In the beginning of last season, it looked like the Pittsburgh Steelers had angered the football gods. The Steelers had the hardest schedule in the NFL, the Patriots had the easiest, and the offensive line contained four new starters. Well, Tom Brady was injured on the first series of the year against the Chiefs, the line struggled at times but performed in the big moments of the each game, and the Steelers handled their schedule with a 12-4 record. Then, thanks to Mewelde Moore and the defense, the Steelers rolled through the playoffs coming out the other end as Super Bowl Champions and a NFL best sixth-franchise Lombardi trophy.
Bare with me, there is a lot.
The Steelers have 20 starters from last season’s Super Bowl team returning. This is virtually unheard of because a major reason why it is so hard to repeat in the NFL is free agency and championship teams usually have trouble staying intact.
Ben Roethlisberger may not set the record for passing yards, and he may not throw 50 touchdowns in a season, but he proved that when the game is on the line on the ultimate stage there is no one better in the NFL. "Big Ben" will be rewarded with his entire offense returning and the easiest schedule in the NFL.
The most unappreciated part of the Steelers is the receiving core. Ben would not have two championship rings today if it weren’t for Hines Ward in 2005 and Santonio Holmes last season. These two aren’t statistical monsters, but Hines Ward’s sportsmanship and toughness is unmatched and Holmes is a surprising speed-demon. The silent member that joins these two is tight end Heath Miller who might be the best blocker on the team and has been Ben’s safety net since he was drafted.
Kicker Jeff Reed has been a consistent member of this team since drafted in the 1950's (just kidding) and has been the leg for many years.
Last but not least, the part of the team most known and has earned names in the past like "The Iron Curtain," is the Steelers defense. Troy Polamalu is the General and controls the secondary as the hammer that has put fear in many receivers' minds. Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, and the first round pick in 2009 Ziggy Hood will once again dominate any offensive line and stop the run game of a team before it ever has a chance to start
Then, the heart of the defense, the part that can lose a Jerry Porter or a Larry Foote and still lead the NFL in sacks, this is the linebacker core. Led by James Farrior and the newly emerged James Harrison, this group never seems to age and has dominated the league for years. Former first round pick Lawrence Timmons will fill in for Larry Foote and once again, I expect this group to command the defense and lead it to the No. 1 rated defense in the NFL.
The offensive line struggled all year with four new starters. It clearly showed its "greenness" as it allowed a little more than three sacks a game, but that's what happens when a player of Allen Fanaca’s caliber is no longer present. The line came on strong in the playoffs, especially in the Super Bowl, so Ben should be seeing a little less sky and a lot more scores.
The Steelers have not been able to keep their running backs healthy. In 2005, the running backs were the key to the Steelers’ success with the speed of Willie Parker and the mammoth power of Jerome Bettis. Now, Willie Parker cannot make it half-way through the season, and first round pick Rashard Mendenhall did not impress by joining Parker on the injured reserve. Luckily, the Steelers had Mewelde Moore step up, but he is not an every down back.
“Big Ben” has a very generous schedule and can be a No. 1 quarterback, but do not waste a high pick as he can be had in the later rounds of your draft.
Neither Parker or Mendenhall are top backs unless healthy, so Parker I would draft as a No. 2 and Mendenhall as No. 3 or No. 4 back.
Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes are each No. 2 wide receivers who are very durable, but I would pick Ward over Holmes if given a choice between the two.
Heath Miller had a less than stellar year, but he will be another Steeler who benefits from an easy-going schedule. He is not the best option for a No. 1 tight end, but he can put up the numbers this year so do not be afraid to take him in the later rounds.
Jeff Reed is a top 10 kicker that is available in the last round 99.9 percent of the time, so build your team then top it off with a solid, consistent kicker.
The Pittsburgh defense is the best in the NFL. It will lead the league in sacks, and will be up there in turnovers. You will have to go at least one round earlier to draft this defense than you would normally.
The sleeper is wide receiver Limas Sweed. Depending on how his training camp goes, he will be the No. 3 receiver on the team, but he is 6'4". At this size, he will win most one-on-one battles and could put up better numbers than the former Steeler Nate Washington.