Wednesday, May 7, 2014

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.

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