Biggest Questions Pittsburgh Steelers Must Answer over Draft Week
Even after taking an active approach to free agency, the Steelers still have plenty of areas that they must address in the draft. There are plenty of holes on the defensive side of the ball as well as a need to upgrade the weapons for Ben Roethlisberger.
The extended draft process has provided general manager Kevin Colbert and the rest of the front office and coaching staff plenty of time to formulate a strong plan to get the team back into playoff contention.
By taking advantage of a deep draft, the Steelers can take a big step forward in addressing the questions that still surround the team and once again compete for an AFC North crown.
Here is one last look at the biggest questions Pittsburgh must answer throughout the course of the draft.
Will the Steelers Continue Their Trend in the First Round?
Beginning in 2006, the Pittsburgh Steelers have alternated between offensive and defensive players in the first round of the draft, as outlined by Pro-Football-Reference.com. Of these eight players, three are no longer on the team—Santonio Holmes, Rashard Mendenhall and Ziggy Hood.
Based on the Jarvis Jones selection last year, the offensive side of the ball should be the target in the first round. However, that would mean that the Steelers would ignore several of the biggest needs on the team.
While they could take a look at left tackle or wide receiver with the 15th selection, the more logical approach would be to address the defensive side of the ball where they could use immediate upgrades at virtually every position.
When it comes down to it, this trend is more of a product of coincidence rather than by design. Expect the Steelers to select the most talented player on their draft board regardless of which side of the ball that player is on.
Will the Steelers Find a Starting Cornerback in the Draft?
Cornerback is clearly one of the Steelers' top three needs. Pro Football Focus categorized Ike Taylor as "upgrade a high priority." He was the only projected starter for the Steelers with that designation.
Taylor struggled in coverage last season and is no longer a player who can lock up against the opposition’s top receiving option. At this point, it becomes where the Steelers address the position in the draft.
There are four possible options in the first round, and they include Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard and Kyle Fuller.
In a radio interview with David Todd of 970 AM ESPN, NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah said that he has heard that if Fuller is available, he will be the Steelers' selection.
Fuller ranks second on NFL.com's Mike Mayock's cornerback rankings, and his physical style of play and size make him a good fit for the Steelers’ scheme. He can play press and off man and is willing to step up against the run.
Even if the Steelers do not draft Fuller or any other cornerback in the first round, there will be other options in the second round such as Bradley Roby, Lamarcus Joyner and Phillip Gaines.
It is not a matter of “if” the Steelers will find their starting cornerback in the draft, but rather it's a matter of “when.”
Will the Steelers Prioritize Drafting a Tall Receiver for Ben Roethlisberger?
Ever since Plaxico Burress left the Steelers via free agency, there has been talk that Roethlisberger desires a tall wide receiver. This year is no exception as Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that “a tall wide receiver is high on the wish list” to be drafted.
Though there is no immediate need for a receiver, the Steelers cannot be overly confident with Markus Wheaton moving into the starting lineup and Lance Moore playing the slot. Although they form a speedy group with Antonio Brown, there is a complete lack of size.
Mike Evans would be a dream scenario for the Steelers in the first round. They would likely run to the podium to select the 6’5” receiver. However, it is unlikely that he falls that far, meaning that they should instead wait until the second or third round.
Numerous receivers who are over 6’0” should be on the radar at this point. Allen Robinson, Kelvin Benjamin, Donte Moncrief, Jordan Matthews, Cody Latimer, and Martavis Bryant are all listed at 6’2” or taller.
Of course that may mean that they pass on more talented options such as Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks or Marqise Lee. Even though these players do not have the size that may be desired by the Steelers, they are very talented receivers who fit the mold of what they have drafted in recent years.
A tall receiver may be a nice addition, but adding a talented option who has speed, can run good routes and can play inside and outside may be more valuable.
Who Will Play Defensive End Opposite Cam Heyward?
Defensive end is the only true opening on Pittsburgh’s roster right now. There is a chance that Brett Keisel could be brought back, but that will only be a temporary fix. The Steelers need someone for the future.
If they look to the draft to find an immediate starter, there are only two options: Ra’Shede Hageman and Stephon Tuitt.
There is a possibility that neither will be available in the second round, but that is a chance that the Steelers must take.
Hageman has a massive body at 6’6” and 310 pounds. He can step in as a 5-technique at defensive end and slide inside and provide an inside rush on passing downs.
Consistency issues may push him to the second round just as the lack of production last season will slide Tuitt into the second.
Tuitt has ideal size (6’5” and 304 lbs) and has experience in the 3-4 defense. He has the ability to be very disruptive at the line of scrimmage by pressuring the quarterback or getting his hands in the passing lane.
It is difficult for any defensive end to start as a rookie, but Tuitt may be the perfect fit for the Steelers and would see the field early in his career.
Beyond these two, the Steelers would have to draft a project later on. There are a number of quality options, such as Brent Urban, Josh Mauro, Ed Stinson, Deandre Coleman and Ben Gardner, but all would need time to develop.
How Will the Steelers Upgrade Their Talent at Linebacker?
Not long ago, the Steelers had the top linebackers in the NFL. That is not the case anymore, as only Lawrence Timmons comes remotely close to being considered as one of the better linebackers in the league.
Vince Williams will enter training camp as the starter next to Timmons. He had a solid rookie season considering that he was a sixth-round pick, but he left a lot to be desired. As a two-down linebacker, Williams needs to show that he can perform better against the run.
On the outside, Jason Worilds will start at left outside linebacker, and Jarvis Jones will start at right. Neither has shown to be elite pass-rushers, but they should be improved entering 2014 now that they have settled into their positions.
The depth is virtually nonexistent, per Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services, and the Steelers could use another pass-rusher at outside linebacker and improved talent at inside linebacker.
There are not too many inside linebackers who figure to fit the Steelers' scheme and provide an upgrade in talent outside of C.J. Mosley, Chris Borland and Shayne Skov. That may mean another year with Williams as the starter.
Outside linebacker is another story, as there are numerous edge-rushers who would provide quality options. Scott Crichton would be an ideal selection in the second round, while Demarcus Lawrence and Marcus Smith would be solid options as well.
There are numerous developmental options later in the draft, including Jordan Zumwalt, Prince Shembo and Shaquil Barrett.
As nice as it would be to upgrade at inside linebacker, there are few options, and the Steelers should not force the issue. The same cannot be said for outside linebacker. You can never have enough good pass-rushers, and the Steelers could use an upgrade behind their starters.
Even if it means investing a second-round pick in an outside linebacker, Pittsburgh must upgrade its depth here.
Who Will Play Behind Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount?
A third-string running back will be far down on the list of draft questions, but it is one that will always pique the interest of Steelers’ fans.
Whether they will come out and say it or not, the Steelers have made moves that indicates the commitment to improving the ground game. The addition of Mike Munchak as offensive line coach and LeGarrette Blount to the backfield are two moves that support this.
The duo of Le’Veon Bell and Blount provides the Steelers with two power backs that can pound opposing defenses into submission. However, they do not have a back with breakaway speed.
The good news for the Steelers is that running backs figure to fall in the draft. CBSSports.com does not have a single first-round grade on a running back and only nine backs have second- or third-round grades.
That does not mean that they necessarily will fall, but other positions will receive priority over running backs.
There are numerous options that the Steelers should consider in the fourth round or later. Lache Seastrunk, Dri Archer and De’Anthony Thomas all have game-breaking speed while James White or Storm Johnson would both be threats in the passing game.
No matter who they chose, the Steelers do not need a back who can carry the ball every down—they already have two of these backs. Instead, they should draft a back who has good speed and will give opposing defenses something else to think about.
All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com, draft rankings are courtesy of CBSSports.com, and all pre-draft visit information is courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (subscription required). All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.