Tuesday, May 27, 2014

World Cup Warm-Up Preview

In anticipation of the World Cup kicking off in a little over 2 weeks, national teams will play a series of friendlies in preparation for Brazil. Now that most teams have named their 23-man rosters (with the US catching the biggest headline by leaving Landon Donovan off the roster), this is the last chance for teams to work on their chemistry before the big stage. The vast majority of matches feature teams that will play in the World Cup taking on teams that will not play in the World Cup, but there are a few games that you should circle on your calendar. I'll have more in-depth previews of each of the World Cup groups coming up next week, but since the teams are warming up for the World Cup, it seemed like a good opportunity to warm up on the blog as well.

The US Schedule

In the United States, the national team has dubbed this the "Send-Off Series." All of the games will be on ESPN or ESPN2 so that the American audience can get a full analysis on whether or not Landon Donovan should've been included with the 23-man roster that manager Jurgen Klinsmann is taking to Brazil.

USA vs Azerbaijan
May 27
San Francisco, CA
10pm EST ESPN2

Azerbaijan is the 85th ranked team in the world and was eliminated from World Cup qualification in the group stage, finishing 4th behind Russia, Portugal and Israel. Azerbaijan should be a good early test for the US as they don't offer much from an offensive perspective, but are a defensive-minded squad. Azerbaijan scored draws in 6 of their 10 qualifying matches and the only team to score more than once in a match against them was Portugal (who beat them 3-0 and 2-0). Azerbaijan also has one of the cooler flags in the world, though that doesn't mean much on the pitch. This will be the first match for the US team after Donovan's exclusion from the roster and will need to find a way to produce goals without Donovan's creativity in the midfield. If the US struggles against Azerbaijan, the critics will be out in full force for Klinsmann's choice to exclude Donovan from the roster.

USA vs Turkey
June 1
Harrison, NJ

The Turkish team, ranked 38th in the world, will be a clear step up from Azerbaijan. The Turks finished 4th in their qualification group behind the Netherlands, Romania and Hungary but were locked in a tight battle with Romania and Hungary for the second position. Ulitmately, Romania advanced with 19 points while Hungary (17 points) and Turkey (16 points) were eliminated. The Turks have a good balance of offense and defense and are capable of challenging the US team at both ends of the pitch.

USA vs Nigeria
June 7
Jacksonville, FL

Shortly after California Chrome makes his run at the Belmont, the US national team will take on Nigeria in their final match before the World Cup. This will be an important match for both teams as both are headed to Brazil. For Nigeria, the 44th-ranked team in the world, they will be looking to hit their stride defensively as they head into a group with offensive powerhouses Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina. If Nigeria is going to advance, they are going to need to produce on the offensive end as well, so expect them to press the US had in the midfield and on offense in the hopes of getting an offensive rhythm going as they head into Brazil. For the United States, this is the only match of the "Send-off Series" against another World Cup opponent. This match should have the intensity of a World Cup game as both teams try to work out the kinks offensively to prepare for their group stage matches.

The Enemies of our Enemies

Not only should soccer fans be taking note of how the US is playing heding into Brazil, but also how the three other Group G teams are playing. Two weeks ago, Germany was held to a 0-0 draw by Poland, sparking some concerns on the German homefront. Portugal, like the US, has 3 friendlies scheduled over the next two weeks with two of them being played on American soil. Ghana will also play three friendlies before the World Cup with the final one being played in the United States.

Portugal v Greece
May 31

This should be an immediate test of how good Portugal's team is on the offensive end. Greece plays a defensive, low-scoring game. Germany and the US would be wise to watch how Greece defends against Portugal's scorers and copy their blueprint in the group stage. Both of these teams qualified for the World Cup so this should be a good test of Portugal's offense against Greece's defense.

Ghana v Netherlands
May 31

Another match of two World Cup qualifiers. The Netherlands drew Spain and Chile in their group and are looking to right the ship after their disaster at Euro 2012. Holland is tactically sound in the midfield and this should be a good test of how well Ghana plays in the middle of the pitch.

Germany v Cameroon
June 1

The Germans only friendly against a fellow World Cup qualifier comes on June 1. Cameroon has the makings of being the basement-dweller of Group A (which also features Brazil, Mexico and Croatia. A blistering offensive performance against Cameroon would be a sign that the Germans are getting their act together as the World Cup nears. US fans should hope that the Germans continue to struggle to find their offensive touch.

Ghana v Guatemala
June 6

Guatemala does not represent an overly difficult opponent for the Ghanaians, but they have been notoriously hard to beat in Guatemala City. It is somewhat surprising that Ghana would schedule a true away game this close to the World Cup.

Portugal v Mexico
June 6

Unlike some other teams, Portugal certainly did not take the easy route in their warm up matches. Facing off against Mexico in a neutral/hostile location (Boston). Since ESPN shows a lot of the Mexican national team games, US fans will be able to get an early look at Portugal (this game will be on ESPN2).

Germany v Armenia
June 6

The Germans should walk all over Armenia in their last game before the World Cup.

Ghana v South Korea
June 8

Ghana's second match against a fellow World Cup qualifier should be telling for both sides. South Korea has been on a slide over the last year after reaching the knockout stage in the 2010 World Cup. South Korea has a window of opportunity in their group with games against Russia and Algeria and a good showing against Ghana could propel them into another successful showing in the group stage.

Portugal v Ireland
June 10

Portugal's last test before the World Cup coems against an Irish side that will be staying home. Of all the Group G teams, Portugal will have the last game before the start of the World Cup. However, this should not be too much of a disadvantage because Group G does not kick off their games until June 16, giving the Portugese team almost a full week's rest between matches.

Other Games of Note

Some teams have already begun their warm-up matches for the World Cup. So far, the only match between two teams that will be playing in Brazil was a draw between Ecuador and the Netherlands.

Bosnia and Herzegovina v Ivory Coast
May 30

Two teams that will be looking to advance to the knockout stage for the first time in national history. Both teams are offensively gifted and this could be a high-scoring affair. If one team wins decisively they will start to generate buzz heading into the tournament.

Chile v Egypt
May 30

Egypt is ranked as the second best team in Africa and is one of the best sides not to qualify for the World Cup. This will be a good test for a Chilean side that will face a brutal group stage.

Mexico v Ecuador
May 31

An important game for Mexico against a fellow World Cup qualifier as they attempt to find the offensive rhythm that eluded them through most of the qualification stages. Ecuador took a step forward with a draw against the Netherlands in Amsterdam, but will need to continue to prove they can contend on foreign soil.

Greece v Nigeria
June 3

Greece relies on defense and Nigeria will need a strong offensive game in order to advance out of the group stage. Both teams are underdogs in Brazil but could sneak into the knockout stages. It will also be worth noting how Nigeria is playing in the match before they face the US.

Mexico v Bosnia and Herzegovina
June 3

Bosnia and Herzegovina is challenging their young squad in preparation for the world's biggest stage. Mexico struggled through the group stages and if they fall to Ecuador and Bosnia-Herzegovina, it could be a harbinger of disaster in Brazil. This game will be on ESPN2.

Ecuador v England
June 4

The English side has two matches against fellow World Cup qualifiers in the week before the tournament begins. England perennially carries high expectations, which are a bit tempered this year as they play in a group with Italy and Uruguay. The matches against Mexico and England (both played in the United States) are important for Ecuador as the knock on them is that they struggle away from home.

England v Honduras
June 7

England's second match against a World Cup qualifier should provide them the momentum they need heading into the tournament. Honduras has never won a game at the World Cup and a decent showing against England could lay the groundwork for them to spring a surprise in Group E which features an offensively bereft Switzerland side, an up-and-down French contingent and a Ecuadorian side that is awful away from their home soil.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Steelers 2014 Draft Class

The Steelers went into the 2014 draft with some big holes in the roster. The sum total of the draft is that they addressed each of their positions of need, though not necessarily in the order or with the players that many thought they would. The biggest surprise was the selection of Linebacker Ryan Shazier from Ohio State (more on that in a minute) in the first round with Cornerback Darqueze Dennard and Inside Linebacker CJ Mosley still on the board. While many (myself included) thought that cornerback and wide receiver needed to be priorities within the first two days (Rounds 1-3) in the draft, the Steelers waited until Day 3 to address both positions. Here's a look at the 9 newest members of the Black and Gold as well as some relevant information I could gather on our Undrafted Free Agent signings.

Round 1
15th Overall
Ryan Shazier
LB - Ohio State

This was one of the biggest surprises of the first round. The Steelers obviously needed to address the inside linebacker position, and they did so with the selection of Shazier. He is a very good prospect that can absolutely fly around the football field. Shazier had 134 tackles in 2013 after posting 115 in 2012. At 6'1" 230, he ran an absurd 4.36 40-yard dash at his Pro Day which is the same speed that Terrelle Pryor reportedly ran and would've been faster than all but 2 WRs at the Combine. On the surface, we got a guy who has wings on his feet and is always around the ball, which is something we absolutely need at inside linebacker. Shazier's speed means he can match up with tight ends and won't have to come off the field on 3rd downs like Vince Williams did last year. The downside is that Shazier will forever be tied to CJ Mosley (who many considered the top ILB prospect), who went 2 picks later to the Ravens, and Darqueze Dennard, who some thought was the best corner in the draft and went 9 picks later to Cincinnati. If Shazier doesn't pan out, the Steelers will have 4 games a year for the better part of the next decade against Baltimore and Cincinnati where we will be reminded of this pick. The other downside is that without a nose tackle in front of them that commands double-teams, the inside linebackers will continue to get blocked by opposing linemen that get free releases off the line. I don't have a problem addressing the ILB position, but to do so while maintaining a relative status quo at NT is a dangerous proposition. Shazier is also the 7th player Kevin Colbert has selected from Ohio State, the most from any school.

Round 2
46th Overall
Stephon Tuitt
DT - Notre Dame

At 6'5" 305, Tuitt instantly becomes one of the biggest linemen on the Steelers roster. He has the burst and technique to play on the outside as a 5-tech defensive end and has the size and strength to stay on the field in 3rd down situations to slide inside. Tuitt should be an instant starter on the defensive line, and landing two 3-down players with the first two picks in the draft is tremendous. The only concern I have here is similar to the concern I had with selecting Shazier - the Steelers defense is built from the inside out. Without a good nose tackle in the middle, the inside linebackers and defensive ends simply aren't as good. Louis Nix was still on the board at this point, and would have been a player that would've improved the Steelers defense by providing an anchor in the middle. That said, Nix is at best a 2-down player whereas Tuitt is a 3-down defensive lineman that can play both inside and outside. This was a tremendous value in the middle of the 2nd round.

Round 3
97th Overall
Dri Archer
OW - Kent State

The Steelers may have had their hand forced a little bit at the tail end of the third round. Most people thought they would select Clemson WR Martavis Bryant with this selection (who supposedly they had a 2nd round grade on). However, given how the 6 picks before this selection went off the board, the Steelers simply couldn't risk leaving Archer on the board. At 90th overall the Cardinals took WR John Brown from Pittsburg State who posted the fastest time of the WR group at the combine (4.34). At 94 the Browns took Terrence West (RB-Towson, 4.54) and at 96 the Vikings to Jerrick McKinnon (RB-Georgia Southern 4.41). That was two small school RBs and three players from small schools that posted fast 40 times that fell off the board in a 6-pick span. That left Archer as one of the few "offensive weapons" left on the board, and it would've been a risky proposition to hope that he fell to them in the 4th round. The Steelers pulled the trigger here and Archer has the potential to be the player that Chris Rainey never became. Todd Haley knows how to use these type of players (see: LaRod Stephens-Howling in Arizona and Dexter McCluster in Kansas City). Archer's blazing fast 4.26 40 was the fastest at the combine this year and gives the Steelers a player that can take it to the house any time he touches the ball.

Round 4
118th Overall
Martavis Bryant
WR - Clemson

Bryant has the physical build of an elite NFL receiver, measuring in at over 6'4", arms measuring over 32 inches and a vertical leap of 39 inches. On top of his crazy vertical measurements, Bryant posted a blazing fast 4.42 40 yard dash at the combine. The reason he fell to the 4th round is that he is a bit raw and a bit of a one-year wonder in college (though getting on the field in 2012 with Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins in front of him wasn't the easiest task). Bryant came out early as an underclassmen and dealt with some immaturity last season (was benched for the start of a game for making a throat slash gesture). Bryant also needs to improve his route-running but he gives the Steelers a big target that can work against press coverage and in the red zone that they did not have before. The hope is that Bryant will become what Limas Sweed should have been - and not what he actually was.

Round 5
157th Overall
Shaquille Richardson
CB - Arizona

Richardson is an aggressive corner with good size and length. Richardson was recruited by Carnell Lake at Arizona, which gave the Steelers some familiarity with him as Lake is now our defensive backs coach. He is a much better press corner than zone corner but has a quick break on the ball and long enough arms to make plays in the air. Richardson has grown up quite a bit since his freshman year when he was released from UCLA's program after he was arrested for felony theft. He will have the chance to develop in the Steelers system and should be an instant contributor on special teams.

173rd Overall
Wesley Johnson
OT - Vanderbilt

You have to believe that this pick was heavily influenced by Mike Munchak. Munchak was the head coach of the Titans last year, who play in Nashville where Vanderbilt University is located. Johnson played tackle, guard and center during his time with the Commodores and is worth the risk as a project offensive lineman at this point in the draft. Johnson is the kind of player the Steelers love - a versatile player capable of playing multiple positions who played on a winning team (Vanderbilt was ranked at the end of the season) from a major conference (the SEC) and who has strong leadership skills (team captain last two seasons). Johnson played in a zone blocking scheme in college and is light on his feet, but he must get stronger to compete against NFL defensive linemen. To his credit, Johnson did hold his own against Jadaveon Clowney in the video above.

Round 6
192nd Overall
Jordan Zumwalt

Zumwalt was a 4-year starter at UCLA that played with a nasty edge and was a fiery competitor. He doesn't have the best speed or ability to disengage from blocks, but will be able to contribute on special teams right away. Zumwalt could develop into a starter down the road, but he plays with the edge that you love to see on special teams and is the kind of player that can rally the team around him. Zumwalt tended to play his best in big games and laid a devastating it on Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas that knocked him out of the Sun Bowl. Zumwalt has played both inside and outside linebacker - though he will likely need to add some more weight if he is to play outside in the NFL.

215th Overall
Daniel McCullers
NT - Tennessee

McCullers is a massive human being, and that's about all you can say about him. Stacking in at 6'7" 352 pounds, he is the definition of a space-eating nose tackle. He sunk to the end of the 6th round because he is basically an immovable object. He does not have the lower body burst to get off the line quickly and does not generate much pressure in the backfield. His size is enough to keep him in line in the middle, but he is not nimble enough on his feet to work down the line against zone blocking teams. His size and length made him an effective player in the middle of Tennessee's defense but he will have to learn hand and foot technique if he is going to succeed in the pros. 

Round 7
230th Overall
Rob Blanchflower
TE - Massachusetts

The Steelers showed some interest in Blanchflower and were able to land him at the tail end of the draft. Don't let his name fool you, he is an absolutely nasty blocking tight end. He was slowed by an injury his senior year that kept him out of the combine, but the Steelers obviously saw enough in a pre-draft visit to make him worth selecting in the 7th round. Blanchflower showed improvement as a route-runner and receiver his senior year when he did play and could compete with Matt Spaeth and Michael Palmer for the 2nd and 3rd tight end roles right away.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

2014 NFL Draft LiveBlog

Welcome to the 2014 NFL Draft LiveBlog!

A Look at the Steelers Possible First Round Selections

The Steelers hold the 15th pick in the first round of the draft, which is set to kick off shortly after 8:00pm tonight. Rounds 2 and 3 will be on Friday night (while the Pens try to eliminate the New York Rangers) and Rounds 4 through 7 will be on Saturday afternoon. There is little doubt about what positions the Steelers need to address in this draft. Their top priorities in the first few rounds will be cornerback, wide receiver and defensive line. In addition to that, they could use depth at both inside and outside linebacker, and a "change of pace" 3rd down back. The Steelers very well may double-dip at corner and wide receiver, taking one early and another later on. Both positions along the defensive line - nose tackle and defensive end are thin and could use starter-caliber players. Since there are a number of different players being thrown around as possibilities for the Steelers to select in the first round, I compiled a list to get you prepared for tonight. Also, Brian from Blitzburgh Blog and I will be hosting a draft chat tonight, so stop on by and hang out with us!

Note: Due to the amount of gifs on the page (thanks to the Draft Breakdown gif-maker!) I put in a page break so that the front page of my blog wouldn't crash Chrome when it tried to load.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

2014 Steelers Draft Preview: Defense

2013 Record: 8-8
Total Defense: 337.2 yards per game (13th in NFL)
Pass Defense: 221.6 yards per game (12th in NFL)
Run Defense: 115.6 yards per game (21st in NFL)
Scoring Defense: 23.1 points per game (14th in NFL)
Sacks: 34 sacks (25th in NFL)
Turnovers: 20 (27th in NFL) - 10 INTs (29th in NFL), 10 fumble recoveries (15th in NFL)

Defensive Line
Returning Players: Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon, Brian Arnfelt, Hebron Fangupo, Nick Williams
New Arrivals: Cam Thomas
The Departed: Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Al Woods

Rather than splitting this into "Defensive End" and "Nose Tackle" I chose to combine it into one section because the Steelers lack a true nose tackle. Steve McLendon only played 33% of defensive snaps last year and might be better suited for a defensive end spot than playing over center and being expected to anchor the middle. Many of the problems with the Steelers run defense started up front last year, with McLendon unable to command double teams and offensive linemen getting free releases to block linebackers. Cam Heyward will be the anchor at the left end spot, but there is uncertainty with the other two positions. Like McLendon, free agent signing Cam Thomas is capable of playing both nose tackle or defensive end but is more of a rotation player than a starter. The Steelers should address the defensive line multiple times in this draft, possibly as early as the first round. There is talent in this draft at nose tackle and defensive end. Don't be surprised when the Steelers invest multiple picks in the defensive line to add quality depth here, as there is room for two starters right now and the team usually likes to have 6 or 7 players in the rotation.

Outside Linebacker
Returning Players: Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Chris Carter, Terrence Garvin
New Arrivals: Arthur Moats
The Departed: LaMarr Woodley

The Steelers biggest move of the offseason was the decision to put the Transition Tag on Jason Worilds and to cut LaMarr Woodley. This was a risky decision in releasing a proven but injury-prone pass rusher for a younger player that flashed ability over the later half of last season. Worilds remains on a 1-year contract and the Steelers are still in need of depth behind their starters. Neither Worilds or Jones is particularly good against the run and both will need to improve at sealing down the corners. The Steelers will likely add an outside linebacker at some point in the draft, because quite bluntly Chris Carter is terrible. Carter is in the last year of his rookie contract and it's hard to see the team retaining him after that contract expires. I think Carter is the only 3-4 Outside Linebacker in Steelers history to have started multiple games and never record a sack. The Steelers don't necessarily need an immediate starter here, but they could take someone in the middle rounds that can be a project player who could develop into a starter - or at least a reliable 3rd option.

Inside Linebacker
Returning Players: Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Kion Wilson
New Arrivals: Arthur Moats
The Departed: Stevenson Sylvester, Larry Foote

The Steelers inside linebacker position was such a disaster last year that Troy Polamalu played more snaps as a linebacker than he did as a safety. When Larry Foote went down with an injury, the Steelers were left with a rotation of 6th round pick Vince Williams and journeyman Kion Wilson. Sean Spence is still recovering from his knee injury he suffered in 2012 and is apparently medically ahead of schedule for this season, which could be a huge boost to the linebacking unit. Arthur Moats can play both inside or outside and it is still up in the air where the Steelers will use him. Inside linebacker is probably the weakest position in this draft class with the top prospects (CJ Mosley, Chris Borland, Shane Skov) having medical issues. Only Mosely is being talked about as having potential first round talent, but he may slide down the board because of injury issues. The Steelers could use another inside linebacker, but given the lack of depth in the draft, it's unlikely they will be able to find an immediate starter in this draft class.

Returning Players: Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Antwon Blake, Isaiah Green
New Arrivals: none
The Departed: Curtis Brown

Despite the Steelers having a top 10 pass defense last season, the cornerback position has been consistently mentioned as one the Steelers will address at the top of the draft. The Steelers have been tied to all of the top 3 corners (Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard and Kyle Fuller) and it is very possible that one of those three players is the Steelers selection at 15th overall. Ike Taylor took a pay cut to stay with the team this season, which is the last on his contract and likely will be the last of his career. Cortez Allen is also in the last year of his rookie deal and is likely a candidate for an extension this summer when the Steelers get some cap relief from the LaMarr Woodley cut. Given that Taylor is in his last year and Allen could choose to test free agency after this season, the Steelers definitely need one, if not two cornerbacks from this draft. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them double-dip at the position, taking one in the first round and then another in the 5th or 6th round. Along with wide receiver, cornerback is one of the Steelers top priorities in this draft.

Returning Players: Troy Polamalu, Will Allen, Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden, Ross Ventrone
New Arrivals: Mike Mitchell
The Departed: Ryan Clark

Before free agency started, safety was at the top of most Steelers fan's wish lists for the first round of the draft. Steelers fans were talking about the merits of HaHa Clinton-Dix (yes, that is an actual player's name) and Calvin Pryor. However, the Steelers were able to solidify the safety position in free agency with the extension of Troy Polamalu for 3 years and the signing of Mike Mitchell to a 5-year deal. Polamalu and Mitchell will be the 2014 starters with Shamarko Thomas working his way in as the eventual replacement to Polamalu at strong safety. There is minimal need to address Safety in the draft and if the Steelers do select a safety, it won't be until the later rounds.

Returning Players: Shaun Suisham, Greg Warren
New Arrivals: Brad Wing, Adam Podlesh
The Departed: Mat McBriar

Shaun Suisham had the best year of his career last year (and the best year in Steelers history), going 30 for 32 on field goals. However, his two misses both came against Oakland in a game the Steelers lost by 3. Suisham has been incredibly solid after his first year with the Steelers when his field goal percentage was only in the 70s. Greg Warren is one of the longest-tenured members of the team and will be our long snapper once again. The punter position is the only one that looks to be slightly up in the air as the Steelers brought in Brad Wing, a big-legged Austrailian who played at LSU and Adam Podlesh, who was the only punter in the league that was worse than the Steelers at punting last year. There is no need to draft a kicker or a punter this year and we should expect a training camp competition for the punting job.

2014 Steelers Draft Preview: Offense

2013 Record: 8-8
Total Offense: 337.5 yards per game (20th in NFL)
Passing Offense: 251 yards per game (12th in NFL)
Rushing Offense: 86.4 yards per game (27th in NFL)
Scoring Offense: 23.7 points per game (16th in NFL)
Sacks Allowed: 43 (17th in NFL)
Average Starting Field Position: own 29.8 yard line (28th in NFL)

Returning Players: Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
New Arrivals: none
The Departed: none

For only the second time in his career and first time since 2008, Ben Roethlisberger started all 16 games for the Steelers. He had the second best year of his career in terms of yards (4261) and touchdowns (28). After back-to-back games where he threw 2 interceptions (Oakland and New England) and the Steelers fell to 2-6, Ben went on a tear, throwing only 1 interception and 12 TDs over the next 5 games. Gradkowski is solid enough as a veteran backup and the Steelers for some reason spent a 4th round pick on Landry Jones last year, who looked terrible in the preseason but perhaps a season of clipboard-holding will have done him good. There is no need right now to draft another quarterback as the three main roster spots (Franchise Starting QB, veteran backup and young #3 are all filled).

Running Back
Returning Players: Le'Veon Bell, Will Johnson, Alvester Alexander
New Arrivals: LeGarrette Blount
The Departed: Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, LaRod Stephens-Howling

The Steelers ground game wasn't much to speak of through the first 3 weeks of the season but it got a jolt when Le'Veon Bell returned from injury. While Bell averaged just 66.2 yards per game, his actual production was closer to 100 yards of offense as he contributed over 30 receiving yards per game (3.5 receptions per game). Bell proved to be a dual threat in both rushing and receiving, capable of making defenders miss in space and possessing a quick jump-cut (which he almost always uses to cut to the right) that gets him into holes. Bell might be the best back that the Steelers have had in a long time at turning nothing into something (i.e. turning a 2-yard loss into a 2-yard gain). I love the move to sign LeGarrette Blount in free agency and he will add a physical dimension to the Steelers short yardage and goal line game that they lacked last year. Will Johnson is a solid enough fullback who gets a token catch each game and is a reasonably good blocker. Alexander spent last year on the practice squad, but it is likely that the Steelers will take a running back towards the later half of the draft, hopefully one with receiving capabilities capable of being a "change-of-pace" or "scat back" to add another dimension to the offense.

Wide Receiver
Returning Players: Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye, Justin Brown, Kashif Moore
New Arrivals: Lance Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey
The Departed: Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Plaxico Burress

On the offensive side of the ball, the Steelers took the biggest free agency hit at wide reciever, losing Manny Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. Markus Wheaton is hopefully ready for a bigger role in the offense and could develop into a #2 receiver. Lance Moore was a good signing and will be a solid slot receiver. It's a toss-up whether or not Darrius Heyward-Bey, Derek Moye or Justin Brown will make the team and they'll ultimately be competing for the 5th WR spot. I say that because the Steelers will without a doubt take a wide receiver in this draft. Not only are the Steelers going to draft a WR, they're going to do it on Thursday or Friday (1st-3rd rounds). Antonio Brown is a Pro Bowl player with the potential to become an All-Pro, but there is a gaping hole at the #2 spot that needs to be filled. I would not be surprised to see the Steelers double-dip at receiver, taking one in the early rounds (1st-3rd) and another later on in the 6th or 7th round.

Tight End
Returning Players: Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Michael Palmer, David Paulson
New Arrivals: none
The Departed: David Johnson

While there were no great changes at the tight end position from last year (David Johnson was lost to an ACL injury in the preseason), this should be a better group in 2014. Heath Miller is more than a year removed from ACL surgery and Matt Spaeth missed much of last year with an injury he suffered in training camp. If this group is healthy, they have a solid receiving threat in Miller, decent blockers in Spaeth and Palmer and a flex TE in Paulson that could stretch the field (though he provides absolutely nothing as a blocker). The Steelers may consider a tight end in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, just to add depth to this group, but I would be surprised if they used an early pick on a tight end. The draft's top tight ends (Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro) are glorified wide receivers that are not good blockers. Neither would be a good fit for what the Steelers look for out of their top tight ends, which is to be true two-way players.

Returning Players: Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams
New Arrivals: none
The Departed: Levi Brown

Mike Adams was inserted at Left Tackle to start the season, but after a disastrous first four weeks, he lost the job to swing man Kelvin Beachum. As the season went on, Beachum improved to the point where the spot will be his to lose entering training camp this season. While Beachum lacks ideal size for a tackle, his footwork and hand technique is exceptional and he is able to battle against pass rushers rather than just whiff on them like Adams did. Marcus Gilbert was (somehow) able to stay healthy for all of last season and there are certainly worse options at right tackle. It's hard to even call Levi Brown "Departed" from this group because he never played a snap for the team. This isn't exactly a confidence-inspiring group, which could lead the Steelers to select a tackle somewhere in the draft to add depth to the position. That said, there aren't many teams in the league that have 3 NFL-capable tackles on their roster, so the Steelers are in an okay position here.

Returning Players: David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Guy Whimper, Nik Embernate
New Arrivals: none
The Departed: none

This might be the strongest position on offense from a depth perspective. David DeCastro emerged last season as one of the best guards in the division and should garner Pro Bowl consideration this year. Ramon Foster has been a solid and consistent starter along the line and Guy Whimper proved to be a capable swing guard/tackle backup. I wouldn't trust Whimper to be a season-long starter, but he showed some nastiness last year and is capable of stretches of solid play that makes him an ideal backup. I would be surprised if the Steelers added an interior lineman in the draft as both backup centers are capable of playing guard as well.

Returning Players: Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace, David Snow
New Arrivals: none
The Departed: Fernando Velasco

Hey, remember Maurkice Pouncey? The All-Pro center that only played 5 snaps last year? All signs point to his return to the lineup this year, which should solidify the inside of the line. Fernando Velasco and Cody Wallace did an admirable job at center last year, but Pouncey is on an entirely different level. Wallace was retained to basically be the new Doug Legursky - the center/guard swing backup. Snow is also capable of playing center and guard and was added to the roster last year when Velasco went down with an injury. As with guard, I would be surprised if the Steelers drafted a center as their depth is pretty solid here.

The Case For Trading Every Pick in the First Round

With just a few days until the draft, the rumors are flying and the smokescreens are smoking. Over the last 5 years there have been an average of 6 trades in the first round of each draft. With all the rumors and information flying around, I decided to put together a case for each team to trade away their first round pick, either to move up or down on the draft board.

Clowney is going to go #1, whether it is to Houston or to someone else trading up (Atlanta). The biggest question is if Houston is willing to drop out of the top 5 in order to let Atlanta move up. What could happen is the Eli Manning scenario where Houston takes Clowney and then once they see who is still on the board at 6, they trade him to Atlanta (like San Diego did with Manning/Rivers).

Could this be the great draft coup of 2014? As the rumblings grew this past week that Cleveland was super-interested in Manziel, the Rams flew out Manziel and Evans for private workouts in St Louis. If anyone can be duped into trading up for someone who would've been available anyways, it's Cleveland (see: Trent Richardson). Depending on how bad someone wants a certain prospect (Robinson, Mack, Manziel), the Rams could get a nice return for this pick, which is their last pick from the RGIII trade.

There are lots of options here. The Jags need a QB. Gus Bradley may want a pass rusher. They don't seem sold on Justin Blackmon's future at WR. Ultimately, if someone (Atlanta) wants to move up for Mack, I could see Jacksonville trading down, as the QBs will still be there. The allure here is that Manziel is a guy that could put butts in the seats and Jacksonville has continually had problems with ticket sales. With the selection of Joeckel last year, Jacksonville doesn't really need a tackle so if Robinson is somehow still available, the Jags may be able to move with someone looking for an OT.

Can St Louis dupe them into trading up by throwing up the smoke screen that the Rams are interested in Manziel? Will Cleveland move up to get ahead of Jacksonville to get Manziel? Is Cleveland willing to wait until 26 (or the later 1st round) in the hopes that one of the big 3 QBs (or Carr) falls to them? I can't see Cleveland trading down here, but they certainly have the ammo (and stupidity) to move up.

Who knows what Oakland will do. On one hand, they have a ton of picks and they signed Matt Schaub, so they could stay put, land a safe OT to protect him and then grab a WR for him at the top of the 2nd round. On the other hand, Oakland has never been a safe haven for QBs, so QB is definitely in play. The Raiders could pull a big move to trade back with someone who wants a WR (like Watkins or Evans) and wants to get ahead of Tampa for one of the top 2 WRs.

I have a really hard time seeing the Falcons stay put at #6. Their 2 biggest needs are a pass rusher (Clowney/Mack) and an OT (Robinson/Matthews). Ultimately, I think they pull the trigger on a trade to move up and address one of those needs. Mack isn't going to make it out of the Top 5 so Atlanta will need to move up if they want a pass rusher. Matthews may fall to them here, but the Falcons have made a trade up in the first round in 4 of the last 7 years, so a trade up seems likely.

The Bucs don't have a lot of picks but have needs at WR and QB. With Vincent Jackson on the roster, they don't necessarily need a big WR like Mike Evans and could be enticed to trade back by someone who wants to move up for Evans or wants to get ahead of Minnesota or Buffalo. Don't count out the Bears or Giants trying to move up ahead of Minnesota to take Aaron Donald here.

The Vikings need a QB more than anything else, but will someone want to get ahead of Buffalo for Ebron or Matthews (if he falls this far?). In MockOne, Minnesota traded down to 19 with Miami and the Fins moved up to take Matthews ahead of Buffalo. This seems like a very realistic scenario as Miami needs all kinds of help on the O-line and a guy like Matthews would be an anchor. Best case scenario here? Minnesota trades down with Miami at 19 then one of the QBs falls and the Vikings trade back up to 15 with the Steelers so they can take a QB and the Steelers get a 3rd round pick back.

The Bills need help in a lot of places, particularly on the O-line, but I wouldn't put it past them to be willing to move down as well if someone wants to get ahead of Detroit for HaHa, Beckham, or a CB. I could see St Louis trading down from #2 but then trading back up from #13 to get back into the Top 10. Buffalo could probably be pretty easily enticed to move down a few spots so that St Louis could get ahead of Detroit for either HaHa, Beckham or Gilbert.

I actually don't think Detroit is very likely to move, but they're kind of a wild card. They need help in the secondary, but the Lions aren't always the smartest drafters and I wouldn't be shocked if they took Odell Beckham to pair with Megatron. In all likelihood, this is the first defensive back (whether corner or safety) off the board, unless someone trades up ahead of them. That said, if Beckham (and not a DB) is Detroit's target, they could move back a few spots if St Louis decides to move back up or if Dallas wants to make an aggressive move to get Anthony Barr before Tennessee makes a selection.

The Titans have some needs on offense but are also moving to a 3-4 under Whisenhunt/Horton so they really need some filler pieces in the front 7 on defense. Barr is a possibility but I could see them moving down a few spots with the idea they could still get Barr and add a few more picks later on as well. With the Giants picking at 12, someone (Chicago) may want to get ahead of New York to land Aaron Donald if he's still here.

Their biggest needs are on the lines. The Giants could sit tight and take the 3rd OT (Lewan, probably) if Donald is gone. The other possibility is they could move up to get Donald (or maybe Matthews) if they are afraid of one of the NFC North teams (Minnesota or Chicago) taking Donald in the Top 10.

The Rams are always a wild card. I wouldn't put it past them to move up from this pick into the Top 10 to grab someone. Could they draft Robinson and Watkins? Don't count that out. Or they could move up for help in the secondary, which they badly need. The worst case scenario here is that St Louis trades up with Buffalo and takes Gilbert and then Detroit takes Dennard.

The Bears need help on the D-line and at Corner. It seems unlikely that Aaron Donald will make it past the Giants at 12 and he is a player that could absolutely help the Bears right away. Minnesota and Detroit won't trade with Chicago being a division foes, but the Bears might be able to trade up to #7 (Tampa), #9 (Jacksonville) or #11 (Tennessee) to get ahead of the Giants for Donald. The other possibility is if they are enamored with a certain defensive back, they may need to get ahead of Detroit, who is the first team likely to take a DB.

In his press conference yesterday, Kevin Colbert made it sound like he'd be willing to move back a few picks if certain guys were still available. The ideal scenario would be that a QB is available and someone wants to move up to take him and we can get a 3rd round pick back. Also, if Barr is available, someone may want to get ahead of Dallas, who lost Ware and really needs a pass rusher.

You never know. Jerry Jones is known for making moves up the board and they really need a pass rusher. I could see them making a move up to try to get Barr. I think Clowney and Mack are out of reach for them. Dallas has made 6 first round trades in the last 7 years, so some kind of move is entirely in their ballpark, especially given their 11 picks in this draft.

The Ravens have a proclivity for trading down, so that would be entirely possible. The Ravens have made 5 trades in the last 6 years, 3 times trading down (twice trading out of the first round entirely). Baltimore needs help on the offensive line and in the secondary, so unless they find themselves in the middle of a run on corners that they simply can't ignore someone, they could trade down and still land an OT or FS.

The Jets have more picks than any other team in this draft, which means they have the ammunition to move up if they want to add a weapon for Geno/Vick (WR or TE possible) or add depth to their secondary with another corner.

The Dolphins badly need help along their offensive line. Could they be tempted into making a move up the board to get one of the top tackles if he falls out of the top 6? In MockOne, the Dolphins GMs traded up with Minnesota in a move that made a lot of sense for both teams. Miami got in front of Buffalo and was able to take Jake Matthews and Minnesota was still able to land Blake Bortles at #19. The Dolphins could also make a move up to get ahead of the Giants or Ravens to get an offensive tackle as those are the other likely landing spots. This could work out for the Steelers if Taylor Lewan is available and Miami wants to move up the board to take him at 15.

The Cardinals could be a dark horse team to take a quarterback in Round 1. Carson Palmer isn't going to last forever and while Arizona needs help at outside linebacker, they could move up a few positions into the mid-teens if one of the top quarterbacks (Bridgewater or Bortles) starts falling down the board. Bruce Arians loves quarterbacks with big arms and both Bridgewater and Bortles would fit the mold of an Arians QB.

The Packers have been known to be aggressive on draft day, but haven't made a first round trade since 2009. Green Bay has needs at safety and at inside linebacker, and they may want to get ahead of Baltimore to get the second safety off the board if they have their eyes on a particular prospect. The other side of the coin is that the Packers could get some phone calls from Cleveland looking to move up from 26 or from teams in the early 2nd round looking to move up for a quarterback.

The Eagles lost DeSean Jackson and could be interested in moving up the board for a wide receiver. They also could use help in the front seven as they continue to build their 3-4 defensive front. If Odell Beckham falls past 15, the Eagles may be willing to make a move up the board to grab him. As with Green Bay, The Eagles could be a trade up candidate, particularly if a team believes Kansas City is interested in taking a quarterback. Philadelphia has traded up in the first round in 3 of the last 5 drafts.

The Chiefs only have 6 picks in this draft and are without a second round pick, so they are a prime candidate for a team looking to move up to take a quarterback (especially getting ahead of Cleveland's 26th pick if the Browns pass on a QB early). The Chiefs need help in the secondary and at wide receiver, and if the run on corners is over at this point, the Chiefs could look to trade back and accumulate more picks while still being able to land a safety or wide receiver.

The Bengals are somewhat of a wild card in that they have 9 selections but 4 of those picks are in the last 2 rounds. The Bengals may need to trade up to get in on the run on corners, which could happen in the mid-to-late teens. Cincinnati also needs depth along both lines but once again could be a target for someone looking to move up to get ahead of Cleveland.

The Chargers haven't made a first round trade since 2010 when they made a big move up the board to take Ryan Matthews. With the standard 7 picks this year, San Diego could package some in order to move up to improve their defense or if they're not enamored with anyone on the board, slide down a few spots and still land a CB or defensive lineman.

The Browns have two first round picks thanks to trading away Trent Richardson to Indianapolis. The Browns could be involved in multiple first round maneuverings and if they pass on a Quarterback early, could make a move up to get a QB from this pick. The Browns have plenty of holes to fill, particularly on the offensive line and on defense and could be a factor in the run on corners if they make a move up for one.

The Saints have needs along the offensive line, at wide receiver and at linebacker but they may not need to stay here in order to address those needs. There is plenty of talent to be had in the second round and the Saints could certainly be a candidate for a team in the early second looking to trade up to get a quarterback before Houston makes their selection at the top of the second round (assuming Houston takes Clowney #1 overall).

The Panthers don't have a ton of picks in this draft and have glaring needs at OT and WR. While it seems unlikely that they would trade up as there is plenty of second-round talent available at WR, a team from the early 2nd could make a trade with them to take a QB in the late first round.

If there is any certainty in the first round of the draft, it's that Bill Belichick will make a trade. The Patriots have made at least one 1st round trade in each of the last 7 years and have made 10 total 1st round trades in that time. In eight of those ten trades, the Patriots traded down, moving out of the first round entirely 4 times. There might not be any rhyme or reason to it, but New England is always a mover on draft day.

The 49ers aren't picking until the 30th spot but they have 11 selections (including 2 second and 3 third round picks) that gives them plenty of ammunition to move up in the draft. There has been no secret that the 49ers are interested in a wide receiver and they might very well package some picks together to move up into the top 10 (don't count out a move to #5 with Oakland or #7 with Tampa to get Watkins or Evans). Both moves are entirely possible, but even if they don't pan out, I have a hard time seeing San Francisco sit on all of their picks. With such a young roster, the 49ers don't have room to add 11 rookies to the team, so they will likely try to ship some of their picks away in a package to move up.

The Broncos have only made trades in 3 of the last 7 first rounds, but they have been movers and shakers when they have been traders, making 7 total trades in those 3 years. The Broncos just have their 7 regular picks this year, but if they feel like they are "a player away" (which is entirely possible given they were the AFC Champions last year) they could make a move up the board. The other option would be trading down if someone at the top of the 2nd round is looking to get in front of Houston to take a quarterback.

Seattle has only traded twice in the last 6 years and both times they were trades down. The Seahawks do have some needs as they were hit fairly hard by free agency (particularly along the defensive line). Their position right in front of Houston (once again, provided the Texans take Clowney #1) puts them in an ideal bidding spot for teams that might be looking to grab Derek Carr before Houston gets a shot at him.

Just to mess with your heads, here's a totally unrealistic Mock Draft I threw together where all 32 picks get traded.

(from HOU)
J. Clowney (DE-South Carolina)
(from StL)
J. Manziel (QB-Texas A&M)
(from JAX)
K. Mack (DE-Buffalo)
(from CLE)
G. Robinson (OT-Auburn)
(from OAK)
S. Watkins (WR-Clemson)
(from ATL)
B. Bortles (QB-UCF)
(from TB)
M. Evans (WR-Texas A&M)
(from MIN)
J. Matthews (OT-Texas A&M)
(from BUF)
J. Gilbert (CB-Oklahoma St)
(from DET)
A. Barr (DE-UCLA)
(from TEN)
A. Donald (DT-Pitt)
(from NYG)
H. Clinton-Dix (S-Alabama)
(from STL)
E. Ebron (TE-North Carolina)
(from CHI)
D. Dennard (CB-Michigan St)
(from PIT)
T. Bridgewater (QB-Louisville)
(from DAL via DET)
T. Lewan (OT-Michigan)
(from BAL)
O. Beckham (WR-LSU)
(from NYJ)
CJ Mosley (ILB-Alabama)
(from MIA via MIN)
K. Fuller (CB-Virginia Tech)
(from ARI)
J. Verrett (CB-TCU)
(from GB)
M. Lee (WR-USC)

(from PHI)
J. Ward (S-Northern Illinois)
(from KC)
B. Roby (CB-Ohio St)
(from CIN)
D. Ford (DE/OLB-Auburn)
(from SD)
K. Ealy (DE-Missouri)
(from CLE)
B. Cooks (WR-Oregon St)
(from NO)
D. Carr (QB-Fresno St)
(from CAR)
R. Shazier (LB-Ohio St)
(from NE)
R. Hageman (DT-Minnesota)
(from SF)
A. Robinson (WR-Penn St)
(from DEN)
Z. Martin (OT-Notre Dame)
(from SEA)
X. Su'a Filo (OG-UCLA)