NFL Steel Studs: The Next Big Stars for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Spencer TucksenSenior Writer IMarch 26, 2011

NFL Steel Studs: The Next Big Stars for the Pittsburgh Steelers

0 of 10

    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    There has been a lot of talk about the NFL draft recently for obvious reason, but I'm looking to point out some of the best players already under contract.

    This article is based largely off of the potential of the players, and less about how they've played so far. However, I will not simply be including players who haven't contributed to the team, so trust that the players will be deserving selections.

    Please know that this list is in no particular order. Also, you may see a few people that you think are already stars. Believe me—they will get a lot bigger.

    Thank you for actually reading the intro slide. Please, continue onto the article.

Ziggy Hood

1 of 10

    Al Bello/Getty Images

    His statistics may not jump out at you. However, you have to consider the fact that he works in a 3-4 defense. Almost no one gets high sack totals at that position.

    To appreciate how dominant he was this year, you have to have watched the games. I've heard far too many people say he was overrated. They attempt to say he gets no push and shows little improvement from last year. To them, I say to just watch the games.

    His value can not be stated in statistics. However, if you ask the linebackers, they owe a lot of their success to him, and I believe he has the potential to be the next Aaron Smith (even though he has been replacing him due to injuries for the past two years).

Jason Worilds

2 of 10

    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Much like a few of the players on this list, his stats will not jump right off the page at you. But, you have to realize that rookies never get many minutes in the Steelers defense.

    Having 17 tackles—mostly on special teams—is impressive. Also, if you look at his two sacks, it shows he played well when he got the opportunity. His tenacity and desire to get to the ball carrier is an excellent sign. Also, his speed and quickness for his size is incredible and reminiscent of James Harrison, despite being significantly taller.

    I look forward to the future for this pass rusher when he takes over for Harrison.

Stevenson Sylvester

3 of 10

    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Despite having two last names, he was undoubtedly a beast on special teams this year. His desire to improve his game and work ethic showed he has the desire to eventually become Farrior's successor when Farrior calls it quits.

    When I watched Sylvester on tape this year, I saw that he was almost always near the ball, if he didn't make the tackle. His physical gifts remind me of Lawrence Timmons. If he comes even close to being that good, he will definitely become yet another draft "Steel" for Kevin Colbert.

    Also, I love him because he's from my hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada! Gotta root for the hometown players!

Antonio Brown

4 of 10

    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Antonio Brown showed he has excellent potential throughout the playoffs with his ability to make big-time clutch catches, a great example being the huge catch near the end of the Ravens game. His speed and fantastic elusiveness is also quite valuable in the return game where he had 36 touches for 407 yards.

    If his game can continue to develop, he will see a largely increased role with the Steelers.

    He showed a lot of versatility in his game, and I look forward to when he eventually steps in as third receiver for the Steelers, behind Mike Wallace and this next receiver...

Emmanuel Sanders

5 of 10

    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Emmanuel Sanders exceeded almost all expectations this year. Both he and Antonio Brown were expected to be competing for the fifth receiver spot, but they worked past Randle El to get third and fourth. They both showed great potential at the receiver position, but Emmanuel showed more.

    His receiving statistics were 28 receptions for 376 yards and two touchdowns, while his returning stats were 29 touches for 688 yards. Please note that he wasn't the third receiver until pretty far into the season, otherwise his stats could be much higher.

    He also showed a lot of different skills and much like Brown, his elusiveness in the open field can not be overstated.

    As for his receiving game, he definitely proved that he's willing to go over the middle and not afraid to take a hit in traffic trying to get the ball. That's an excellent sign, as every one of the Steelers' receivers has shown that.

Lawrence Timmons

6 of 10

    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    At this point, we begin to take a look at the players who can already be argued as "stars."

    His athletic ability allows him to prevent rushing plays from developing before they even escape the backfield, yet also cover the better tight ends in the NFL. He is truly a physical freak of nature, and it serves him well in his play style.

    Lawrence Timmons was an absolute beast this past season, recording 135 total tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and nine passes defensed.

    His numbers were among the league best and he outshone the No. 1 linebacker throughout the season, yet somehow he managed to fly under the radar.

    I look forward to seeing his game further develop, and Timmons perhaps becoming known as one of the greatest Steelers linebackers of all time.

Maurkice Pouncey

7 of 10

    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Maurkice Pouncey's value can not be stated in words. The only way to show his value is to watch the game film. He is absolutely a beast at the center position and is arguably top three, behind only Nick Mangold and Alex Mack. Without a doubt, he is looking like one of the biggest steals of the draft.

    When he missed out on the Super Bowl, you know that was a gigantic weakness for the Pittsburgh Steelers against B.J. Raji. Legursky performed well, but there is little chance he could have replaced Pouncey completely.

    Despite his small size, he is deceptively strong and has excellent hand/footwork, which led to him being voted into the AFC Pro Bowl Roster. Without a doubt, he has the potential to become the next Mike Webster or Dermontti Dawson.

Rashard Mendenhall

8 of 10

    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Here is my personal third favorite current Steelers (behind Lawrence Timmons and Troy Polamalu), Rashard Mendenhall.

    When the Steelers first drafted him, I had worries about his college career. It wasn't particularly lengthy, so you couldn't be sure about how well he would play. Those fears worsened after his rookie season, when all he did was fumble until he was injured running up the middle against Ray Lewis. He was on IR for the rest of the season.

    Last year, he had more issues with fumbling, so Mike Tomlin benched him. Since then, Mendenhall hasn't looked back with 614 touches, 2,709 yards and 21 total touchdowns. He's an incredibly powerful individual and his legs never stop churning. Also, he has excellent acceleration for his size and strength. It's crazy how quickly he accelerates to top speed when he gets outside of the hash marks.

    Without a doubt, he's looking like a steal from the draft and has shown he has what it takes to be argued as top three in the conference at his position.

Mike Wallace

9 of 10

    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    And here, we have Mike Wallace. One of the top five fastest players in the NFL, and arguably top three best deep threats, he has proven time and time again he requires all of the defense's attention. His speed and excellent lateral quickness has shown he can get away from almost any one-on-one situation, and his yards-after-catch average is fantastic.

    If his first-year stats were impressive, wait until you see the stats from his Sophomore effort: 60 receptions, 1,257 yards, 10 touchdowns and 26 catches of 20 or more yards. Those numbers are absolutely outstanding, and the fact that nearly half of his catches were for 20 or more is incredible as well. He averaged 21 yards per reception, which was second only to DeSean Jackson, also one of the best deep threats in the NFL today.

    The thing about Mike Wallace, however, is his excellent work ethic and fearless play on the field. He blocks quite well for his size, and he is definitely not afraid to go up for the ball in traffic. Hines Ward must be leaving his mark on him for when he retires.

    I definitely look forward to seeing Mike Wallace cutting up defenses for years to come.

Conclusion

10 of 10

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    As you can see, the Steelers have a lot of potential stars on the roster already. However, let's all look forward to the draft so we can see who the next set of playmakers will be to help the Steelers reach a better ending to their season than 2010's. Thank you for reading.