Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Steelers Draft Preview: Offense

With the calendar turning to April, it means only one thing: the NFL Draft is fast approaching. This year, the draft is going to have a little different feel than drafts in years past, as the lockout has some additional rules that apply to the draft. The first, and probably most important facet of the lockout is that it has suspended free agency. Due to the lack of Free Agency, veterans whose contracts have expired are still with their current team until the lockout ends. Therefore, players like Ike Taylor are up in the air right now. Obviously, we would love for the Steelers to re-sign Ike. We're of the opinion that Ike is one of the top 10 corners in the league, and he should be the top priority for the Steelers once the Free Agency period begins.

Our friends over at Steelers Lounge have done a great job exploring the dilemma the Steelers currently face. Check out their posts on the Draft. In a nutshell, it boils down to this: with no free agency before the draft, there is no certainty that Ike Taylor will return. Given that, do the Steelers take a cornerback in the first round of the draft? However, in light of the fact that Dick LeBeau's defensive scheme is one of the most complex in the league, you almost never see rookies start on defense. If you want a rookie that you can plug in and start right away, the only place with a real hole is the offensive line.

Throughout the day today, we're going to take a look at the positions the Steelers most need in the draft, and throw out a few potential options for who they might draft. Here we take a look at the offense.


Under Contract: Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich
Free Agents: Dennis Dixon

As Steelers fans, we are fortunate enough to have a franchise quarterback on our roster. Ben Roethlisberger is 29 years old, in the prime of his career, and has already been to the Super Bowl 3 times, bringing 2 Lombardi Trophies home to Pittsburgh. Leftwich is a capable short-term backup, but Dennis Dixon is the backup of the future. It isn't likely Dixon will garner much interest in the free agent market and the Steelers have invested so much in him that it's likely they'll put some effort into re-signing Dixon rather than drafting a quarterback. If they do draft one, it will be more of the "long-term project" type that they would hope to groom over the next few years into Ben's backup.

Likelihood of Drafting a Quarterback: Very Low
Good fits for what the Steelers need: Tyrod Taylor (QB/WR-Virginia Tech), TJ Yates (North Carolina)

Running Back

Under Contract: Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer
Free Agents: Mewelde Moore

One of the hot topics lately around the Steelers blogosphere has been whether or not Mendenhall is headed down the same path that Fast Willie Parker did, where the Steelers over-ran him and the wheels fell off early. We've been saying since lasst year that we would like to see Isaac Redman get more carries to help Mendenhall shoulder the load. Dwyer showed some flashes in the preseason last year, and he could develop into a bulldozing short yardage back. If the Steelers don't re-sign Moore, they'll be in the market for a 3rd down back. If the Steelers draft a back, they'll be looking for one with speed and good hands that can catch out of the backfield and block in pass protection. Of course, we're still hoping that the Bruce Arians might add a blocking back to the offense, but that doesn't seem likely.

Likelihood of Drafting a Running back: Medium
Good fits for what the Steelers need: Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon St), Dion Lewis (Pittsburgh), Evan Royster (Penn St), Mario Fannin (Auburn)

Wide Receiver

Under Contract: Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Antwaan Randle El, Arnaz Battle, Limas Sweed
Free Agents: none

The Steelers have some great depth in the Wide Receiving corps, with Manny Sanders and Antonio Brown moving up into the #3 and #4 roles respectively by the end of the season. The team will probably still keep Randle El as a veteran backup, but the writing might be on the wall for Limas Sweed and Arnaz Battle. The Steelers may look to the later rounds of the draft to add depth to the WR position. Given recent history, the Steelers look for 2 things in a WR: speed and good hands. Of course, we would love to see them snag a tall, physical receiver with great hands, like Boise State's Austin Pettis. Also, don't sleep on a guy like Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor. He might enter the draft as a QB, but his skills scream "Antwaan Randle El" prototype.

Likelihood of Drafting a Wide Receiver: Low
Good fits for what the Steelers need: Austin Pettis (Boise St), Randall Cobb (Kentucky), Vincent Brown (San Diego St), Dane Sanzenbacher (Ohio St)

Tight End

Under Contract: Heath Miller, David Johnson
Free Agents: Matt Spaeth

Matt Spaeth had the opportunity to prove himself last year as a reliable #2 tight end and, quite literally on a few occasions, dropped the ball. Heath Miller is still one of the best tight ends in the league and David Johnson has turned into a reliable blocker. The problem is, Speath doesn't have reliable hands and isn't a great blocker. Someone like Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks might be a great fit.

Likelihood of Drafting a Tight End: Medium
Good fits for what the Steelers need: Lance Kendricks (Wisconsin), Charlie Gantt (Michigan St), Andre Smith (Virginia Tech)


Under Contract: Max Starks, Flozell Adams, Chris Scott
Free Agents: Willie Colon, Tony Hills, Jonathan Scott

The Steelers filled a need in the middle of the offensive line last year in the draft, and this might be the perfect year to fill a hole on the outside of the line. Right Tackle has been a need for a long time, particularly in pass protection. Willie Colon and Flozell Adams both were good run blockers but liabilities in pass pro. With the crop of first-round talent at the tackle position this year, where there are no Top-15 talents but 5-6 capable of being taken in the top 32, the Steelers could be in prime position to grab one of these guys and turn them into the anchor of the right side of the line. 

Likelihood of Drafting a Tackle: High
Good fits for what the Steelers need: Anthony Costanzo (Boston College), Nate Solder (Colorado), Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), Derek Sherrod (Ole Miss), Ben Ijalana (Villanova)


Under Contract: Ramon Foster, Chris Kemoeatu
Free Agents: Trai Essex

The one position on the offensive side of the ball where the Steelers lack depth is at Guard. They started 4 different players at guard over the course of last year, and two of them (Essex & Legursky) are pending free agents. Essex has the versatility to play guard or tackle while Legursky can play guard or center. However, the Steelers still lack a powerful run-blocking mow-the-way guard on the roster.

Likelihood of Drafting a Guard: High 
Good fits for what the Steelers need: Mike Pouncey (Florida), Rodney Hudson (Florida St), Orlando Franklin (Miami), John Moffitt (Wisconsin)


Under Contract: Maurkice Pouncey
Free Agents: Doug Legursky

Assuming Maurkice Pouncey's injury heals, the Steelers will have absolutely no need for a starting center for the next 10 years. Yeah, Pouncey is that good. However, we do need a guy who can back him up if he goes down (in the event that Bronco Legursky signs elsewhere). Legursky is the ideal candidate for the role, as he can play both center and guard, and do them both well. With Pouncey on the roster, don't expect the Steelers to take a center in the Draft.

Likelihood of Drafting a Center: Low
Good fits for what the Steelers need: Rodney Hudson (Florida St)

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