The AFC North is home to reigning AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, but every team in the division has holes on the depth chart that could keep them from competing for a championship in 2011.
The Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are both just a piece or two away from bringing a Lombardi trophy back to the AFC North. The 2011 NFL Draft should be even more interesting as the uncertainty of labor negotiations will affect free agency and player contracts.
After a great start to the season, the Steelers faced disappointment in the Super Bowl as the defense had no answer for Aaron Rodgers. The Steelers will be looking to strengthen their pass defense in this year’s draft by going after cornerback help early.
The offensive line has also been the Achilles' heel to this offense and depth was a major issue in 2010. The Steelers should focus on certain areas, loading up on players and hoping one or two will be great. The Steelers are a few key players away from a seventh Lombardi trophy and, as always, they will build through the draft.
There is serious belief in the Steel City that Ben Roethlisberger has turned his life around and that they won’t have to worry about any more suspensions cutting his season short.
The Steelers will have a solid crew of backup quarterbacks to choose from. In fact, one of them will have to go. Likely Dennis Dixon will be back on the roster because of his athleticism and Byron Leftwich will sit at No. 2 because he has the experience. This leaves Charlie Batch riding off into the sunset despite displaying some impressive performances in Ben’s absence. (1/9)
Rashard Mendenhall seemingly cured his fumbilitis this season, only to find it again at the worst time: the Super Bowl. Mendenhall's character was questioned by his teammates when he stopped coming around after an injury ended his rookie season prematurely.
The Steelers like the progression of Isaac Redman but went with Mewelde Moore more often in the Super Bowl. Moore will be another year older and slower and, even if you are Tomlin’s favorite player, no one that can save you from that.
The Steelers could look at some running backs in the draft this year and, as has been the case in previous Steeler drafts, they won’t pass up the best player available if he falls to them. It happened to Rashard Mendenhall. (5/9)
There is a lot of talk that the Steelers will be looking for more receiving depth in the draft. I don’t buy that hype. Mike Wallace is a rising star and Tomlin is a fan of his two young receivers, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown.
Hines Ward is definitely in the twilight of his career and will likely be in his final year, so taking a receiver late could be an option. Ben Roethlisberger keeps wanting that tall receiver he can just throw it up to and the team keeps trying to provide it, albeit unsuccessfully (i.e. Limas Sweed). (3/9)
Heath Miller missed two games because of a concussion last season but overall has great health and is a phenomenal blocking and receiving tight end, eliminating the need to draft a tight end this season. (1/9)
The offensive line gets the bulk of the blame every offseason and this year is no different. Although the line actually played better than it has in recent memory, injuries ravaged the line. The Steelers would love to draft Mike Pouncey to play next to brother Maurkice, but probably won’t get the opportunity.
Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has said publicly he likes this year’s class of offensive tackles, perhaps hinting about their first-round pick. I expect the Steelers to take either an offensive lineman or a cornerback with their first pick, depending on the best player available. (9/9)
The Steelers defense is old, but still the best in the business. The biggest concern on the defensive front was Aaron Smith, who has been battling injuries the past few seasons. Ziggy Hood stepped up admirably in Smith’s place and suddenly the defensive line looks pretty good. They could certainly use depth on the line, however, as Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel are both over 30. (5/9)
The Steelers went linebacker-heavy in last year’s draft and aren’t going to lose any linebackers any time soon as they will likely re-sign Lamarr Woodley. It would be weird to see a year where the Steelers don’t draft a linebacker but this could be the year. (2/9)
The cornerback position is in a dangerous place right now. Ike Taylor will likely return but he might ask for more than the Steelers can afford. If that happens it leaves Bryant McFadden and William Gay as the starters.
Gay actually had a better season last year than in 2010, although no one will admit it. McFadden seemed like a decent No. 2 option until he fell off at the end of the season. The Steelers will have to pick up a cornerback who can go out and compete immediately and since the Steelers like to build through the draft, you can figure they’ll find a cornerback in the draft. (9/9)
Daniel Sepulveda is a very solid punter…when he is on the field. The Steelers invested a fourth-round pick in Sepulveda in Mike Tomlin’s first draft as head coach. Sepulveda will get the benefit of the doubt but will need to have a good 2011 season.
Shaun Suisham stepped in admirably in the second half of the season but his track record shows that 2011 could be very different. I doubt the Steelers take any special teams players in the draft… but anything could happen in Round 7. (2/9)
Nick Sero is a contributor for TheSportsCannon.com, a fantasy sports website specializing in football and baseball. Quit sitting at the bottom of your league’s leaderboard and load up with information from the Sports Cannon.