The defending Super Bowl Champions missed the playoffs. You might say worse things have happened, but then again you might not be a Steelers fan.
So to those who are burdened by a season gone wrong, relax. It’s time to start thinking about the draft.
When the defending champs miss the playoffs, it raises certain questions about what the team needs in order to remedy the situation. No team has done better at building through the draft over the course of their history than the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s time to start the process towards getting back to the promised land.
Let's take a look at what the team might do this April in order to avoid another early exodus in 2010.
The Steelers’ offensive line play in 2009 was abysmal to say the least. While Ben Roethlisberger can be accused of holding on to the ball too long, he hasn’t exactly had the time he needs to pass from the pocket either.
In a best-case scenario, the Steelers are looking to address the offensive line with a big-time prospect, and Maryland’s Bruce Campbell would still be on the board when they are picking at No. 18.
Campbell is a physical specimen at the left tackle position. Standing at 6'7", he has the length and reach that NFL teams salivate over when it comes to left tackles.
If Campbell has scouts salivating over his height and length, then he has them drooling over the fact that he is abnormally fit for a man of his size and football position. Weighing in at only 310 pounds, the junior has the agility and quickness of a much smaller player. (He has been timed running a sub 4.9 in the 40).
Overall, the big left tackle’s pass-blocking skills are what set him apart from the rest of the field. Having Campbell protecting Roethlisberger’s blindside would be a welcome addition to the offensive line that gave up 50 sacks last season.
Getting an elite left tackle in the first round may be a pie in the sky scenario at this point for the Steelers. They seem determined to address some defensive needs in the early rounds of the draft.
Since Mike Tomlin has taken the helm in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have broken away from the need-filling mold of Bill Cowher and gone with taking one of the best available players on the board.
The biggest need the Steelers have defensively is at cornerback, but there is only one elite-level corner in this year’s draft. They are more likely to look at their defensive line rather than selecting from the second-tier corners available in the first round.
The defensive line crop in this year’s draft is larger than it has ever been, but perhaps no one embodies that better than Terrence Cody of Alabama.
At 6’5", 365 pounds, “Mount Cody” provides a physically imposing force up the middle and has the potential to become a great nose tackle in the Steelers 3-4 defense. Since Cody came to Alabama, no individual has rushed for over 100 yards in a game against the Tide. It’s hard to see it as a coincidence considering the massive physical presence Cody brings to the interior defensive line.
Drafting Cody makes perfect sense in light of the fact that Casey Hampton is coming into free agency. It is likely that the Steelers will franchise tag him for the 2010 season.
This will give the Steelers a full season to mentor Cody as his replacement. Hampton has been an elite nose tackle since the Steelers drafted him in the first round back in 2001. However, he isn’t exactly known for keeping himself in peak physical condition, and he’s not getting any younger.
With Cody waiting in the wings, it will be much easier for the Steelers to part ways with Hampton after next season.
The Steelers secondary more closely resembled Swiss cheese this past season than the top-ranked pass defense they had just a season ago. The loss of Bryant McFadden via free agency and the lingering injuries that plagued Troy Polamalu exposed the Steelers secondary in 2009.
With most of the high-level corners off the board by this point, and assuming that Terrence Cody has found a home as well, the Steelers may be calling Earl Thomas’ name on draft day.
Thomas was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (nation’s top defensive back) and a first-team All-American after recording eight interceptions and 63 tackles.
Thomas has a nose for the ball and would be a great addition to the secondary with a need for depth at the safety position. However, this is a worst-case scenario here because the Steelers need substantial help on the offensive line and at the corner position.
Trevard Lindley is one of the best corner prospects in this year’s draft. I call him a prospect because he has some growing to do physically (only 179 lbs.) but little to do as far as instincts and technique are concerned.
Lindley combines outstanding speed with great height and ball skills. So much so that if he gains the weight and muscle necessary to play bump and press coverages in the NFL, he has the makings of a shutdown corner. Lindley would be an absolute steal for the Steelers at the 52nd pick.
At 6’0", 190 pounds, Franks has the muscle and physical strength to handle the bigger receivers in the NFL. He certainly proved his abilities in the pass-happy Big 12, where teams started throwing away from his side of the field.
While Franks isn’t quite as gifted athletically as Lindley, he has the physical makings to be an above-average corner in the NFL and a certain upgrade for the Steelers' secondary.
Sergio Kindle is a “betweener” that fits in the mold of guys like DeMarcus Ware and Jevon Kearse. No one really knows where to put them, but they have a motor that just won’t quit.
At 6'4" and 238 pounds, Kindle has the ability to gain a few pounds and play a rush end in a 4-3 defense, or stay as he is and play a pass rushing outside linebacker role in the 3-4.
The Steelers are in need of depth. this might be the best time to take a guy like Kindle who most likely will drop to the late second or early third round because of his lack of power.
The biggest knock going against Kindle at this point is that he is pretty much a finesse pass rusher that uses his speed and athletic ability to get past bigger offensive linemen. He is going to need to learn to deal with contact and shed blockers more effectively if he hopes to be successful in the NFL.
The Steelers’ offensive line has been less than spectacular for the past several seasons. Causing the running game to be less than “Steeleresque” as a result.
The injury prone “Fast” Willie Parker isn’t so fast anymore and is most likely to leave during free agency. The Steelers are going to need some depth at the position. Rather than going out to get a small “scat back,” they should look to get a wrecking-ball like Toby Gerhart.
Gerhart was not only the runner-up in the Heisman Trophy race this season, but he proved to be exactly what the Steelers have been lacking since Jerome Bettis retired a few years ago. He was often faced with extra men in the box as a result of being Stanford’s only offensive threat, but proved to be too powerful for many linebackers and defensive backs to bring down once he got through the line.
Gerhart has excellent hands out of the backfield, and he makes up for his lack of breakaway speed with his quick feet and balance. The Steelers desperately need help in the red zone, and a power runner like Gerhart has the potential to be an asset to a team that is having trouble opening holes in the running game.
James Farrior is aging, and the Steelers need to start looking into a future replacement for their defensive captain and play caller.
Sean Lee looks to be an ideal candidate for the job. Coming from “Linebacker U,” Lee is an unquestioned leader on the field. He spent the 2008 season sidelined with a torn ACL and still traveled with the team as a coach on the sideline and during practice.
Lee came back from the 2008 injury to have 86 tackles and two sacks in just 10 games for the Nittany Lions this season. His health continues to be a slight concern, even though he has not lost any speed from the knee injuries.
Lee would be a first or second round pick if not for his health issues. This would be a great pick for the Steelers in the third round, assuming Lee is able to stay healthy in the future.
The Steelers need all the help they can get on the O-line. If the draft goes according to how things look now, they are going to wait until the third round or later to draft a lineman again this year.
If Lee’s gone or his health is too much of a concern, they will most likely take a long look at Petrus.
Petrus has bounced around a bit position-wise but found a home at guard. He is a solid run blocker, but his academic issues forced him to sit out the 2008 season. He is inexperienced, but his upside potential warrants a third-round pick according to most NFL scouts.
In a worst case scenario, Petrus could be a diamond in the rough if the Steelers find a way to start developing their young players on the offensive line this season.
Assuming the Steelers were able to get Terrence Cody in the first round, they are going to want to bring some depth to the safety position. Coleman is a great name to hear called at this point in the fourth round.
He finished the '09 campaign with 82 tackles (nine of them for a loss), four sacks and four pass deflections. He is an extremely productive safety with a nose for the ball and could fill in for the aging Ryan Clark or replace Tyrone Carter (34) on the roster altogether.
The tandem from East Carolina played alongside one another and could very well be drafted within several picks of each other as well.
Ideally, the Steelers would rather have Joseph who is the more productive and larger of the two. At 6’6", 322 pounds, Joseph finished the season with 60 tackles (13 for a loss) and three sacks.
Ben Tate is a short, thick back with decent speed and a nose for the end zone. He rushed for almost 1,400 yards in his senior season and found the goal line 10 times on his way to a 5.2 YPC average. He also caught 20 passes out of the backfield.
If the Steelers feel the need to pull the trigger sooner rather than later on a running back, Tate will give the Steelers a valuable threat to compliment Rashard Mendenhall. Assuming that they either pass on or didn’t have the option to get Toby Gerhart earlier in the draft, Tate will fit well into the Steelers' system and should make parting with Willie Parker easier. Projected Round: 4-5
Late in the draft, the Steelers are going to want to look for as much depth on the O-line as they can find, hoping to find that diamond in the rough.
Beadles could be the guy. He is a smart, tough offensive tackle that is versatile enough to play guard as well. He would be a steal here.
At 6’6", 305 lbs., Hardman is a true left tackle. He was a Division I-AA first team All-American this season. He has enough potential to garner a look in the fifth round.
Someone may take a flyer on him as high as the fourth round, but I think there is a real shot of Harman being available in the fifth round for the Steelers.
An All-ACC second-team selection, Wang has the size and speed to play tackle at the NFL level. But he is going to need to develop better foot work in order to avoid getting beat by faster pass rushers in the NFL.
Don’t expect to see the Steelers leave the fifth round without at least two offensive linemen in the fold, even if it is a stretch.
Peters consistently got better every season at Kentucky. With Aaron Smith getting ready to retire in the next couple of seasons, Peters is a great developmental project that might end up surprising some people.
He has been playing defensive tackle, but he is precisely the type of D-lineman the Steelers love to turn into an end in their 3-4 scheme. He finished the season with 43 tackles (12 for a loss) and four sacks.
Chris Brown had a prolific junior year at OU rushing for over 1,200 yards and 20 touchdowns. Amazingly, he decided to come back for his senior year, accompanied by quarterback Sam Bradford and a host of other returning seniors.
Brown and company had hopes of avenging their BCS National Championship Game loss against Florida.
Needless to say, Oklahoma was decimated by injuries this season, and Brown's numbers were significantly lower than they were in 2008. He should be able to return to that type of productivity as a rusher and pass catcher out of the backfield.
If the Steelers don’t reach for a back like Gerhart or Tate earlier in the draft, Brown could be a great steal at this point and bea perfect compliment to eMendenhall.
The Steelers were less than satisfied with the performance of center Justin Hartwig this season. That being said, they have not been shy about taking interior linemen in the late rounds the last couple of years.
Erik Cook may be the best worst-case scenario on the board. He was named All-MWC first team as a center this year. He gave up only one sack all season. He is large for a center and could very well be moved to guard if he can prove mobile enough.
Any help the Steelers can get in the secondary is welcome. Jamar Wall could be some rare late round help at the position.
While Texas Tech has been known for a prolific offense in recent years, Wall has been quietly putting together a solid college career. A poor showing in one of the post season All-Star games caused his stock to drop in recent weeks. But don’t be surprised if Wall changes a few minds and moves up the charts during the combine.
At this point, the Steelers can afford to start looking for depth at the positions that drive them. Maxwell is another player that could be a possible reach in the sixth round, but it is likely that he will slide.
Maxwell tallied 81 tackles as an outside linebacker for KU and tied for second in the SEC with six interceptions before he suffered a shoulder injury.
He plays with great instincts and passion. His lack of speed (4.71) and coming off of surgery for that injured shoulder are the reasons he is going to be a late round pick.
Kirlew is a strong defensive end with great contain ability and gets a good push to disrupt the pocket. His numbers were down from last season, but he should be a solid Brent Keisel-type player for the Steelers.