Which Positions Should Steelers Target in First Round of 2014 NFL Draft?

Andrew WatkinsCorrespondent IJanuary 8, 2014

Which Positions Should Steelers Target in First Round of 2014 NFL Draft?

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    Heading into the offseason, the Steelers have a number of positional needs that should be addressed. Perhaps surprisingly, many of them are on the defensive side of the ball.

    A unit that’s been dominant in recent history fell off in 2013. The Steelers allowed five opponents to top 30 points in their most recent campaign—the same number of times opponents topped the figure over the past three seasons.

    Thus, it stands to reason that the Steelers will be targeting defensive players early in the 2014 NFL Draft. 

Nose Tackle

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    After finishing in the top five in total defense for six straight seasons, the Steelers dropped to a much more average 13th. Much of that can be attributed to a run defense which ranked in the bottom third of the league.

    Unsurprisingly, that drop-off came without long-time stalwart Casey Hampton tying up opposing lineman. Only one Steelers team with Hampton manning the middle fell outside of the top 10 in run defense, and that was a decade ago.

    Both Steve McLendon and Al Woods showed flashes this season, but they’ve each been in the league since at least 2010 and neither has shown much beyond potential. It’s in the Steelers best interest to target a nose tackle early in the draft.

    The nose tackle position isn’t greatly coveted in today’s NFL, so there are only a few top-flight prospects. The one atop most draft boards is Louis Nix of Notre Dame.

    At 340 pounds, Nix has certainly got the frame for it. And if he could live up to the high expectations facing him, he could prove to be the catalyst that helps the “Steel Curtain” return to form.

Inside Linebacker

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    Further complicating matters for the Steelers run D was Larry Foote’s season-ending injury in Week 1.

    Foote has been in and out of the starting lineup the past few seasons and will turn 34 before the onset of the 2014 season. It’s fair to question how much he’s got left in the tank.

    In Foote’s absence the Steelers relied on sixth-round rookie Vince Williams. Williams was solid, but his limited athleticism made him a liability in pass coverage.

    This deficiency forced the Steelers to play Troy Polamalu in a sort of hybrid-linebacker role. Compromising not one, but two positions.

    Many thought the Steelers were targeting an inside backer early in each of the last two drafts. In order to allow Lawrence Timmons to play to his full potential, it’s a move that can’t be delayed any further.

    There appears to be only one sure-fire first-round pick at the position, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley. Aside from Luke Kuechly, inside linebackers haven’t been highly valued in recent drafts, so the Steelers should have a shot at Mosley.

    Mosley appears to be sound in every facet of the game. If paired with Timmons they should form a solid tandem for years to come.

Cornerback

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    Ike Taylor has been a steady starter for the Steelers for the better part of a decade, but in 2013 he began to show signs of decline.

    In particular, Taylor went through a horrid three-game stretch in which Calvin Johnson, Josh Gordon and Torrey Smith made him look every bit of 33 years old.

    Taylor may still be retained and even prove to be a valuable contributor, but it’s clear his days as a top-flight cover are numbered.

    Behind Taylor is Cortez Allen, who is proving to be quite adept at taking the ball away. Also seeing significant snaps at the position was William Gay, who showed in 2009 that he’s better suited to play the third corner role.

    Whether or not Allen can handle the duties of being the team’s top cover-man remains to be seen. Regardless, there is a very real need to find a legitimate starter opposite him.

    There are a number of first-round prospects at the cornerback position, and at least one of Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert and Marcus Roberson should be available when they’re set to pick.

    This is probably the least likely of the positions I’ve noted that the Steelers will target in Round 1. Nonetheless, it would certainly behoove them to shore up that secondary sooner than later.