Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Steelers Draft Preview: Offense

2012 Record: 8-8
Passing Offense: 250.8 yards per game (14th in NFL)
Rushing Offense: 96.1 yards per game (26th in NFL)
Scoring Offense: 21.0 points per game (22nd in NFL)
Sacks Allowed: 37 (18th in NFL)

Returning Players: Ben Roethlisberger
New Arrivals: Bruce Gradkowski, John Parker Wilson
The Departed: Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich

Halfway through 2012 Ben Roethlisberger was in the thick of the MVP race, registering two fourth quarter comebacks to secure wins over Philadelphia and the Giants. However, the team never recovered after Roethlisberger went down against the Chiefs. The Steelers needed to get younger at back-up quarterback and filled their quota of "Backup QB from Pittsburgh" by replacing Chuck from Homestead with Bruce from Dormont. Gradkowski has been a bit of a journeyman in the league and is a capable backup, but the Steelers still need to groom a #2 of the future and it wouldn't be surprising to see them take a quarterback in the middle rounds of the draft. The Steelers have been linked with Tennessee QB Tyler Bray as a possible mid-round selection, but there are some significant character and leadership concerns with Bray. There are some other decent quarterbacks to be had in the middle of this draft and the Steelers may be able to land one.

Running Back
Returning Players: Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Baron Batch, Will Johnson
New Arrivals: None
The Departed: Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Rainey

The Steelers opted not to let Rashard Mendenhall walk in free agency after a lack-luster 2012 that was marked with off-field issues. The organization also parted ways with rookie Chris Rainey after he was arrested for assault over the offseason. This leaves them with little stability at running back as Dwyer and Redman are both on one-year RFA tenders and will be unrestricted free agents next year. Will Johnson was a serviceable fullback and Baron Batch suffered his second season-ending injury in as many seasons. The Steelers need a feature back of the future and will likely take an RB early in the draft. The Steelers have been tied to both Alabama RB Eddie Lacy and Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell, who seem to be two of their top targets. They also brought in UCLA RB Jonathan Franklin and Texas A&M RB Christine Michael for pre-draft visits.

Wide Receiver
Returning Players: Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Plaxico Burress, Jerricho Cotchery, David Gilreath, Derek Moye, Bert Reed
New Arrivals: Kashif Moore
The Departed: Mike Wallace

The departure of Mike Wallace left the Steelers with a hole to fill at wide receiver, but from a realistic perspective after what happened last season we all knew Wallace wasn't coming back. His on-field effort was lacking and by some reports was a distraction in the locker room. The Steelers hand was forced a bit with regards to Emmanuel Sanders when the Patriots signed him to an offer sheet, forcing the Steelers to match the offer in order to retain him for 2013. Sanders, Cotchery and Burress are due to be free agents after this season so Wide Receiver is clearly a position of need. One of the biggest traps an amateur draft observer can fall into is that a team needs a player with the exact same skill set as one they just lost. That is not true. The Steelers don't need a deep threat with questionable hands who catches balls against his body rather than with his hands. What they need is a receiver with good hands who can get open and make plays with the ball in his hands. Todd Haley's offense is built on short passes to get the ball to the receivers and let the receivers make plays with the ball in their hands, and that's the kind of receiver we need. The Steelers could land a WR like Cordarrelle Patterson or DeAndre Hopkins in the first round or wait until the second or third rounds. This draft is deep at WR, with 10 or 11 WRs that should go in the first two rounds.

Tight End
Returning Players: Heath Miller, David Johnson, David Paulson, Jamie McCoy,
New Arrivals: Matt Spaeth, Zack Pianalto
The Departed: Leonard Pope

With Heath Miller recovering from his knee injury suffered in Week 16, the Steelers are unsure if he will be able to start the regular season. They went out and added Matt Spaeth on a veteran minimum deal, but there is still a need for another tight end on the roster. Heath was the MVP of the offense last season and it will be difficult to replace his production while he finishes his rehab. It is likely that the Steelers will put Heath on the PUP list to start the season which would give them a 6-week window for him to return to the lineup without having to use their IR-Designated for Return spot. Tight End remains a need and some reports of late have linked the Steelers to Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert in the first round. I find it a little hard to believe that the Steelers would spend their first round pick on a tight end given our other needs, but Eifert might be worth it.

Returning Players: Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, Kelvin Beachum, Joe Long
New Arrivals: None
The Departed: Max Starks

The Steelers have used second round picks in the last two drafts to add Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams who figure to be their starting tackles next season. The problem is that neither has made it through a season without being placed on injured reserve. Adams seems to have the better pedigree for the left tackle spot and the running game flourished when he played right tackle last year. The unit still needs depth as Kelvin Beachum isn't the greatest option for your top backup at tackle. The Steelers have so many other needs, it's hard to see them addressing tackle anywhere before the mid-to-late rounds of the draft. Somehow, Max Starks is still a free agent after playing every snap last season. Not sure how that's possible.

Returning Players: Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, John Malecki, Justin Cheadle
New Arrivals: None
The Departed: Willie Colon

The Steelers finally parted ways with Willie Colon and his ridiculous contract. Last year's first round pick David DeCastro should be ready to step in at right guard and the recently signed Ramon Foster has been incredibly solid for this team. Foster was an undrafted free agent who has started 42 games in 4 seasons with the Steelers. They could use another guard, as Foster is the least mobile guy on the line, but he is a capable starter. John Malecki figures to step into the Doug Legursky role of being the "Swing man" in the inside as a backup. Malecki has been on the practice squad the last few seasons and can play guard or center if needed. In an ideal world, the Steelers would be able to draft a guard that could challenge Foster for the starting spot, but they have other needs that are greater than on the interior of the offensive line.

Returning Players: Maurkice Pouncey
New Arrivals: None
The Departed: Doug Legursky

The Steelers let Doug Legursky walk in free agency, and after the way he played last season it's hard to blame them. Legursky was so bad at guard that the Steelers were forced to play him at center and Pouncey at guard after Willie Colon went down with an injury. Now, Malecki figures to step into his role as a reserve with Pouncey anchoring the center position once again. The Steelers could use some additional depth on the inside of the line, but it isn't likely they will be able to add it until late in the draft.

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