Pittsburgh Steeler fans hope to celebrate a quality draft class in 2011.
Despite the impressive 2010-11 campaign by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Steelers will still have numerous positions to address in April's NFL draft.
Whether it is a position needing an immediate impact, or a position needing to get younger (the Steelers are the oldest team in the NFL), I expect the Steelers to address those needs.
The following five positions are what I deem as the most urgent needs:
*Best Picks are not necessarily best player at the given position, but players that should be available when the Steelers are ready to address the position.
While Polamalu continues to excel in all areas on the field, injuries continue to be an issue.
This is not a pick based on age and certainly not on the ability of Troy Polamalu.
This pick is based purely on the fragility of Troy Polamalu.
With Polamalu missing parts of the last two seasons, and with fellow safety Ryan Clark's inability to play in pass coverage, the need for another ball hawk in the secondary is important for the vicious 3-4 defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
An heir to Troy Polamalu's throne is necessary because anyone who has watched the Steelers since they decided to choose Polamalu in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft (16th overall), will have noticed a distinct difference in the quality of defense played by the Steelers in his absence. The defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers goes when Polamalu goes, and if Troy Polamalu is not 100% he does not go at all.
Best Value Pick: Ahmad Black,S, University of Florida- A three-year starter at the University of Florida, Black is smaller in stature (5'9'' 190 lbs) but an excellent cover safety with well above average ball skills (13 career INT's). Black makes up for his lack of size with his physicality and great instincts. A perfect compliment to Ryan Clark's ability to play in the box, but could be over matched by bigger tight ends.
While still consistent, James Farrior is not getting any younger in the middle for the Steelers.
James Farrior has been a consistently formidable run stopper in the middle of the Pittsburgh Steelers 3-4 defense since his arrival in 2002.
James Farrior also just turned 36 years old.
That leaves Lawrence Timmons roaming the middle of that ferocious Pittsburgh attack, and while Timmons has come into his own this past season as a formidable foe for oppenents in his own right, he needs a consistent presence next to him. The Pittsburgh Steelers count on James Farrior not only as a veteran, which obviously takes time to replace, but a sure tackler and a steady presence next to uber-athletic linebackers James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley, and the aforementioned Lawrence Timmons.
This pick may not be an immediate need, as Farrior probably has a few more years left in the tank, but adding depth to such an important position never hurts.
Best Value Pick-Colin McCarthy,ILB/OLB, University of Miami- McCarthy played outside in college but I feel he lacks the athleticism to play on the outside at the professional level. With that said, McCarthy has great instincts, a high football IQ, is a sure tackler, and also carries the attitude of the City of Pittsburgh. A true blue-collar player, McCarthy could be a great complement to Timmons' athleticism on the inside.
A true spaceeater in the middle, Casey Hampton has done the dirty work for Pittsburgh defensive playmakers since coming to the Steel City.
This could have just as easily of been a general defensive line pick, but the emergence of Ziggy Hood in Aaron Smith's absence has solidified the Steelers at end for now. So I shift my attention to the middle. In order for a 3-4 defense to run according to planned, the nose tackle must be able to do his job in the middle.
Casey Hampton eats double teams, wreaks havoc, and battles in the trenches as well as any nose tackle in the league.
Hampton's prowess in the middle may not always be noticed in the stat sheet at the end of the game, but his play allows the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive play makers to make the plays that they do. The more attention Casey Hampton can draw frees up the athletic linebackers that Pittsburgh is known for having.
Once again though, this is not a matter of Hampton's ability, this is a matter of depth at a vital position where age could become a problem.
Best Value Pick- Sione Fua, NT, Stanford University- Once Stanford switched from its base defensive scheme, into a 3-4 scheme, Fua took off. Fua is a legitimate space eater with the low center of gravity that is needed to push back blockers and collapse the interior of opponents offensive lines. At 6'2'' 307 lbs., Fua could become the force in the middle the Steelers need in order to succeed on defense.
WIllie Colon has been on injured reserve all season, leaving a big hole on an already shaky offensive line.
While some would argue offensive line in general is the absolute first round need of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I tend to disagree as you will see on the next slide.
With that being said, offensive line specifically the tackle position is still a major hole for this Steelers team.
Willie Colon was put on injured reserved before the season started, and is set to become a restricted free agent after the season if a new CBA is not reached. Flozell "The Hotel" Adams has been a mostly consistent presence on the right side of the line this season, but the story stays the same for the Steelers, as Adams turns 36 in May. The two Scotts, Chris and Jonathan, along with Tony Hills are fine players in their own right but have struggled against elite competition
The Steelers must find a consistent and cohesive unit to take the field and protect it's most important asset, Ben Roethlisberger, every Sunday. As the 3-4 continues to gain popularity, and edge rushers continue to be the trend of freak athletes coming out of college, the offensive tackle position will continue to be a need up front.
Best Value Pick-Demarcus Love, OL, University of Arkansas- Versatility, experience, and battle-tested. Three terms when attached to an offensive lineman, make him a scary prospect and a quality bodyguard for quarterbacks. Love is a four year starter, has played both tackle positions as well as right guard in his career, and played his football in the SEC which is no small task. All of these factors should make Love a longtime starter in the NFL, and a potential bookend for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Veteran Ike Taylor is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the Super Bowl.
The Pittsburgh Steelers love to crank up the pressure and bring the blitz in most situations. The advantage of this system is it creates havoc, and forces a plethora of turnovers and quarterback sacks. The disadvantage though is leaving Steeler corners on an island with receivers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have not had a shutdown cornerback locking up opposing wide receivers since Rod Woodson departed Pittsburgh in 1996 with the only possible exception being Carnell Lake. Since then the likes of Dwayne Washington, Chad Scott, Deshea Townsend, and more recently Ike Taylor, William Gay, and Bryant McFadden have attempted to curtail flankers and split ends.
I believe it is time for the Pittsburgh Steelers to draft a bonafide, shutdown corner in the first round of April's draft. Whether it requires a trade-up, or even a free agent signing in the offseason, the cornerback position has not been seriously addressed for too long. With Ike Taylor set to become a free agent, and WIlliam Gay and Bryant McFadden failing to prove much of anything, the time has to be now for the Steelers to address this dire concern.
Best Value Pick-Brandon Harris, CB, University of Miami- Harris is an athlete of the purest form. He excels in man to man coverage but is also an adequate zone defender. He has excellent game speed and is also a reliable open field tackler. In a sense, Harris has it all and is destined to hear his name called in the first round of April's draft. He would be a much needed addition to an already daunting Steeler defense.