Monday, April 29, 2013

Crash Course in the Steelers Draft Class

The 2013 NFL Draft is in the books and the Steelers came out with 9 players, trading away a 3rd round pick from next year's draft to acquire a 4th round pick from Cleveland in this draft. At the end of the day that wasn't a bad move as they should get at least 1 if not 2 compensatory picks in the 3rd round of next year's draft for losing Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis.

Round 1

Jarvis Jones
OLB - Georgia

Jones left USC after his freshman year when he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. After transferring to Georgia and sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, Jones lit up the best conference in the nation. In his first year at Georgia (redshirt sophomore year) he led the SEC with 13.5 sacks and followed it up by leading the nation in sacks this past season with 14.5. Jones has a ridiculously quick first step and can be an absolutely dominant pass rusher. The Steelers are a perfect spot for Jones as he can challenge Jason Worlids (who only has one year left on his contract) this year with the plan for him to step into a starting role next season.

Round 2

Le'Veon Bell
RB - Michigan State

The Steelers had been tied to Le'Veon Bell for much of the draft season. They reportedly took him out to dinner before his Pro Day and spent time with him at the Combine. Bell's athleticism is without question and some scouts have called him the best pass-blocking and receiving combo back in the draft. Bell should challenge Jonathan Dwyer for a starting spot right away and could be the Steelers feature back of the future. Bell was clearly the Steelers second round target, and the only reason this might give you to shake your head is that they chose him with Alabama RB Eddie Lacy still on the board. At this point we should probably just nickname him "The Prescription."

Round 3

Markus Wheaton
WR - Oregon State

Wheaton is a talented receiver with speed to spare. He clocked a 4.4 at the Combine and Tomlin stated he plays faster than that. Holy crap. Wheaton put up huge numbers this year, surpassing 90 yards in all but two games and finding the end zone 11 times. He is great with the ball in his hands and can make moves in space. Wheaton is an ideal receiver for Todd Haley's offense that hinges on getting the ball out quickly and letting receivers make plays with the ball in their hands. The only concern about Wheaton is that he lets the ball get into his chest too much and doesn't catch with his hands away from his body.

Round 4

Shamarko Thomas
S - Syracuse

Thomas is an athletic freak. At only 5'9" he was one of the shortest safeties in the draft, but he lit up the combine running a 4.42 40-yard dash, putting up 28 reps on the bench press and jumping 40.5 inches vertically and 133 in the broad jump. All of those numbers were at the top of the safety class. Thomas can fly around the field and has decent ball skills and has the explosion to contend for jump balls with taller receivers. He has a linebacker's mentality and isn't afraid to stick his nose in against the run and can play either down in the box or as a single high safety. This pick gives the Steelers insurance as Clark has one year left on his deal and Polamalu has two. It wouldn't be surprising to see Thomas starting this season if Clark or Polamalu are injured. Thomas also has the notoriety of being the only person to trip over the finish line of the 40-yard dash.

Landry Jones
QB - Oklahoma

Landry Jones is somewhat of an enigma as a quarterback. He was a highly-touted recruit who took over as Oklahoma's quarterback after Sam Bradford graduated. He started all four years, attempting over 440 passes every season (and over 550 his sophomore, junior and senior years). However, his best year came as a sophomore when he threw for over 4700 yards and 38 touchdowns. Jones was considered a Heisman contender entering his junior season, but did not perform up to expectations. He opted to stay in school for his senior season rather than enter a draft stocked with Luck, RGIII, Tannehill and Weeden. His senior year didn't do much to build on his lackluster junior campaign, and Jones struggled the most in crunch time. He is capable of making all the throws in the book but is maddeningly inconsistent. With the Steelers, he will have the opportunity to be the #3 quarterback this season and compete with Bruce Gradkowski for the #2 job next season. The Steelers needed to get younger at quarterback, and they did that with this pick. There's also the benefit of making this man roll around in his grave.

Round 5

Terry Hawthorne
CB - Illinois

Hawthorne is a prototypical Steelers corner, measuring at 6'0" 195 pounds. He has the size and strength to match up on the outside but can be beat over the top. He played a lot of off-man zone coverage at Illinois and is a sure tackler who is willing and capable of helping out against the run. He has good straight-line speed but can be slow out of breaks and doesn't have great hands. He did return kicks for Illinois but his ball security was questionable at best. He may get a look at punt returner in camp, but I wouldn't count on him winning the job. At the end of the day, Hawthorne will compete with Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian and Justin King for the 4th and 5th cornerback spots. One can only hope he can grow a mustache as badass as Nathaniel Hawthorne's.

Round 6

Justin Brown
WR - Oklahoma

Brown transferred from Penn State to Oklahoma in the wake of the NCAA sanctions. He was never spectacular with the Nittany Lions, posting 33 receptions, 452 yards, and 1 touchdown as a sophomore and 35 receptions, 517 yards and 2 touchdowns as a junior. However, after his transfer to Oklahoma he exploded with 73 receptions, 879 yards and 5 touchdowns as a senior. At 6'3" he gives the Steelers a tall receiver to challenge Plaxico for the fourth or fifth receiver spot. Brown also returned punts for both Penn State and Oklahoma, taking one back for a touchdown for the Sooners. As a rookie, this might be his biggest value to the team and he could win a roster spot through his ability to return kicks.

Vince Williams
ILB - Florida State

Williams played in the middle of Florida State's defense, which was one of the best in the country this past season. He made the defensive play-calls on the field for the Seminoles and is an intelligent player capable of diagnosing what is happening in front of him. He is very good at working his way through traffic and finding the ball, but can get caught taking bad angles in the open field. He isn't the fastest player on the field and thrives in run defense where he is a solid tackler. He had the best game of his career in the Orange Bowl against Northern Illinois. He should become the understudy to Larry Foote at the buck linebacker position and gives the Steelers an insurance policy should Sean Spence be unable to fully recover from his knee injury. If Spence spends the year on injured reserve, Williams would compete with Marshall McFadden for a roster spot as the fourth inside linebacker.

Round 7

Nicholas Williams
DT - Samford

Nick Williams, because the Steelers are trying to confuse us after taking two Joneses earlier took two Williamses, is an incredibly raw athlete with tremendous upside. At 6'4" 304 pounds he is very mobile and could play any position in the Steelers defensive front. He only played one year of high school football and wound up at Samford where he was second-team all-conference as a Junior and first-team all-conference as a Senior. Williams started during both his junior and senior seasons but still has a lot of learning to do. That said, he was one of the top performers among defensive tackles at the Combine and has a ton of potential. This was a tremendous value pick for the Steelers in the seventh round and might end up on the practice squad this year as a developmental prospect.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Steelers Draft Jarvis Jones with 17th Overall Pick

On New Year's Day I was watching the Capital One Bowl with my dad. Two days before the Steelers 2012 season had ended. He asked me what I thought about the draft. Jarvis Jones made a play. I commented that the draft was deep on pass rushers, and I would love a guy like Jones, but he would probably be a top five pick.

Fast forward four months. The Steelers ran to the podium to hand in their card and select Jarvis Jones with the 17th overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Draft Breakdown has 12 game tapes of Jones from the last two years. Check them out.

Jones continues the Colbert tradition that I detailed earlier this week of selecting players from major conferences that played on successful college teams. Jones is the 13th first round pick in Colbert's 14 years that has come from a BCS Automatic Qualifier conference (Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big XII, Pac 12, Big East). Jones is the 12th first round pick from a team that finished the season ranked in the final AP Poll.

 You can follow Jones on Twitter @SacManJones_29.

The Steelers have the #48 overall pick (16th pick of the second round) and #79 overall pick (17th pick of the third round) tomorrow night.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

NFL Draft Live Blog

The Uncertainty of the Steelers Draft

With less than 24 hours until the first round of the NFL Draft begins, the rumor mill is aflame. Depending on who you are listening to, every team loves or hates every prospect right now. This might be the worst draft in ten years. Or this draft might be one of the deepest in recent memory. Here's what we do know: the top of the draft does not have many skill position players, which means that offensive and defensive linemen will account for the majority of picks in the first half of the draft. Depending on which mock drafts you read, the Steelers could be taking any number of players at the 17th pick. Given their needs, it's highly unlikely that the Steelers will move up in the draft but it's very possible they could trade back and add additional picks in the 3rd or 4th round. Rather than trying to sort through all the mess that's out there and tell you who the Steelers will definitely pick, I take a look at some of the most popular names and tell you why the Steelers would or would not pick them.

Jarvis Jones
OLB - Georgia

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Jones led the nation in sacks last season and would give the Steelers depth at outside linebacker should the Jason Worlids experiment fail. Jones has a high motor and is fast off the edge.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Kevin Colbert generally prefers to draft younger players and let them develop in the Steelers system. Jones is 23 years old after having to redshirt a year because of his transfer from USC. There's also the issue of spinal stenosis that sidelined him with the Trojans and ultimately caused him to transfer to Georgia.

Cornellius Carradine
DE - Florida State

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Carradine tore his ACL in November and wasn't able to work out at the Combine but recently ran an incredible 4.75 40-yard dash at Florida State's Pro Day. His workout seemed to alleviate any concerns there were about his rehab and the highly productive Florida State prospect should be a first round lock.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: The Steelers may be unsure about his ability to transition from a 4-3 DE to a 3-4 OLB and may be wary of using a first round pick on someone recovering from major knee surgery.

Ezekial Ansah

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: It will be a huge coup for the Steelers if Ansah is still on the board at 17. He is incredibly raw with only one year as a starter at BYU but has all the tools to develop into a dominant pass rusher. Think Jason Pierre-Paul redux.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Ansah will likely be a Top 10 pick, if not picked in the Top 15. He has rare athletic ability that teams covet. History isn't working for Ansah and the Steelers who have only chosen a player from a non-power conference once during the Kevin Colbert era.

Barkevious Mingo

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Great athleticism, able to get to the quarterback, played for a winning team in a major conference.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Mingo will likely be one of the first pass rushers off the board and it's unlikely he makes it to the Steelers at 17. There are some concerns about his size and strength, but his ability to collapse the pocket is without question.

Arthur Brown
ILB - Kansas State

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Possibly the best interior linebacker prospect, Brown has quick instincts and is always around the ball.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: The Steelers don't need an inside linebacker in the first round. With Timmons and Foote the starters for this season, there are other needs more important than inside linebacker to address in the first round.

Alec Ogletree
ILB - Georgia

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Ogletree is a unique talent who lined up at outside linebacker, inside linebacker and safety. He has a linebacker's size and strength but the speed and range of a safety. He could play all over the field for Dick LeBeau.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Look at his arrest record. Suspended a game in 2011. Suspended multiple games in 2012 for failing a drug test. Had a DUI the week before the Combine.

Manti Te'o
ILB - Notre Dame

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: An impact inside linebacker that can take over for Larry Foote. He has great instincts and is a thumper against the run, even if his pass defense is a bit of a liability.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Kevin Colbert has never drafted a player from Notre Dame. Also, the Alabama game.

Kenny Vacarro
S - Texas

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: A versatile player who lined up all over the field for Texas. He played man coverage against slot receivers, down in the box against the run, and as a single high safety.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: They watched his game against Oklahoma State.

Eric Reid

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Mike Tomlin promised Ryan Clark last year the Steelers would take a safety this year, and Clark reportedly attended LSU Pro Day with Tomlin and the Steelers brass. Reid has the size and athleticism to be an elite NFL safety.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Reid has a propensity for taking back-breaking penalties at the worst possible times, like in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl this year.

Jonathan Cyprien
S - Florida International

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him:
 Cyprien is every draftnik's dream. A super-athletic player that absolutely flies around the field. He is a good enough tackler for a safety and isn't afraid to stick his nose in against running backs and is a ballhawk against the pass.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: History is not in Cyprien's corner. The Steelers have only gone outside the five power conferences (B1G, ACC, SEC, Big XII, Pac 12) once during the Kevin Colbert era, and that was to take Big Ben. Also, if they somehow didn't watch his game against Louisville.

Xavier Rhodes
CB - Florida State

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Rhodes has all the makings of a talented NFL corner and should be a first round pick. The Steelers brought him in for a pre-draft workout and may be looking to fill a hole in their secondary left when Keenan Lewis departed for New Orleans. Ike Taylor only has two years left on his contract, so adding another young corner would make sense.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Ike Taylor has two years left, Cortez Allen is coming into his own and the Steelers just signed William Gay to a 3-year deal. It will be a crowded defensive backfield if Rhodes is added to the mix.

Cordarelle Patterson
WR - Tennessee

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Aside from Tavon Austin, Patterson might be the most electric playmaker in the draft. He has the speed to take it the distance any time he gets his hands on the ball and is a skilled returner as well as receiver.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Patterson is a body-catcher with questionable hands. He dropped some passes last year and is not a very good route-runner.

DeAndre Hopkins
WR - Clemson

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: They watched him tear up LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Hopkins might be the best of the first round receivers. He extends his hands away from his body to snag the ball and isn't afraid to go across the middle of the field and take a hit to make a play.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: The Rams brought in Hopkins twice in the last week and seem to be targeting him if Tavon Austin isn't available.

Tavon Austin
WR - West Virginia

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Austin is an explosive playmaker that is a threat to take it to the house any time he touches the ball. He would give the Steelers offense what they hoped Chris Rainey would - someone they could line up anywhere on the field and create mismatches.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Austin is the skill position player in highest demand in this draft. He could go as high as in the top 10 and certainly won't make it past St Louis at #16.

Tyler Eifert
TE - Notre Dame

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: The Steelers need a play-maker on offense and Eifert fits the bill. With Heath Miller not expected back for the start of the regular season, Eifert could step in right away then combine to form a 1-2 punch at tight end to rival New England.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Todd Haley uses some two-tight end sets but usually the second tight end is a blocker. Eifert isn't a great blocker and neither is Matt Spaeth. With the signing of Spaeth, the Steelers may feel they have enough on the roster between Spaeth, Johnson and Paulson to get by until Heath returns.

Eddie Lacy
RB - Alabama

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Lacy is the best back in the draft and would fill a huge need in the Steelers lineup. He could immediately be a three-down back and would give the Steelers a back with power and speed the likes of which they have not had for a long time.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: The Steelers seem to be high on Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell after spending time with him at the combine and taking him out to dinner before his Pro Day. Lacy is the best back in the draft but the Steelers may think they can get a comparable player in a later round.

Chance Warmack
OG - Alabama

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Would the Steelers really take their third interior offensive lineman in the last four years? For a guy like Warmack, sure. He is a mammoth of a human who could step in right away at left guard and fill out the Steelers line for the foreseeable future.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Ramon Foster just signed a 3-year deal and reports are that Kelvin Beachum is being groomed as a guard rather than a tackle. The Steelers may feel set in their offensive line.

Trade Down

Why the Steelers Will Trade Down: They are picking 17th. At least 10 players I didn't name will be picked before them. I named 17 players they could take. They could easily trade down to the mid-20s or even early 30s and still land one of the players on this list while picking up extra picks in the middle rounds of this draft, where the draft is stocked with talent.

Why the Steelers Won't Trade Down: The teams with a lot of ammo to move up (Minnesota, Atlanta, San Francisco, Baltimore) will likely be targeting teams like New Orleans, Carolina and Chicago who only have 5 draft picks and will be looking to add more. The Steelers won't trade with the Ravens so if Atlanta and San Francisco find partners to trade up, the Steelers could be short on options to trade back.

Someone Else
Any Position - Any School

Why the Steelers Will Pick Somebody Else: This draft is ridiculous. No one has any idea what is going to happen. If one of the top guys like Dee Milliner, DJ Fluker or Jonathan Cooper are available they could be the pick. I only profiled 3 WRs, but Justin Hunter, Robert Woods or Keenan Allen could garner consideration. If the Steelers aren't comfortable with Steve McLendon at Nose Tackle they could give Jesse Williams or Jonathan Hankins a look.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Somebody Else: I just named 17 players the Steelers could draft, and that's not including Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, DJ Fluker, Dion Jordan, Dee Milliner or any of the three DTs that figure to be picked before the Steelers choice. Odds are that one of the guys I've highlighted will be the pick.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Colbert Report: Examining Kevin Colbert's Draft Trends

Kevin Colbert is entering his 14th season at the helm of the Steelers draft machine. His first draft was in 2000 when he selected Plaxico Burress with the 8th overall pick. To Colbert's credit, that was the last time the Steelers picked in the Top 10 of the draft. The closest they got since then was in 2004 when they selected Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick. Over the last 13 years, trends have emerged in Colbert's drafting philosophy.


In Colbert's 13 drafts, he has selected 104 players. Of those 104, 81 (78%) have come from schools playing in conferences with an automatic bid to the BCS (Big 10, SEC, ACC, Big XII, Pac 10, Big East). In the first three rounds, the disparity is even greater with 92% of selections coming from the six AQ conferences. Only Ben Roethlisberger (Miami OH, 1st round 2004), Ricardo Colclough (Tusculum, 2nd round 2004) and Emmanuel Sanders (SMU, 3rd round 2010) came from schools outside of the big six conferences in the first three rounds. The weight the Steelers place on players from power conferences is so heavy that their selections in the first two rounds have been from the Big Ten, Big XII, SEC, ACC and Pac 10. The earliest the Steelers have selected a Big East player is the third round (Hank Poteat, 3rd round 2000 and Anthony Smith, 3rd round in 2006).

Going B1G

The Big Ten has been a dominant presence in the Steelers draft profile. Colbert has selected twice as many players from the Big Ten (4) in the first round than from any other conference (SEC, ACC, Pac 10, Big XII all 2). In the second round, Colbert has tapped Big Ten talent three times, tied with the ACC with the most picks in the second. Of Colbert's 24 picks in the first two rounds, 7 have come from the Big Ten, 5 from the ACC and 4 from the SEC. This trend continues into the third round where Colbert has taken 3 players from the B1G, ACC and SEC. All told, 21 of Colbert's 104 draft picks have come from the Big Ten. The next closest conference is the SEC with 15 selections, followed by the ACC and Pac 10 (13).

Buckeyes and Sunshine

The Steelers have selected players from 66 different schools over the last 13 years, but have clearly preferred three schools from which to draw their talent. The Ohio State University leads the pack with 6 selections, half of those coming in the first two rounds. Santonio Holmes and Cam Heyward were both first round picks and tackle Mike Adams was a second rounder. Florida and Florida State have accounted for 5 selections each. While Colbert has picked five Gators, none of them have been from the defensive side of the ball. Three of them have been linemen (Pouncey, Gilbert, Starks) and two skill players (Rainey and WR Dallas Baker). Florida State is almost the polar opposite with 4 of the 5 Seminoles picked were defensive players. All five Florida State players were picked within the first three rounds: Lawrence Timmons in the first, Alonzo Jackson and Bryant McFadden in the second, and Willie Reid and Chris Hope in the third.

Winning Breeds Winning

The Steelers have a history of drafting players from winning teams. Both Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have been quoted in the past saying that they like players that played on top-tier college teams. This is reflected in their draft strategy as they have selected 52 players (exactly half of their picks) from teams ranked in the final AP poll the previous year. Only Indianapolis (54 of 105, 51%) has selected more players from schools ranked in the final AP poll. Of the Steelers 13 first round picks, only two (Kendall Simmons and Lawrence Timmons) came from unranked teams. In the second round, six of their 11 picks came from ranked teams. However, coming from a ranked team is not necessarily an indicator of success as Marvel Smith, Antwaan Randle El, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams all came from unranked teams while Limas Sweed, Alonzo Jackson and Jason Worlids came from ranked teams. Of course, LaMarr Woodley and Bryant McFadden played on ranked teams, which goes to prove the second round is more about finding players with talent and work ethic than worrying about where they played in college.

Not So Local

Some general managers use the local knowledge of players from their zip code to their advantage. However, Colbert has drafted only two players from Penn State and one from Pitt. Hank Poteat, drafted in the 3rd round in 2000, was the last Panther drafted by the Steelers. From Penn State, Colbert has only selected TE Matt Kranchick (6th round, 2004) and center AQ Shipley (7th round, 2009). Pitt has produced 34 draftees since 2000 with Poteat being the only one drafted by the Steelers. Given the fact that Pitt has been ranked in the Top 25 in the final AP poll only three times in the past 13 seasons, it is not surprising Colbert has drafted so few Panthers. Penn State, on the other hand, was ranked in the final AP poll 6 times in the last 13 seasons. Two of Colbert's biggest misses came in 2010 when he drafted Jason Worlids in the second round, 3 picks before Sean Lee was chosen by Dallas and passed on Navorro Bowman in the third round. Both Lee and Bowman have gone to the Pro Bowl while Worlids and 5th round pick Stevenson Sylvester have only started a handful of games between them.

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.

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.

Monday, April 22, 2013

AFC North Draft Preview

With less than a week until the NFL Draft, we're taking a look at what to expect from all 32 teams come Draft Day, including some recommended blogs to read and folks to follow on Twitter.

2012 Record: 10-6

Draft Picks: 32, 62, 94, 129, (130), 165, (168), 199, 200, (203), 238, (247)

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: iHateJJRedick (Blog/Twitter), BMoreBirdsNest (Blog/Twitter)

Draft Preview: The defending Super Bowl champs (vomit) benefited the most from compensatory  picks, getting one in each of the fourth through seventh round, giving them the second most picks in the draft. The Ravens have needs at linebacker, safety, wide receiver and along the offensive line. The Ravens have been involved in 5 first round trades in the last 5 years, trading out of the first round entirely in 2 of the last 3 years. Expect the Ravens to be active in the draft day trading market again this year.

2012 Record: 10-6

Draft Picks: 21, 37, 53, 84, 118, 156, 190, 197, (240), (251)

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Cincy Jungle

Draft Preview: Cincinnati doesn't have any glaring needs on the offensive side of the ball, though a complementary receiver to AJ Green wouldn't hurt them. On defense, their biggest need is at safety and linebacker. They have 2 second round picks this year so they certainly have the ammo to move up if there is someone they want.

2012 Record: 5-11

Draft Picks: 6, 68, 104, 139, 164, 175, 227

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Cleveland Frowns

Draft Preview: Cleveland has been involved in a first round trade in 4 of the last 6 drafts, so thinking they will stay put at #6 is nuts. Both of the previous times Cleveland had a new coach they traded down, and it's easy see them moving down again if someone wants to get ahead of Arizona for the 3rd LT (Johnson). Cleveland added some players on defense via free agency, but still needs help in the secondary and at WR.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

AFC East Draft Preview

With a week until the NFL Draft, we're taking a look at what to expect from all 32 teams come Draft Day, including some recommended blogs to read and folks to follow on Twitter.

2012 Record: 12-4

Draft Picks: 29, 59, 91, 226, 235

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: NE Patriots Draft, Foxboro Blog

Draft Preview: New England has only 5 picks in the draft, a 1st, a 2nd, a 3rd and two 7ths. Everyone talks about how well Bill Belichick constructs his team, but if you look back over their past few drafts they haven't been as good as one would expect. Wide receiver is probably their biggest need with O-line help, a defensive end and a corner back as their other needs. New England has made 9 trades in the last 6 drafts, trading out of the first round 3 times and down in the first round 4 other times. Of course, some of these years they had multiple first round picks, but they have made a trade involving a first round pick in each of the last 6 drafts. If you think they're standing pat you're nuts.

2012 Record: 7-9

Draft Picks: 12, 42, 54, 77, 82, 111, 146, (166), 217, 224, (250)

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Alex Miglio, The Phinsider

Draft Preview: Miami is another team that needs a help on the offensive line as they look to replace Jake Long and they actually have the ammo (2 2nd rounders, 2 3rd rounders) to move up into the top 10 (or even top 5) to get their guy. The Fins are transitioning to a 4-3 defense so if an LT isn't there, an edge rusher or corner back could get a look. It wouldn't be shocking to see the Fins trade with the Browns to move up to #6 to take an LT if one of the top three makes it past Detroit.

2012 Record: 6-10

Draft Picks: 8, 41, 71, 105, 143, 177

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Mr Deadlier, Bills Mafia

Draft Preview: Buffalo is another one of those "We do what we want" teams that is hard to predict. The Bills certainly need a quarterback, and new coach Doug Marrone could draft Ryan Nassib who played for him at Syracuse. The biggest question for Buffalo is how much they value the quarterbacks other than Geno Smith in this draft. If Geno isn't available, the Bills could opt for a wide receiver or offensive lineman at #8 then use their second round pick on a quarterback. Buffalo also had the second-worst run defense in the league last year, so they'll probably be looking for a linebacker at some point. Buffalo hasn't traded in the first round in the last 6 drafts, so it's unlikely they will again.

2012 Record: 6-10

Draft Picks: 9, 39, 72, 106, 141, 178, 215

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Eric Manassy

Draft Preview: The 30th ranked passing offense, 5th most sacks allowed, 23rd in the league in sacks, 26th ranked run defense. They spent the offseason collecting mediocre QBs (no joke their depth chart is Sanchez, Garrard, McElroy, Tebow). Shonn Greene left in free agency, leaving a big hole at RB but there is none worth the #9 pick. They traded Darrelle Revis to Tampa for multiple picks. The Jets need a pass rusher as their OLB play has been downright dismal during the Rex Ryan era, but Revis' departure leaves holes in the secondary and their offense is downright awful.

AFC South Draft Preview

With a week until the NFL Draft, we're taking a look at what to expect from all 32 teams come Draft Day, including some recommended blogs to read and folks to follow on Twitter.

2012 Record: 12-4

Draft Picks: 27, 57, 89, (95), 124, 160, 195, (201), 233

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Houston Die Hards (Blog/Twitter)

Draft Preview: Houston doesn't have many holes on their team, but with the departure of Kevin Walter they could really use another receiver opposite Andre Johnson. The Texans could also use some help on defense, both at linebacker and at corner. Ed Reed is probably a short-term solution at safety and it wouldn't be surprising if they added a safety for depth at some point in the draft.

2012 Record: 11-5

Draft Picks: 24, 86, 121, 192, 230, (254)

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Colts Authority, Nate Dunlevy

Draft Preview: Indianapolis lost a lot of players from the defensive side of the ball and is still working through their 4-3 to 3-4 transition. The Colts need a 3-4 DE and a pass-rushing OLB. They're in good position to nab a falling pass rusher in the first round. The Colts lack a second and fifth round pick so they could be a target for trading back if someone wants to move up and take a QB.

2012 Record: 6-10

Draft Picks: 10, 40, 70, (97), 107, 142, (202), 216, (248)

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Titans MCM/Music City Miracles

Draft Preview: Tennessee ranked in the 20s in pretty much every category (22nd pass offense, 21st run offense, 21st sacks allowed, 26th pass defense, 24th run defense) so there is room for improvement across the board. With former first round picks at QB (Locker), RB (CJ?K) and WR (Britt, Wright), defense will likely take priority in this draft. The Titans have Michael Griffin and Bernard Pollard at safety but still need help in the defensive backfield, specifically at CB. Tennessee hasn't been involved in any first round trades in the last 6 drafts, so it's hard to see them moving out of the #10 spot.

2012 Record: 2-14

Draft Picks: 2, 33, 64, 98, 135, 169, 208

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Big Cat Country

Draft Preview: Jacksonville is always kind of a wild card in the draft. They seem to lock in on their guys and take them regardless of where they draft. They obviously need help on the defensive front (30th in run defense, 30th in sacks), but their quarterback situation is questionable with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, which leaves the door open for Geno Smith to go at #2. The Jaguars offensive line wasn't much better than their defensive front, finishing 30th in rushing offense and 30th in sacks. Jacksonville has been involved in first round trades in 4 of the last 6 years, but only once did they move down from their position.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

AFC West Draft Preview

With a week until the NFL Draft, we're taking a look at what to expect from all 32 teams come Draft Day, including some recommended blogs to read and folks to follow on Twitter.

2012 Record: 13-3

Draft Picks: 28, 58, 90, 125, 161, 234

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Mile High Report

Draft Preview: Denver probably should have gone to the AFC Championship game last season and Peyton certainly still has it. The Broncos had a monster free agency period, landing Wes Welker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Louis Vasquez along with retaining LT Ryan Clady. Their only hiccup was losing Elvis Dumervil, which puts them in the market for a defensive end. They have some other needs on defense, primarily at safety. The Broncos have traded down in 2 of the last 3 years, and with only 6 picks in the draft I wouldn't be surprised if they traded back out of the first round if someone is looking to move up for a QB.

2012 Record: 7-9

Draft Picks: 11, 45, 76, 110, 145, 179, 221

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: The Chargers don't even have fans on the internet.

Draft Preview: San Diego has needs on both the offensive and defensive lines as well as outside linebacker and safety. It's hard to see one of the top tackles making it to #11, but San Diego has shown a willingness in the past to trade up for guys they want (Ryan Mathews, who they moved up 16 spots to get). If they want one of the top 3 OTs, they're probably going to have to get ahead of Arizona.

2012 Record: 4-12

Draft Picks: 3, 66, 100, 172, 176, (205), 209

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: You don't want to read about the Raiders. Neither do I.

Draft Preview: Oakland is picking in the first round for the first time since 2010. As hard as that is to believe, it's really not a shock they're in this kind of position. They are feeling the full effects of the terrible contracts Al Davis signed guys to and are in really bad salary cap shape. The Raiders cleaned house this offseason and chances are most people can't name more than 3 of Oakland's 22 starters. Oakland needs help at pretty much every position, including a quarterback unless they are going to bank on the unproven Matt Flynn as the answer.

2012 Record: 2-14

Draft Picks: 1, 63, (96), 99, 134, 170, (204), 207

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Arrowhead Addict

Draft Preview: The Chiefs are under new management and made moves this offseason to retain their top free agents (LT Branden Albert and WR Dwayne Bowe) along with trading a second round pick for former 49ers QB Alex Smith. The acquisition of Smith gives the Chiefs a capable starting quarterback but they are still in the market for a long-term solution so it wouldn't be surprising to see them take a quarterback in the mid rounds of the draft. The Chiefs seem to be settling in on Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel with the #1 overall pick and may still trade Albert to acquire more picks.

Friday, April 19, 2013

NFC East Draft Preview

With a week until the NFL Draft, we're taking a look at what to expect from all 32 teams come Draft Day, including some recommended blogs to read and folks to follow on Twitter.

2012 Record: 10-6
NFC East Champion, Lost in Wild Card Round to Seattle

Draft Picks: 51, 85, 119, 154, 162, 191, 228

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Hogs Haven (Blog)

Draft Preview: The Redskins traded their first round pick this year to St Louis as part of the RGIII deal. Washington saw an immediate benefit from the move as RGIII turned them from a last-place team into a division champion in a year. However, his knee injury at the end of the season casts some doubt on his ability to be ready for the start of the 2013 season. Washington's biggest needs are on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the secondary after finishing as the 3rd worst pass defense in the league last season.

2012 Record: 9-7

Draft Picks: 19, 49, 81, 116, 152, 187, 225, (253)

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Big Blue Bloggers

Draft Preview: The Giants took a step back last season, with the prime culprit being their defense. The once-formidable Big Blue defensive front was 28th in pass defense and 25th in run defense last season. The Giants continue to mix-and-match situational players in their front seven, and need more stability and consistency. Their secondary was in shambles last season and they brought back former Giant Aaron Ross to help the corner situation. The Giants still need help on the back end of their defense and could use a solid interior defensive lineman. On offense, the Giants were able to hold on to restricted free agent Victor Cruz, but may need to look for a long-term replacement should he leave next year in free agency.

2012 Record:8-8

Draft Picks: 18, 47, 80, 114, 151, 185

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Blogging The Boys (Blog/Twitter)

Draft Preview: Dallas entered the offseason in some serious salary cap trouble which resulted in them losing some talented young players in free agency. The Boys will once again enter the offseason with question marks on the offensive and defensive lines. Dallas will need to add a complementary back to DeMarco Murray as well as depth at wide receiver and tight end behind their top-tier stars. On defense, their biggest needs are in the secondary where they lost Mike Jenkins in free agency. Dallas will be transitioning to a 4-3 defense and will need to add depth to their front seven.

2012 Record: 4-12

Draft Picks: 4, 35, 67, 101, 136, 210, 212, 218, (239)

Recommended Blogs/Twitter: Voice of the Phan

Draft Preview: The Eagles bottomed out last season and fired head coach Andy Reid at the end of the 2012 campaign. New coach Chip Kelly cut his teeth at Oregon with their spread offense. The Eagles are still loaded with playmakers on offense, but have holes to fill on the offensive line. New defensive coordinator Billy Davis has been quoted as saying he will incorporate both 3-4 and 4-3 principles in his defense, which creates needs at all three levels for Philadelphia.