsburgh Steelers, they could take him and ease him in alongside Jonathan Dwyer and another draft acquisition. Eventually, that would be a devastating backfield.
Lattimore’s ceiling is too high to risk letting him get to another team. The risk is there, but Pittsburgh has shown willingness before. They drafted Heath Miller despite injury concerns. This could be another of those home runs.