It's no secret in NFL circles or amongst fans that the Pittsburgh Steelers have cleaned up in the draft going back 40 years now to their 1969 No. 1 pick, "Mean" Joe Greene. The bedrock of the 1970s dynasty was founded this way, and we once again have seen them reach the mountaintop with their key players obtained through the super-hyped April event.
A two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, two Super Bowl MVP wideouts in Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, and a top-flight playmaker safety in Troy Polamalu only top the list of the many contributors the Steelers have brought in through the draft to build a champion.
In 2009, they will look to defend their title, so here is a breakdown of what we should expect and what we may see from coach Mike Tomlin, Director of Football Ops Kevin Colbert, and the Rooney family this Saturday and Sunday in New York...
Depth...particularly at OL, DL, and CB. Obviously the Steelers had a tremendous 2008 and were able to do so even with next to zero contribution from their rookies (only one start all year).
Since they are picking last at the end of each round, we won't necessarily see a huge impact from this year's class either, but depth is the real key, and with nine (yes, nine!) picks available to them, they should be able to stockpile quite a few players.
Offensive line is the primary area of concern since they allowed 49 sacks in 2008, which placed them 29th out of 32 teams in that category—not the type of pounding you want Roethlisberger taking week in, week out.
Expect the Steelers to make this a priority both to upgrade and add depth to what many considered to be the worst unit on the best team in the league. A few names they are looking at with the first pick are California C Alex Mack, Louisville C Eric Wood, and Oregon C Max Unger.
With defensive linemen Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, and Brett Keisel all north of 30 years old, you can be sure the Steelers will address this with a couple of picks to groom new players to take over within the next couple of seasons. They likely will wait until rounds two or three to pull the trigger at defensive line, but names worth noting are Fili Moala from USC or DT Ricky-Jean Francois from LSU.
Arguably the Steelers' biggest free agency loss this offseason was cornerback Bryant McFadden, who signed with their SB XLIII foe Arizona Cardinals. While Ike Taylor is solid on one side, DeShea Townsend is entering his 12th season with the team, so Tomlin will be looking to fill that spot with a talented player by next year at the latest.
If they pull the trigger in round one on a cornerback, UConn's Darius Butler provides them with a very quick player who has return skills, an area in which the Steelers generally do not excel. Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore has shown a ton of skill in the powerful SEC conference and may be a nice fit in the second round.
As mentioned earlier, the Steelers will be looking for depth across the board, but their ability to find impact players after the first round has been essential to their success—LaMarr Woodley (second round, 2007), Hines Ward (third round, 1998), and Ike Taylor (round four, 2003) to name a few.
In addition, while they generally seem to be a conservative organization, the Steelers' ability to wheel and deal, trading up in the first round for both Troy Polamalu in 2003 and Santonio Holmes in 2006, has paid off as well as any draft day moves in recent history.
With the ample number of picks this year, DO NOT rule out the Steelers making a move for someone they really like in any of the first three rounds.
However, they are in a great position to add many contributors to the roster, so they will not be forced into panic mode at any point this weekend.
Lastly, while they are holding on to the Lombardi trophy, the Steelers should enjoy drafting at the bottom of the round because, as always, it's good to be the king.
I'll be back next week to go over the picks and see how they may fit into the team in 2009.