Over the past few seasons the Pittsburgh Steelers have been going though somewhat of a rebuilding period. Not every NFL team would consider two consecutive 8-8 seasons a rebuilding period, but in Pittsburgh, anything but a Super Bowl run is considered a disappointment. Their roster is aging and they have had to make tough decisions on who to keep and who to let go in this offseason. The upcoming draft is a perfect time for Pittsburgh to address their needs and it will be important for them to get an immediate impact from the players they draft if they want to return to the top of the AFC North and the playoffs.
The Steelers have nine picks in the upcoming draft and they have a lot of needs to fill with those picks. The most pressing needs come on defense where they need to address the cornerback, both linebacker and defensive line positions. Defensive stalwarts like Ryan Clark, Brett Keisel, Lamar Woodley, Larry Foote and Ziggy hood have all either left in free agency or remain unsigned. In free agency they replaced Clark with the addition of former Panthers safety Mike Mitchell for a relatively small long-term contract. They also addressed the defensive line by signing former Chargers defensive lineman Cam Thomas. While these are not big names, they are the type of players the Steelers likes to bring in: solid role players who can fit into defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s system.
The biggest need from a depth chart perspective is on the defensive line which has been a weakness of the team for a couple of years now and the loss of players has not helped. They return Steve McClendon and Cam Heyward, who are both liked by the organization and have shown growth. The Steelers will need to add depth and bring in someone who can create a pass rush, even though they are asked to mainly make room for the linebackers in LaBeau’s 3-4 system.
Cornerback is probably the position where they need the most improvement from last season. Ike Taylor is as consistent as they come, but he is aging and cannot continue to have the assignment of the other teams best receiver game in and game out. William Gay is also entering his thirties and Cortez Allen will be entering free agency at season’s end, so this positions definitely needs to be addressed and probably at the top end of the draft. Players like Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert will definitely be at the top of their wish list, but may not be available by the time they pick in the first round at 15. Whether or not those two are available, the positions most definitely needs to be addressed within the first three rounds of the draft.
Losing Lamar Woodley and Larry Foote may seem like a big hit, but the Steelers are not as concerned with these two departures. Foote is probably going to retire since he has not been signed by Pittsburgh or any other team for that matter, and the team feels they have the players to replace him in newly acquired Arthur Moats, Vince Williams and Sean Spence. However with the extremely talented CJ Moseley from Alabama possibly available at 15, they might address this position early. Woodley had a lot of trouble just staying on the field the last few seasons and they have the players on their roster to replace him in Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. While the outside linebacker position is not a pressing concern, they still might look to use a late pick to add depth.
On the offensive side, the biggest needs are at the wide receiver and offensive line positions. Offensive line has been a big weakness for the Steelers in recent years and in the last couple drafts they have used a lot of picks to improve the position. One big improvement to the O-line came in the form of hiring former Titans head coach Mike Munchak to be the O-line coach. This was a big acquisition, as he is regarded in the league as one of the best teachers of young lineman. This is still a position likely to be addressed in the upcoming draft, but likely not as high in the draft as in recent years. At wide receiver, Pittsburgh lost a lot to free agency when Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery both left. They have done well to replace them in free agency with the additions of Darrius Heyward-Bey and Lance Moore, but a big deep threat receiver would be a great weapon to pair with the excellent intermediate route runner Antonio Brown. Supposedly, the Steelers really like LSU prospect Odell Beckham Jr., but they may pass on him early to address other needs and wait to pick a wide out. This is only because this year’s draft is considered to be so deep at the receiver position.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of needs in this year’s draft and to return to the playoffs, they will need to use their picks wisely to address those needs. The franchise has a great track record of drafting well and developing talent and that is something they will need to continue to do in this draft.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius