The Crystal Ball: The Pittsburgh Steelers Future Looking Bright.
For years, Pittsburgh Steelers fans have had to endure other fans chant as to how our team was falling apart.
We have heard that Ben Roethlisberger is destined for prison, how our ancient defensive line was going to be in hospice before the Steelers could recover from them falling apart.
The offensive line may not have been old, but they were so bad that Ben Reothlisberger would get killed and the Steelers would have no running game. The Steelers secondary was as bad as a bunch of Pop Warner kids playing against high school state champions.
For years, we have been defending our Steelers, telling other fans how crazy they were. That even though they couldn't see it, the Steelers plans were going to take care of all those problems, and then some.
Though it is easy to look at only the upcoming season and try to judge how good or bad the Steelers are going to be, I want to look into my crystal ball and see how the Steelers are going to look beyond this season, and into the future.
In my slides, I have written the age of the player and how many "good" years left I believe they have left to play the game.
It is different for every player at every position. This is my opinion. They could be good longer than that, or may fall off, have an injury or get cut by the team. It is my estimation.
When people other than Steelers fans describe the best at the QB position, many of them are quick to exclude Big Ben Roethlisberger.
There reasons range from, "rapist", to no talent, to not good enough stats and any other reason you can think of not to give Big Ben the respect he deserves as one of the elite talents in the NFL.
Roethlisberger wins. What more do you need than that?
The reality is, Big Ben, at the ripe old age of 29, is one of the elite in the NFL. The only players in the NFL that can claim to actually be BETTER than Roethlisberger are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Manning is under .500 in his playoff career, while Brady is 2-3 in his last five playoff games while losing three straight.
In addition, Manning is 35, while Brady will be 34 when the season starts.
Roethlisberger is set to take the crown as the best of the best, as Manning and Brady start the decline in their production, while Roethlisberger is entering the prime of his career.
Ben Roethlisberger - 29. Five to seven good years left.
Though Rashard Mendenhall has an amazing ability to make people mad via Twitter, there is no questioning his on field talents.
For the first time since Jerome Bettis, the Steelers have a running back that can be elusive when he needs to be and run people over for a few extra yards.
Although Isaac Redman is currently only used in short yardage situations, he earned the trust of Mike Tomlin last year, showing that he is more than a capable back up. I look for the 2011 season to show Redman as more than just a situational running.
Jonathan Dwyer was not used during his rookie season, but there is no question that he has talent to be a regular contributor for the Steelers.
How old are these guys?
Mendenhall -23. Seven good years left.
Redman -26. Four good years left
Dwyer -21. Eight to 10 good years left.
If the Steelers bring Mewelde Moore back, he is the ripe old age of 28.
In his two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Wallace has become more than the Steelers thought he would when they selected him in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft. With his speed and improved route running, he is a danger for a defense every time he touches the ball.
Instead of replacing Hines Ward, Wallace allowed the Steelers to ship away the troubled Santonio Holmes without hurting their production of the field.
Though it will hurt when Hines Ward decides to stop playing, the Steelers spent two draft picks in the 2010 NFL Draft on possible replacements. Emmanuel Sanders (third round) and Antonio Brown (fifth round) both showed a spark of amazing talent in their rookie seasons.
Like Wallace, Browns and Sanders possess blazing speed, good hands and decent route running. The only thing they don't excel at is the route running; that only gets better with time.
The Steelers also have the disappointing Limas Sweed. Sweed was drafted in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft and has not been able to stay healthy enough to be a contributor at all. If his health concerns are truly behind him, he would be an amazing addition to an already talented receiving corp.
Wallace - 24. Eight to 10 good years left.
Sanders - 24. Eight to 10 good years left.
Brown - 22. 10-12 good years left.
Sweed - 26. Hopefully, ANY good years left!
Though it is not a concern at the present moment, the long term will show that Heath Miller is going to have to have his replacement drafted in about four to five years.
Miller is one of the best tight ends in the NFL, even though he does not get the credit he deserves.
He may not catch as many passes as Dallas Clark or Vernon Davis, but when it comes to blocking, Miller is second to none.
Heath Miller - 28. Five to seven good years left.
Drafting a center with their first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, most people thought the Steelers were crazy.
Turns out, that rookie made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, starting every game except the Super Bowl. Who knows what would have happened in the Super Bowl had Pouncey been healthy enough to start? Regardless of what anyone says, Pouncey was a BIG reason that the Steelers offensive improved in 2010.
The Steelers then spent their second round pick in 2011, drafting Marcus Gilbert out of Florida.
This gives the Steelers not only another young face on the offensive line, but a player that used to play on the same line as Pouncey at the University of Florida.
Don't think it makes a difference if they have played together before? It helps on the offensive line to be close with the men that are playing next to you, and it can only help that Pouncey and Gilbert already have that bond of being Gators together.
Another former Gator offensive lineman for the Steelers is Max Starks. Though he may not have played in college with Pouncey or Gilbert, the fact that he and Pouncey did get to play together until Starks injury. I believe these three will make for an amazing line for at least a couple years.
The Guard positions are not quite as set in stone. The Steelers have Chris Kemoeatu locked in at left guard. He has done an admirable job there, other than his occasional brain fart penalty.
The other guard could to go Willie Colon, IF he decides to stay with the Steelers, Tony Hillis, Dorian Brooks, Trai Essex or a player that may be drafted next year.
Starks -29. Five to six good years left.
Kemoeatu -28. Six to seven good years left.
Pouncey - 21. 12-14 good years left.
Colon - 26. Nine to 10 good years left
Hillis - 24. Six to eight good years left.
Brooks - 28. Seven to eight good years left.
Gilbert - 23. 12-13 good years left.
The BIGGEST source of criticism for Steelers fans was that the defensive line was so old that once they are gone, the Steelers defense will fall apart.
In 2009, the Steelers spent their first round pick on DE, Ziggy Hood. Hood earned playing time with the injury to Aaron Smith in 2010. Hood made the most of it, earning a possible starting job over Smith or Keisel.
In the 2011 NFL Draft, when everyone believed that the Steelers should take either an offensive lineman or a corner back, the Steelers went with the best available player and selected Cameron Hayward out of Ohio State.
Hayward will probably take the same route as Hood did, getting limited playing time his rookie season, then a regular member of the DE rotation with Smith, Hood and Keisel his second year, before becoming the regular starter opposite of Hood by year three.
Though Casey Hampton is getting long in the tooth, the Steelers have not found his replacement as of yet.
It makes me believe that the Steelers are at least considering switching to a possible 4-3 defense when Dick LeBeau retires (But THAT is a conversation for another article).
There is no team in the NFL that breeds linebackers like the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though Pro Bowler James Harrison and James Farrior are both getting old and are not in the long term solution to the Pittsburgh Steelers, their eventual replacements are already on the roster.
LaMarr Woodley has had such a great start to his career, the Steelers placed the franchise designation on him, keeping him with the Steelers for 2011. Once Ike Taylor is resigned, Woodley is first in line for his long term extension.
Right after Woodely, Lawrence Timmons is next on the list.
Timmons and Woodley are the first two draft picks of the Mike Tomlin regime. They both play the position like the Steelers before them and have long careers ahead of them.
In 2010, the Steelers spent late picks on Jason Worilds (second) and Stevenson Sylvester (fifth), who will be the eventual replacement for Harrison and Farrior.
These exciting young players are set to take the Steel Curtain into the future and look to be able to do so without any type of loss of talent.
Woodley -26. Six to eight good years left.
Timmons -24. Eight to 10 good years left.
Worilds -23. Nine to 11 good years left
Sylvester - 22. 12-14 good years left.
This is the slide I have been most anxious to write. Where many people see the Steelers secondary as a weakness that is going to cost the Steelers championships, I see this unit as one of the best in the NFL in just a few short years.
When it comes to Dick LeBeau and his defense, it is THE most complex defense in the NFL. It is not very often that the Steelers sign defensive free agents, and it is because they need to develop into the system and fully understand it prior to getting in the games.
Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden are both solid players. Taylor would be one of the best in the NFL if he could learn to catch a football. At 31, that probably isn't going to happen.
The Steelers traded for McFadden because he already knew the system. Though many would not consider him even in the conversation of top 20 in the NFL, he does a decent job at the No. 2 slot.
The infusion of youth at the corner position has me excited unlike many years in the past.
Crezdon Butler has not been able to see much of the field in his rookie season, but is talented enough that the Steelers never placed him on the practice squad for fear of another team signing him away. I expect big things from Butler in 2011, and I believe in 2012, Butler will become a regular starter on one of the corners.
Keenen Lewis, who was selected in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft, has yet to earn the coaches' confidence to get him on the field. And when they do, his temper occasionally gets the team in trouble. I look for Mike Tomlin to have that problem resolved by 2012 and have Lewis as a solid contributor as well.
In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Steelers spent draft picks in both the third and fourth rounds addressing the position of corner.
In the third round, the Steelers selected Curtis Brown out of Texas. Many people believe the selection of Brown ended the Steeler career of Will Gay. Gay was frequently beaten and has been considered a liability against most receivers.
With the selection of Cortez Allen in the fourth round, the Steelers have covered their basis. It is believed that Allen will be the eventual successor to Ike Taylor.
With the NFL becoming a pass first league, the corner position is becoming a premium. The Steelers have set themselves up nicely for the future at the CB position. One thing that stands out the most to me is the size of the corners that are currently on the Steelers roster.
Ike Taylor - 6'2, 195lbs. 32 years old, maybe three good years left at CB. Then maybe another one or two at safety.
Bryant McFadden - 6'1, 190 lbs. 29 years old, maybe three to four good years left.
Keenan Lewis - 6'0, 208 lbs. 24 years old, six to eight good years left.
Crezdon Butler - 6'1, 191 lbs. 23 years old, eight to 10 good years left.
Curtis Brown - 6'0, 185 lbs. 22 years old, 10 good years left.
Cortez Allen - 6'1, 196 lbs. 22 years old, 10 good years left.
All of the corners that the Steelers currently have on their roster are at least six feet tall and are known to have speed. Once Taylor and McFadden are no longer in the mix, if these young players, under the instruction of Carnell Lake, the corner position is probably going to be one of the Steelers strengths.
Currently, the Pittsburgh Steelers have All-World Safety Troy Polamalu in their secondary. When healthy, there is not a more feared player in the NFL. Simply by being in the game, it changes the way the opposition plays.
Kind of like the Michael Jordan of the gridiron.
The reality is, though, Polamalu is 30 years old, and at most, has four to five years left playing at the level he is currently at. That is provided that he avoids any serious injuries.
Ryan Clark, the running mate for Polamalu, is no younger. At the age of 31, and with the way he destroys people when he hits them, it is only a matter of time before Clark is no longer able to play at the level he currently does.
The Steelers have two players that they believe COULD be the future at the positions with Ryan Mundy and Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith.
Mundy (6'1", 209 lbs.) has had his chances filling in for the injured Polamalu and Clark over the last couple of seasons. There has been a noticeable improvement but not enough of one to make anyone think that he is ready to challenge for playing time as of yet.
Cromartie-Smith (6'2, 210 lbs.) has not really gotten to see the field, but was drafted more as a project to learn behind Polamalu and Clark.
The Steelers signed Will Allen (6'1. 208 lbs) as a free agent last year, many believing that it was insurance in case we were not able to bring Clark back. Once Clark returned, Allen was assigned to play special teams. Allen is a serviceable player, but again, not one that is ready to take the reigns from Clark.
Anthony Madison is labeled only as a DB on the Steelers roster, but simply does not have the talent to earn any playing time, other than special teams. Odds are he will not even be on the Steelers opening day roster, barring injury.
The Steelers are hoping that this year, Mundy and Cromartie-Smith are able to step up and become the eventual replacements for Clark and Polamalu. Though any player is going to be a step down (AT LEAST) from Polamalu, at some point, even Troy is going to start to age (lets all hope it is later, and not sooner!).
Ryan Mundy - 26 years old, six to eight good years left.
Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith - 24 years old, eight to 10 good years left.
Though many people state that the Steelers are old, I think it is becoming obvious that the brain trust of the Steelers understands EXACTLY where they are and how to stay at the top of not only the AFC North, the AFC and even the NFL.
It is obvious that the Steelers build for the future, and that is exactly what they are doing with the draft picks they have made in 2011.
Are they set? No. But what team is?
Every team has an area of concern. My best guess? Looking into the crystal ball, the Steelers are either going to go with a BIG NT next year, to be the replacement for Casey Hampton, or they are going to keep Hampton until Dick LeBeau retires.
Once LeBeau retires, Mike Tomlin may decide to switch back to the 4-3 defense he ran in Minnesota. We would then have Ziggy Hood and Cameron Hayward as the DT's and would be able to pick between Worlids, Harrison, Woodley and Timmons as the two DE's. Remember, Worilds, Timmons and Woodley ALL played DE in college.
But that is another article for another time.