>\n\nWorst to First: 18. Pittsburgh Steelers \n\n\n\n

Worst to First: 18. Pittsburgh Steelers

Written by Ben Morgan on 04/12/2010

2009 saw the Pittsburgh Steelers be competitive in every game. This is not a good thing. It saw them beat powerhouses like the Vikings, Ravens and Chargers but losing to the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns. They nearly blew it against the Lions at one point too! It's also been an offseason to forget and one talented former first round but loudmouthed problem WR has been shipped on to New York. It's history repeating itself as Pittsburgh washes it's hands of Plaxico Burress redux: Santonio Holmes. In comes a new Offensive Line coach but most of the rest of the staff is staying the same. So what went wrong for the Steelers? Well firstly they lost Troy Polamalu for a considerable part of the season. When he played the D looked something akin to 2008. When he didn't it looked more like the D of 1988. I'm actually not able to remember how good or bad the D was in 1988 but suffice it to say, I doubt it was anything close to that 2008 lot. Secondly Special Teams. Pittsburgh was probably guilty of keeping too many drafted kids in favour of special teamers. The coverage units were a joke in mid season giving up some ungodly number of TDs. Thirdly there's probably the Superbowl hangover as well. Plus other assorted injuries to frontline stars like Aaron Smith. 2008 was a year where everything on D clicked and they were nothing short of awesome. 2009 a couple of guys injured, a couple more out of form or being asked to do things maybe they're not best suited to and all of a sudden you're picking 18th in the draft.

Let's run through Pittsburgh's roster see what they have to come back and what they might do to make sure 2010 is more like 2008 than 2009.

2010 Free Agent Losses 2010 Free Agent Additions
Willie Parker RB (Redskins,UFA)
Will Allen FS (Buccaneers,UFA), Arnaz Battle WR (49ers,UFA), Larry Foote MLB (Lions,UFA), Antwaan Randle El WR (Redskins,UFA-cut), Jonathan Scott OT (Bills,RFA),

2010 Unsigned Free Agents 2011 Potential Free Agents
Rocky Boiman LB (UFA), Tyrone Carter SS (UFA), Willie Colon T (RFA), Carey Davis RB (RFA), Joey Galloway WR (UFA), William Gay CB (RFA), Travis Kirschke DE (UFA), Jeff Reed K (Franchise), Daniel Sepulveda P (RFA), Matt Spaeth TE (RFA), Darnell Stapleton G (RFA), Deshea Townsend CB (UFA)
 
Patrick Bailey LB (RFA), Dennis Dixon QB (RFA), Trai Essex OT (UFA), Keyaron Fox LB (UFA), Andre Frazier LB (UFA), Tony Hills OT (RFA), Chris Hoke NT (UFA), Mewelde Moore RB (UFA), Ike Taylor CB (UFA), Greg Warren LS (RFA), LaMarr Woodley OLB (RFA)
Quarterbacks Minimal Need
Ben Roethlisberger is having off the field issues which I won't discuss here but could lead to some form of suspension from the league. That's really the only concern here. Big Ben is a top end performer, has 2 Superbowl rings and a long term deal. Behind him Dennis Dixon looks ready to step up into the #2 role full time. He made a good start replacing an injured Roethlisberger last season and he brings nice athleticism to the job. Charlie Batch has been re-signed as insurance but at his advancing years it's possible the Steelers look for another QB late in this draft. Though of their 30 player visits, not one is a Quarterback so it's clearly not high on their list of priorities.

Runningbacks Minimal Need
Rashard Mendenhall finally lived up to his first round billing. The Steelers picked him up when RB wasn't really a need but it allowed them to let Willie Parker walk to the Redskins in the offseason. That leaves Mendenhall the unqualified #1 RB. Mewelde Moore is the #1 backup RB right now but that could change. Moore's performance in 2009 dropped off after a good 2008 season. He's still got some game but mostly as a 3rd down back. However, Mendenhall has nice hands and I'm sure they'd like to keep him in on 3rd downs. Doing that really means they need another RB who can take some carries and Moore may not be that guy. So you can probably expect the Steelers to look for a RB in this draft, most likely seeing who they can pick up later on. The one visit they've had is from LeGarrette Blount which is surprising given the Steelers usually take the high road when it comes to player conduct (ask Santonio Holmes!). They also still have last year's preseason darling Isaac Redman on roster too so I'm going to call this a Minimal Need.

Wide Receivers Minor Need
With the recent trade of Santonio Holmes the Steelers have lost arguably their best WR. That's a big loss for any team but they still have the evergreen Hines Ward and last season's impressive rookie Mike Wallace who looks a starter and big play receiver. They smartly signed former Steeler Antwaan Randle-El which is what gave them the ammunition to make an example of Holmes. ARE has never lit the league up but he's been a consistent 3rd/slot type WR and he's very familiar with the Steelers. They may even be able to work back in some of those gimmick plays with him again. Limas Sweed is fast approaching bust status and Arnaz Battle is signed mostly for Special Teams but is capable of holding down the 4th WR slot. So the loss of Holmes is not so dire. He'd have been allowed to walk in free agency next year anyway but with Mike Wallace being ahead of schedule Holmes was more expendable. Their problem doesn't lie in replacing Holmes though. The problem lies in finding someone in this draft who can replace Hines Ward, perhaps as early as 2011. And that's why I think they could look strongly at Dez Bryant or Golden Tate with their #1 pick. Tate in particular seems like that Steelers kind of guy. #18 may be early but if other players they cherish are gone the Steelers have never worried about reaching for a player they really like. The wildcard is Tyler Grisham, a small WR with very safe hands who likes to block. He has a legitimate shot at the roster this year after impressing in the preseason last year. I like his ability to stick and develop because he suits the Steelers mentality so well.

Tight Ends Minimal Need
Heath Miller is one of the unsung players in the NFL who finally got the targets he deserves last year. Miller's also a great blocker and he's signed up long term. Matt Spaeth has been tendered with a low RFA contract and I have my doubts as to whether they're that bothered if he comes back or not. David Johnson had his teething troubles last year but should emerge as the Steelers blocking TE long term. I can see them looking for competition for Spaeth but I'd say it's unlikely to be until later in the draft, or maybe even after it. They probably roll with what they have in 2010 unless they see a big value pick.
 
Offensive Line Major Need
The Offensive Line gets the derision of pretty much every Steelers fan, and some of it is deserved. But the guys who cop the most flack tend to be the Offensive Tackles due to the huge number of sacks Ben Roethlisberger takes. Now Big Ben makes Big things happen by extending the play better than any QB in the league. The Steelers have won many games off that back of that ability. The problem is he also takes a lot of sacks because of it. Now in trying to change the way he plays I believe it would make the Steelers worse. They give up fewer sacks but they also make many fewer big plays. So you get what you get. Your QB is going to take a lot of sacks regardless of who's in front of him. What's often lost in the muddle is that the Tackles, Willie Colon and Max Starks actually are doing a fine job. Colon needs to cut down the penalties but if he does that he's a really good RT. Starks stonewalled Jared Allen last year. Tackles don't do that by luck. The Steelers do though, have a big problem inside. Chris Kemoeatu is inconsistent, sometimes he looks like a world beater, other days he's just beaten. There's clearly talent there and the new line coach may get better out of him. For me the problems like at Center, where Justin Hartwig will not make anyone forget Dirt Dawson, Mike Webster or Jeff Hartings, and at Right Guard where they played swing tackle Trai Essex a lot last year. The Steelers like to run up the middle and that just ain't happening behind these guys. You've got to look long and hard at Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Iupati in this draft. Either would probably be a reach for the Steelers (their big value tends to be because some teams think they might play RT in the pros). #18 is a very high pick for a Guard or a Center but they should consider it. Ramon Foster was an undrafted free agent last year but he looks worth sticking with but draft picks Tony Hills and Kraig Urbik have only disappointed so far so there's cause to add depth there too. They will hope Urbik develops or Foster can man a Guard spot full time this year but Center is a definite and ongoing issue.

Defensive Tackles Minimal Need
Casey Hampton is an excellent NT, especially when he feels like it. That's the knock on him, effort. But when he's at his best he's flat out unblockable as many Centers who've found themselves driven back into their QB will attest. Chris Hoke is a no name backup out of BYU who embarrasses Hampton with his effort but doesn't have half Hampton's talent. When Hampton's been out the Steelers run D hasn't missed a beat though. The problem is both Hampton and Hoke are into their 30s and there's no young talent on board. Hoke will be a free agent in 2011 but the Steelers recently re-signed Hampton to a 3 year deal. What that's done for them is what Kevin Colbert has done for years now, alleviated the immediate need which in turn stops them reaching for a player in the draft based purely on need. It gives them another year to find Hampton's eventual successor but with a draft heavy (excuse the pun) on NT types they could still grab one this year. Signing Hampton might take them out of the market for a first round NT but second and third round guys should remain a top option. There's no need here for 2010 but there very well could be for 2011.
 
Defensive Ends Minimal Need
Having spend a first rounder on Evander Hood (Ziggy to his friends) last year and a late round selection on Ra'Shon Harris the Steelers took a big step towards getting younger on the DL. It looks like Travis Kirschke will be gone (am very surprised no new 3-4 team has picked him up) but Nick Eason has been re-signed. So between healthy again star man Aaron Smith, Brett Kiesel, Hood, Eason and Harris there's probably not much roster room for a DE anyway. Look for a later round pick they can stash on the practice squad til next year.

Linebackers Minimal Need
Welcoming back Larry Foote leaves the Steelers 4 deep at ILB and will allow them to better cover OLB by having Lawrence Timmons available should Woodley or Harrison get hurt. I still think there's scope for some more depth at OLB and the Steelers will often pick up a DE/OLB tweener to train up. Some don't work out but they have a history, even when they have 2 legit starters, of dropping a second or third rounder on the position. With quite a lot of guys fitting nicely this year that's always a possibility. I'm going to leave this at Minimal Need but just sayin' don't be surprised if they use their second rounder on someone like Jerry Hughes, were he to fall that far. He'd be a nice fit.
 
Cornerbacks Minor Need
Ike Taylor's still solid but there's little doubting "The Polamalu Effect". That is, the ability for one man to make everyone around him seem like a world beater. Unable to make plays on 3rd downs without Polamalu the Steelers struggled mightily to get their Defense off the field. Has one man ever been so important to a Defense? They can survive without Hampton, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Harrison but the loss of Polamalu was just too much to bear. So important has he become to Dick LeBeau's scheme that without him the CBs were torched. Now I still think Taylor is one of the better cover corners in the league (he just can't catch) and I still have hope for William Gay (though I think nickel DB is his best position) so where does that leave them? Well firstly let me mention they drafted 2 CBs last year, Joe Burnett and Kellen Lewis. Lewis has more of the look of a future starter and Burnett a nickel DB and neither was noticeable last year. But CB is a position you generally have to draft ahead of need and I think the Steelers did that last year. Obviously if a guy like Joe Haden inexplicably fell to 18 I'm sure they'd jump. He may even be the target of a trade up, were he there at say, 13 or 14. Pittsburgh has few roster spots open and 11 draft picks so packaging some to move up is always a likely option, and something GM Kevin Colbert has done often. Kyle Wilson may come into discussion at 18 as well. With the likely loss of DeShea Townsend they are a man down at Corner and after last year they are lukewarm on William Gay. With neither draft pick from last year fronting up yet you've got to look at this as a need of some sort but then again, if Polamalu is healthy Gay and Taylor will probably look great again.
 
Safeties Major Need
We've talked about Polamalu already. Pittsburgh essentially has 2 very good starters who compliment each other well and who have each other's total confidence. But they're both injury prone. And there's no-one underneath. Which is why this has to be a Major position of need and why if he's there they should probably look no further than Earl Thomas. Again look for a trade up to get him in the earlier teens. If he's gone earlier then at the very least they need to add some quality depth later on. Myron Rolle would be a good fit for the Steelers type of player but there are plenty of other options such as Darrell Stuckey as well. Drafting 2 Safeties is a distinct possibility.

Specialists No Need
Jeff Reed got the franchise tag so there's going to be no need at kicker and RoboPunter Daniel Sepulveda is developing into one of the better punters in the league. They'll be looking at camp legs only. Oo-er.

Return Game No Need
Stefan Logan finally gave Steelers fans a return game to be proud of. While he didn't manage to take one to the house he busted off a few long runs and surely the TDs are only a matter of time.

Dream Day One
     
1.18 Earl Thomas S Texas
2.52 Rodger Saffold OT/OG Indiana
 
Player Visits
Antonio Brown WR Central Michigan
Alex Carrington DE Arkansas State
Emmanuel Sanders WR SMU
Arrelious Benn WR Illinois
Earl Thomas S Texas
Mike Iupati OG Idaho
Maurkice Pouncey C Florida
Clifton Geathers DT South Carolina
Linval Joseph DT East Carolina
Carlton Mitchell WR South Florida
Rob Gronkowski WR Arizona
Dez Bryant WR Oklahoma State
Golden Tate WR Notre Dame
LeGarrette Blount RB Oregon
Koa Misi OLB Utah
Adrian Tracy OLB William & Mary
Bryan Bulaga OT Iowa
Brandon Ghee CB Wake Forest
Eric Norwood OLB South Carolina.
Nolan Carroll CB Maryland
Kareem Jackson CB Alabama
Kyle Wilson CB Boise State
Joe Webb WR Alabama-Birmingham
Albert McClellan ILB Marshall
Jacques McClendon OG Tennessee
Rodger Saffold OT Indiana.
Michael Neal DE Purdue
Chris DeGeare OG Wake Forest
Darrell Stuckey S Kansas
Navorro Bowman ILB Penn State

 

Last Edited: 04/12/2010




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