With the kickoff of the 2010 NFL season underway, what better time than now to start planning ahead for next season's collegiate draft? This season the Steelers started a youth movement by keeping everyone on the roster that they selected this past April. That youth movement will again be a priority, as with the exception of this past season, the Steelers are not players in the free agent market. That leaves us with the NFL draft and based on the current roster let's take a look at the Steelers most pressing needs:
Offensive Line - Maurkice Pouncey has already demonstrated that he is a huge upgrade on what, if I can be generous, is a mediocre offensive line. Flozell Adams was an emergency plug when Willie Colon went down with a season-ending injury and will not be around for the long haul. Even before Colon's injury I was already on the soap box for the Steelers to do something about the right tackle position. In addition, nobody can convince me that Trai Essex should be starting on this team. Looking at those two factors alone, the Steelers need to pick up a tackle and a guard in the very early rounds.
Defensive End - This season needs to be the coming out party for 2009's first round draft pick, Ziggy Hood. While the prognosis based on training camp for Hood is positive, next year Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel will have a combined 23 years of mileage—an eternity for defensive linemen. I would look to take a smallish defensive tackle who has the speed to convert to a 3-4 end. If Kevin Colbert is reading this, I am not saying to take another defensive end and convert him over to outside linebacker—this needs to be a real NFL defensive end.
Quarterback - Unless one of the top quarterbacks takes a free fall in the first round of the draft, this would be a mid-draft pick for the Steelers. Charlie Batch, despite all appearances, is not going to be around forever. Byron Leftwich was another emergency fix and should not be a part of the long term plan in Pittsburgh. Depending on the play of Dennis Dixon this situation could even be worse with the Steelers not having any reliable backup for Ben Roethlisberger. Therefore, quarterback cannot wait any longer and has to be addressed in the draft next year.
Safety - Depending on how the chips fall this pick could be interchangeable with quarterback. In any case, I would use the best available athlete philosophy here and take the best strong or free safety left on the board. I hate to even think about it, but Troy Polamalu has been injury prone over the past few years, and at free safety Ryan Clark will be in his 10th year by the time 2011 rolls around.
Nose Tackle - I have considered it a small miracle that Casey Hampton has been able to play for as long, and at the level, that he has. Nose tackle in a 3-4 defense is brutal and Hampton attracts constant double teams. As he will be going on his 11th year, and Chris Hoke on year 10 this is another spot where the Steelers have to get younger in a hurry.
Beyond these positions I'm pretty happy with what the Steelers have on the roster moving forward into the next few years. Of course this all is fluid, and time will judge whether or not the young cornerbacks (Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler) can play, and if the Steelers drafted enough linebackers last year. Subtle joke there.
Prediction for Sunday is Steelers 20-Atlanta 13.
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