Pittsburgh Steelers' Top Remaining Offseason Priorities
This has been a busy offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers—busier than any offseason in recent memory. Typically, the Steelers let players leave but are rarely so aggressive in replacing them.
At the end of the 2013 season, many wondered just how deep the cuts would be and how long the rebuilding would take. Well, it looks like the front office has decided that there’s no time like the present to get back into the hunt in the AFC.
With only five weeks until the 2014 NFL draft, the front office must take stock of what the team has and what it still needs going forward. Going over the roster, Pittsburgh seems to be in solid shape.
So, what’s next? Here are a few possible next steps for Pittsburgh as we get to and past the NFL draft.
Find a Third Running Back
Pittsburgh made a terrific signing with running back LeGarrette Blount. He is a 247-pound wrecking ball in a football jersey and the perfect complement to Le'Veon Bell in the power run game.
Nevertheless, the Steelers will dress and utilize three running backs every weekend this season. The question centers on the type of back the Steelers choose for that role. One has to believe that with two bruisers like Blount and Bell, they are going to seek out a change-of-pace back to complement them.
The Steelers have pushed their salary cap to the absolute breaking point, so they have two choices for getting that third running back. First, they could wait until after June 1, when the salary-cap relief kicks in for releasing linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Then they could sign a veteran back.
Or they could select a running back with one of their nine draft picks. This is a seriously deep running back class, and there are some players that have the speed and agility to play as a third-down back. If the Steelers can use a mid-round selection on a guy like Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas or Kent State’s Dri Archer, their game-day roster would set.
Assess the Wide Receiver Depth
With two of their top three wide receivers from 2013 being free agents, turnover had been expected. However, after Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery departed, things had looked dire.
Nonetheless, in no time at all, the Steelers filled those spots with Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Both are interesting players who have shown flashes of elite talent, but inconsistency has hamstrung them during their careers.
This means that the Steelers have the following wide receivers under contract:
- Antonio Brown
- Markus Wheaton
- Lance Moore
- Darrius Heyward-Bey
- Derek Moye
- Justin Brown
- Kashif Moore
- Lanear Sampson
- Jasper Collins
- Danny Coale
Obviously, some of these guys are filler. However, the first six names on this list all have a legitimate claim to a roster spot. If the Steelers plan to keep at least the first four, how high can they justify drafting a wide receiver in the draft?
There was a time when it was almost a given that the Steelers would draft a receiver in one of the first two rounds. Now, it is hard to imagine they look at one earlier than the third round. Why did they sign Moore and Heyward-Bey if they planned to supplant one of them with a high draft pick?
The best-case scenario is that Heyward-Bey is insurance in case the Steelers miss out on that early wide receiver they might be targeting.
Get One More Defensive Lineman
Even with the addition of Cam Thomas, Pittsburgh still needs to consider its defensive line. Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon return as starters, but beyond them there are more questions than answers.
Where will Thomas play? Can any of the youngsters like Nicholas Williams (24) or Brian Arnfelt (24) ascend to a starting role?
These questions won’t be answered by the draft, but expect the Steelers to spend a draft pick on either a 5-technique defensive end or a beefy nose tackle. How early is not yet clear. This draft has a nice mix of prospects, many of whom will slide. There’s no reason to panic and reach for a defensive lineman too early.
Another sneaky option is that the Steelers stay put and don’t draft one at all. Instead, they wait until after June 1 and re-sign veteran defensive end Brett Keisel. Either way, it is hard to think about drafting more youth with talents like Arnfelt and Williams on the roster who are untested. Pittsburgh will never know what it has if it keeps drafting more similar players.
Upgrade the Talent at Cornerback
Pittsburgh is living on borrowed time at cornerback. Ike Taylor is back for his farewell tour, which helps. Cortez Allen and William Gay will be competing for the starting spot opposite Taylor. In terms of pure talent, Allen is much better than Gay. However, Gay was the most consistent performer in 2013.
Unless the coaches think Isaiah Green or Antwon Blake are going to be ready to contribute, adding at least one cornerback and trimming the fat are important. With all the spending the Steelers have done, it's hard to see them pick up a starting-caliber cornerback in free agency.
That leads right back to the draft. Pittsburgh is doing its due diligence to scout as many of the top cornerbacks as possible. With nine draft picks, the Steelers are in a prime position to trade up and get a top cornerback like Oklahoma State Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard.
Or if they wish to move back, they could target Kyle Fuller at the end of the round. With either approach, don’t be shocked if the Steelers draft at least one cornerback this year.
How About a Punter?
At present, the only punter have under contract is Brad Wing. Unfortunately, he has never had a single punt in the NFL. Pittsburgh struggled to have any consistency with its punting game in 2013. If it wants to be successful in 2014, the team has to shore up this area.
Two of the punters that the Steelers used last season, Mat McBriar and Zoltan Mesko, are unsigned free agents. Pittsburgh might opt to bring back one of them due to their familiarity with the team.
Drafting a punter is a dicey proposition. There’s no reason to even look at one before the sixth round. However, there are a couple of decent ones, should the Steelers decide to draft one. Memphis’ Tom Hornsey has a huge leg and won the Ray Guy Award in 2013. Iowa State’s Kirby Van Der Kamp is the best all-around punter in the draft.
There are always veteran punters who are looking for work as training camp approaches, so if the Steelers choose not to draft one, they should be able to choose from plenty of decent options.