Where Should the Pittsburgh Steelers Address Each Position in the Draft?
With holes across the roster, general manager Kevin Colbert has to be excited at the prospect of replenishing the depth chart through the draft.
“I’m telling you, it’s as deep across the board as any draft I’ve seen in 30 years,” Colbert told Bob Labriola of Steelers.com.
Colbert will have nine draft picks to work with as he tries to replenish a roster that lacks depth at virtually every position. While it is impossible to fill every need through the draft, he has made his job easier with the addition of seven free agents from other teams.
How will Colbert and Steelers utilize these draft picks? Here is a breakdown of which round the Steelers should address each position in the draft.
All draft rankings are courtesy of CBS Sports.
Draft Priority: Undrafted
The quarterback depth chart underwent a makeover last season as the Steelers parted ways with long-time backups Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich in favor of some new blood.
Bruce Gradkowski signed to be Ben Roethlisberger’s backup and Landry Jones was drafted in the fourth round as a developmental prospect. It turned out that neither quarterback was needed as Roethlisberger played in 100 percent of the snaps last season.
Not much will change in 2014 as the quarterback depth chart should remain the same.
Roethlisberger is firmly entrenched as Pittsburgh’s franchise player while Gradkowski is entering his second year in Todd Haley’s system and should be more comfortable as the backup.
Given their relatively high investment in Jones, he will get at least one more season—if not two—to show that he is at the very least a capable backup quarterback in the NFL.
With a significant number of needs elsewhere on the roster and every quarterback under contract for at least two more seasons, the Steelers can find a camp arm to add to the mix after the draft.
Draft Priority: Fourth-Seventh
Pittsburgh’s backfield appeared to be decimated when Le'Veon Bell was the only experienced running back on the roster to return from the 2013 team.
No longer did the Steelers have Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones to lean on for depth. For that reason, it was not surprising that Mike Tomlin indicated that the Steelers would be looking elsewhere to upgrade their backfield.
“We need to have depth in that area and we will in the not-too-distant future, whether it’s in free agency or the draft,” Tomlin told Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on March 25.
That depth was addressed with the signing of LeGarrette Blount to a two-year contract. He provides the Steelers with another power option which will help wear down defenses.
Blount also eases the need to draft a running back early. It is also likely that the Steelers will look to add a change-of-pace back to the depth chart with two players with power already in place.
Instead, the Steelers should look to fill out the depth chart with a speedy or multidimensional threat in the fourth round or later. Lache Seastrunk or De’Anthony Thomas are two of the fastest running backs available, while James White provides the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Of course, if the Steelers are looking to stick with the physical mold, backs such as Andre Williams, Tyler Gaffney, Storm Johnson and Silas Redd should all be available on the third day of the draft.
As the position is no longer a premium one in the NFL, odds are that quality running back prospects will fall in the draft, providing the Steelers with plenty of talented options to fill out the depth chart.
Draft Priority: First-Third (luxury)
Heath Miller is now a full season removed from an ACL injury that caused him to miss the start of the 2013 season and should be poised to be one of Roethlisberger’s top options for this upcoming season.
He also signed a contract extension which locked him up through the 2016 season. There is little reason to believe that Miller won’t be able to play out that contract as the Steelers' No. 1 tight end.
Behind Miller, Matt Spaeth provides a solid backup option in terms of a blocker, but is not much of a threat in the passing game. Neither is third-string tight end David Paulson, who had a very disappointing 2013 season.
While tight end is by no means a priority, the Steelers could very well consider selecting one if the right player falls.
Eric Ebron is a potential option in the first round as he will present mismatch problems with linebackers given his speed and athleticism. He would break the mold of what the Steelers typically look for in a tight end given his lack of ability as an in-line blocker.
A better fit may be Troy Niklas. He may not have the speed of Ebron, but at 6’7” he is three inches taller and is a solid blocker already. His massive frame would provide the Steelers with a physical threat in the red zone.
Though both players would provide a dangerous threat in the passing game, the Steelers are pretty set at tight end, and any tight end picked in the draft would be a luxury selection.
Draft Priority: First-Third and Fifth-Seventh
Pittsburgh took a hit at the wide receiver position after it lost Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery to free agency. So to rebuild, Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey were added to the depth chart.
Even with Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton returning, the new additions should not be enough to make anyone feel secure with the receiving corps.
Brown is the only significant threat at this point with Wheaton as an unproven commodity, Moore filling the void as a role player and Heyward-Bey adding speed, but inconsistency as well. Given the depth at receiver in this draft, the Steelers must consider selecting two.
In the first round, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks should be on the radar.
Evans would provide Roethlisberger with his first tall target since Plaxico Burress while Beckham and Cooks bring elite speed to the position. However, with so many talented options, the Steelers may be better off waiting until the second or even third round before selecting a receiver.
Receivers such as Allen Robinson, Kelvin Benjamin, Davante Adams and Jordan Matthews are talented options with size who may be available when the Steelers select in the second. With some experienced veterans on the roster, none would have to play a major role as a rookie.
In the third, Donte Moncrief and Martavis Bryant have terrific size and speed, while a player such as Jarvis Landry does not have the same physical tools but has proven to be very reliable at the college level.
All of these receivers will have an opportunity to develop into a No. 1 or 2 receiver. But one should not be enough.
The Steelers need to take advantage of the depth and draft a second receiver between the fifth and seventh rounds, as well.
Brandon Coleman, Jalen Saunders, Cody Latimer and Devin Street are all viable late-round options. Another interesting name to watch is Dri Archer. He may not have a true position, but he has elite speed and playmaking ability as an offensive weapon and special teams player.
Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and the Steelers need to surround him with the better talent. Selecting two receivers in this draft would be a good start.
Draft Priority: Fifth-Seventh
For years the Steelers have been looking to upgrade their offensive line, and it appears that they have finally settled on some young players to work with.
The starting lineup is virtually set with Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert. Behind them are Mike Adams, Guy Whimper and Cody Wallace. There is an outside chance that the Steelers could re-sign Fernando Velasco once he is healthy.
That leaves the Steelers with eight linemen who appear to be a lock on the roster. That leaves space for possibly one more lineman—if Velasco is not re-signed.
A developmental lineman could be selected on Day 3 of the draft. The most likely candidate would be a player who can play both tackle and guard.
Of course, there is an outside chance that the Steelers could provide new offensive line coach Mike Munchak with a first-round tackle if the right player falls. Michigan’s Taylor Lewan is the most-likely candidate to fall into that category.
Beyond this, expect the Steelers to stick with whom they have and limit their selection to a developmental backup.
Draft Priority: Second or Fifth-Seventh
In recent years, the Steelers have spent two first-round selections on defensive ends.
Ziggy Hood is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars while Cameron Heyward finally had a breakout season and finish 2013 as one of Pittsburgh’s top defenders.
As it stands now, Cameron Heyward is the only starting-caliber defensive end on the roster. As reported by Bob Labriola of Steelers.com, Cam Thomas was signed to provide depth.
There remains a possibility that the Steelers could re-sign Brett Keisel later this offseason, but they still need to add quality depth.
Besides Thomas, Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams are the only other options. Arnfelt flashed potential last preseason and Williams has the pure physical traits to at least be a viable backup at the position. However, both have a lot to prove and the Steelers may want a player with a better pedigree.
If either player falls to the second, Ra’Shede Hageman or Stephon Tuitt would be a logical selection for the Steelers. With both players standing at 6’6” and over 300 pounds, they have the frame to play as a 5-technique in Pittsburgh’s system.
Outside of these ends, the Steelers would be better off waiting to add depth.
Potential Day 3 selections include Josh Mauro, Ed Stinson, Brent Urban, Taylor Hart, Deandre Coleman and Ben Gardner.
Draft Priority: Fourth-Seventh
Steve McLendon isn’t a pure space-eater at nose tackle which may lead the Steelers to look for an upgrade in the draft. The problem is that there is a lack of elite prospects at the position in this draft.
Louis Nix is the only potential option early in the draft and investing in a two-down player with the 15th overall selection does not provide the greatest return on investment.
Many of the late-round prospects do not have the upside of a quality starter at the position and may be limited to a backup role.
Names that the Steelers should consider include Justin Ellis, Daniel McCullers and Ryan Carrethers. At the very least they would help upgrade the depth at nose tackle and provide a developmental project at the position.
Draft Priority: Second-Fourth
Outside of Lawrence Timmons, there is little talent at inside linebacker right now.
Vince Williams played fairly well for a late-round rookie but is limited as a two-down player and needs to show more if he is going to be considered as a long-term option. Backup linebacker Terence Garvin’s best fit is to remain in this role as well as contribute on special teams.
Sean Spence would be an ideal player to start alongside Timmons, but he has to prove that he can play again after suffering a major knee injury during his rookie season.
C.J. Mosley is the only worthwhile option for the Steelers in the first round, but he would not provide the same value as another position—such as cornerback—would with the 15th overall selection. But if they did select him, the Steelers would have another three-down linebacker who can effectively drop into coverage.
Another athletic linebacker that will be available in the middle rounds is Christian Jones. The Steelers have two linebackers from Florida State on their roster, and the possibility of adding another is not out of the question.
Though they do not show the same type of athleticism, Chris Borland and Shayne Skov were both productive inside linebackers in college and could be a force in stopping the run with their physical play.
As much as the Steelers need to upgrade the position, the lack of quality depth in this draft may mean that they stick with what they have for another season.
Draft Priority: Third-Fifth
After drafting Jarvis Jones in the first round last season and placing the transition tag on Jason Worilds this offseason, the likelihood of the Steelers drafting another outside linebacker early is not particularly high.
Beyond Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr falling in the draft, you can count out an outside linebacker in the first round. Instead, the Steelers will return to their old method of drafting one in the middle rounds and developing him for two or three years.
Of course, a lack of depth at the position could result in the Steelers adding talent as early as the second round where a player such as Dee Ford or Scott Crichton may be available.
A more likely scenario would be for the Steelers to take a close look at Marcus Smith, Demarcus Lawrence or Prince Shembo in the third round or later. By waiting, they would be able to grab two instant-impact players early in the draft and find a developmental pass-rusher later.
The Steelers can afford to hold off at this position after signing Arthur Moats to be their backup at outside linebacker.
Draft Priority: First-Second and Fourth-Sixth
When it comes to identifying the top need for the Steelers to address in the draft, the universal response from virtually every expert and non-expert alike would be "cornerback."
It is pretty easy to see why the Steelers need to find an elite cornerback prospect. Ike Taylor is on the downside of his career and is likely in his last season with the team. Cortez Allen has yet to establish himself as a consistent starter and William Gay should be limited to the role of nickelback.
Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert are the top two options and at least one could be available for the Steelers when they are on the clock in the first round. If not, Kyle Fuller most certainly will be available, but they may not want to select him that high.
All three cornerbacks would immediately upgrade the depth at the position and be able to compete for a role on passing downs or even a starting job.
If one is not selected in the first, you can bet that they will take one in the second. Bradley Roby, Marcus Roberson and Lamarcus Joyner are all candidates here.
Beyond building depth for the present, the Steelers need to add talent for the future, as well, and with players such as Loucheiz Purifoy, E.J. Gaines, Chris Davis and others expected to be available beyond the fourth round, the Steelers could position themselves well for the future.
Draft Priority: Undrafted
Mitchell will take over for Ryan Clark at free safety while Allen will contribute as one of the top reserves at defensive back on passing downs. They will join Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden to form one of the deepest units on the team.
As a result, do not expect the Steelers to select a safety in this year’s draft unless the talent is too good to pass up.
Draft Priority: Undrafted
Pittsburgh has not drafted a kicker or punter since Daniel Sepulveda was selected in the fourth round of the 2007 draft. That streak should continue this season.
The Steelers have too many needs to invest a draft pick on a specialist—unless of course you are considering Dri Archer as a specialist.
Shaun Suisham has established himself as a dependable kicker and has no cause for concern about losing his job in training camp.
The punter situation is a different story with Brad Wing as the only punter on the roster. By no means is he a lock to make the roster and the Steelers will need to add another punter to compete in training camp. However, they can do so after the draft.