Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Steelers Draft Preview: Defense

2012 Record: 8-8
Passing Defense: 197.4 yards against per game (1st in NFL)
Rushing Defense: 90.6 yards against per game (2nd in NFL)
Scoring Defense: 19.6 points against per game (6th in NFL)
Sacks: 37 (14th in NFL)

Defensive End
Returning Players: Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Al Woods
New Arrivals: None
The Departed: None

One of the few positions where the Steelers do not need to add depth is at defensive end. They have spent two first-round picks over the last 3 years on Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward and have Brett Keisel under contract through 2013. Hood and Heyward are the future of the DE spot and Hood figures to be the starter this season with Heyward the top reserve in the rotation. Al Woods saw limited playing time last year but is serviceable enough as the 4th man in the rotation.

Nose Tackle
Returning Players: Steve McLendon, Alameda Ta'amu, Hebron Fangupo
New Arrivals: None
The Departed: Casey Hampton

With Casey Hampton gone in free agency, the Steelers signed Steve McLendon to a 3-year deal. The nose tackle spot seems to be McLendon's to lose, and he has shown flashes during the limited snaps he saw last season. Ta'amu was a disaster last year, getting arrested and suspended from the team, ever seeing the field during the regular season. Fangupo was added to the roster at the end of the year. The Steelers lost their anchor in the middle in Hampton and don't have much in the way of experience at the NT spot. It wouldn't be surprising to see them add a large body at some point in the draft to address the hole here.

Outside Linebacker
Returning Players: LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worlids, Chris Carter, Adrian Robinson
New Arrivals: None
The Departed: James Harrison

James Harrison and his agent took a gamble and lost. They refused to take a pay cut offered by the Steelers and in turn Harrison was released from the team. He signed with Cincinnati this week for much less than he would have made, even with the pay cut, with the Steelers. Jason Worlids figures to step in and fill Harrison's spot. Worlids is not nearly as good as Harrison against the run and his pass rushing abilities consist of a speed move to the outside, but in the last year of his contract he will be given the opportunity to prove himself as a starter in the league. Chris Carter was uninspiring last season and rookie Adrian Robinson barely saw the field. The Steelers need to add depth and talent here, which is why many have pegged Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones as a potential first-round target. Jones led the nation in sacks last season but has some medical concerns stemming from his diagnosis with spinal stenosis as a freshman at USC.

Inside Linebacker
Returning Players: Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester, Marshall McFadden, Sean Spence
New Arrivals: Brian Rolle, Kion Wilson
The Departed: Brandon Johnson

Lawrence Timmons had the second best season among all defensive players last year, second only to JJ Watt. Larry Foote was signed to a 3-year deal during the offseason, which should provide some stability at inside linebacker. The wild card here is Sean Spence's injury. From most reports, the Steelers aren't counting on Spence being available at the start of the season and brought back Stevenson Sylvester to be the top backup on the inside. If Spence's injury proves to be career-ending, they will need to address in inside linebacker spot again in the draft. Foote's contract provides some stability, but the need for depth is still there.

Returning Players: Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Justin King, Josh Victorian, Isaiah Green
New Arrivals: William Gay, Ross Ventrone
The Departed: Keenan Lewis

The Steelers cornerback depth was somewhat of a dumpster fire last year due to injuries (see: Dallas game). Ike Taylor is the anchor and was having an excellent year before being injured. Cortez Allen started 2012 as the nickel back but was elevated to a starting role and created 5 turnovers in the last two games of the season. Keenan Lewis departed for his hometown New Orleans in free agency, but his loss is eased by the re-signing of William Gay. Gay was everyone's favorite corner to blame during his tenure here, but he provides a veteran presence in a relatively young group. Curtis Brown was so bad in the first half against San Diego he was benched in favor of Josh Victorian (yikes). On the whole, this could be a decent unit but the talent level is questionable after the top three. The Steelers have been linked to Florida State's Xavier Rhodes as a potential first round target.

Returning Players: Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Robert Golden, Damon Cromartie-Smith
New Arrivals: None
The Departed: Will Allen, Ryan Mundy

On the surface the Steelers would appear to be in good shape at safety, but Clark only has one year remaining on his contract and Troy has two. Both of their reserve safeties with experience departed for the NFC East (Mundy to the Giants, Allen to Dallas), leaving Robert Golden and Damon Cromartie-Smith as the only reserves on the roster. In the past, the Steelers have drafted players early at defensive positions where star players would be retiring soon, which leads many to believe the Steelers could look for an impact safety early in the draft. There is a lot of buzz around Texas safety Kenny Vacarro, but personally I'd rather have FIU safety Jonathan Cyprien. There is a lot of talent in the second and third rounds of the draft at safety, so the Steelers may opt to wait on someone like Duke Williams (Nevada), Phillip Thomas (Fresno State), DJ Swearinger (South Carolina), or Bacarri Rambo (Georgia).

Returning Players: Shaun Suisham, Drew Butler, Greg Warren
New Arrivals: Daniel Hrapmann
The Departed: None

Suisham, Butler and Warren all return from last season with Daniel Hrapmann, who was with the Steelers in training camp last season, also filling out a roster spot to have an additional leg in camp. Suisham had a bounce-back year in 2012, making over 90% of his kicks (28 of 31) with two of his three misses coming from over 50 yards. Butler didn't have a great yards-per-kick average, but he didn't have any terrible punts either and was good enough as a punter. Greg Warren made his first mistake in 8 years last year on a field goal and was re-signed this off-season, making him one of the longest-tenured members of the team.

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