It is said that every year a team does not get better, they get worse. The Pittsburgh Steelers spent last off season basking in the glory of their record sixth Super Bowl Championship.
This year, they have to look in the mirror, and address the needs that will keep them in the upper echelon of the NFL.
Unlike a lot of teams, where there are a lot of questions, the Steelers are pretty much set at some of the key positions. Namely QB.
Ben Roethlisberger is the name at the top of the Steelers depth chart, and there is no name under his that he has to even consider taking his position.
Dennis Dixon will supplant Charlie Batch as the main back up, and with good reason. Dixon played in only one game this year, a start in Baltimore against the Ravens.
Though he did not win that game, he still proved that his skills had improved enough to no longer need Batch on the side line.
Third String: The Steelers will probably draft someone in the mid rounds of this draft to groom as the eventual replacement for Dixon. Dixon would have been a late first round pick had he not tore his ACL his senior year at Oregon.
With some playing time to showcase his skills, teams will be calling the Steelers about a trade for Dixon either next year or the following one. It is important for the Steelers to understand this, and draft his eventual replacement.
WHO? No one in Pittsburgh, or the NFL for that matter, thought the Steelers would draft Dixon two years ago. They did because of their philosophy of taking the best available player. If Tim Tebow falls to the fourth or fifth round, as Dixon did, don't be shocked to see the Steelers select him.
Rashard Mendenhall has earned his spot at the top of the depth chart. Willie Parker believes he is good enough to be a starter somewhere. Mewelde Moore will return as the classic third down back.
The Steelers are going to need to bring in someone to give Mendenhall a break. The Steelers have Isaac "Red Zone" Redman on the practice squad, who could come up to the active roster, and give the Steelers the 1-2 punch they wanted to have with Parker.
As Bruce Arians said last year, he would not have a Full Back on the roster. After Art Rooney said that he wanted to get back to a power running back, I would be willing to bet that Arians has changed his tune.
Frank Summers is a possibility to fill the position, as is second year TE David Johnson. Johnson did a better than average job for a rookie coming in to a system that had no one at the position.
I think Johnson is going to get a number and position change, and Summers may not be on the active roster again this year.
The only team in the NFL with two Super Bowl MVP Receivers, Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. Mike Wallace will enter his second season looking to get more playing time.
Limas Sweed is still a question mark, and depending on when Hines Ward decides to call it a career, Sweed may have the chance to earn some playing time if he can forget how to drop passes.
Joey Galloway was signed last year, but will probably not be back again this year.
Rookie Tyler Grisham got some playing time in the last week of the season, and showed that he could EVENTUALLY grow into a Wes Welker type of player.
The Steelers look like they are pretty good at receiver, but don't be shocked if they spend a mid to late round pick on a receiver with some size, over 6'5, to develop into a red zone threat.
Heath Miller is one of the best, unheard of tight ends in the game, even though he did make it to the Pro Bowl this year. Miller is coming off his best year, and with the Steelers supposedly going back to the power style running game, next year could be even bigger for Miller.
Matt Spaeth is still a good back up, but will be challenged for his job by the returning Sean McHugh. McHugh took Spaeths job during the Super Bowl XLIII run, and had he not been placed on IR this year, Spaeth may not have been on the team.
The only real chance Spaeth has of keeping his job, IF McHugh returns healthy, is if David Johnson gets moved to full back.
The Steelers seem high on Johnson, as he got more time than Spaeth. If Johnson does not get moved to FB, then Spaeth could be out of a job.
This is the part where everyone starts to hate me.
The Steelers offensive line could use some improvement, but unless a blue chip prospect falls into the Steelers' lap, they are not going to take one.
Max Starks gets the hardest time from fans and media, as he gets beat on occasion. Remember, he does have games against some of the best in the game; Jarred Allen of the Vikings comes to mind. Starks just signed a four year extension last off season, after getting the Franchise tag two years in a row.
Chris Kemoeatu at the left guard has done a much better job at replacing Alan Faneca than most people thought. He did such a good job, the Jets tried to lure him away in free agency last year.
Justin Hartwig mans the Center position, for now. Don't expect the Steelers to use an early pick on a replacement center. First off, there is rarely a center that is worthy of a first round pick.
Not only that, the Steelers let last year's seventh round pick AQ Shipley leave to join the Philadelphia Eagles, so they must think Hartwig was better than they thought Shipley could be.
The right side of the offensive line gets a little more complicated.
There is a log jam at right guard for the Steelers. The starter in Super Bowl XLIII, Darnell Stapleton will return from injury, but the position will not be handed to him. Stapleton will have to battle with last year's third round draft pick, Kraig Urbik, Trai Essex and Ramon Foster.
Essex will probably be the odd man out in the rotation, and will probably be released in the next few weeks. He is entering his sixth season, and could not earn the starting job in that time.
Ramon Foster came to the Steelers as an undrafted free agent last year, and kept Urbik out of the Steelers rotation. Foster, in my opinion, has the inside track to the starting job.
Urbik is the wild card in this entire situation. The Steelers don't like to use third round picks, and not get anything out of them. Urbik will have to step up and push Foster hard if he wants to earn the starting job.
At Right Tackle, Willie Colon has the position by default. There has not been anyone that could take the position away from Colon. Not because of how great Mr. False Start plays, but because no one else on the team can play the position even good enough to start on a bad team.
This is why I believe the only offensive player the Steelers would even consider taking would be a Tackle.
Anthony Davis (Rutgers) would be an immediate impact player, but there is no chance he is still on the board when the Steelers draft.
Trent Williams (Oklahoma) is another player that the Steelers would love to get, but he won't make it to pick 18 either.
Bryan Bulaga (Iowa) is a good player, but for the Steelers to take him, they would be taking the fourth-sixth best player at the position, and that is not good value for the pick.
Mike Iaputi (Idaho) is nice to think about, but the reality is, that is nowhere near the Steelers' biggest need. And with a log jam at the position already, I just don't see it happening.
My bet is that the only way the Steelers take an offensive player with their first round pick, it is either to trade up, which is not going to happen in a draft this deep.
Look for the Steelers to use their first round pick on defense. I will be posting the Defensive Prospects in a couple of days, so check back.
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