|The NFL draft will be held from Thursday April 27 through Saturday April 29 in Philadelphia. Expect the Steelers to again focus on defense. Below is a list of team needs, most desperate first. Players the Steelers talked to at a post season all star bowl, the combine, their pro day and/or took an official visit to Pittsburgh are listed roughly in order of their perceived value. When there is overlap a prospect is listed only once, official visits and then the combine/pro day taking precedence in that order. These are not necessarily exhaustive lists, someone could have been missed. The Steelers also have several of their 30 official visits still available with local visits from Pitt, West Virginia, Indiana PA and St Francis PA not counting against the total. Some of the visits were likely just the Steelers doing their due diligence on players that have some question-mark, on and/or off the field. Just because someone was not specifically talked to or asked to visit is far from a reason to think they will not be strongly considered in the draft. The Steelers currently have eight total picks including all of their original seven picks. They were awarded a third round compensatory pick for the loss of free agent Kelvin Beachum before last season.
OLB:The return of 38 year old James Harrison on a two year extension provides a workable stopgap. He can't play forever. Arthur Moats is a journeyman edge setter against the run. Former first round bust Jarvis Jones was allowed to walk. That leaves only '15 first rounder Bud Dupree as a possible future difference maker. Dupree has shown flashes despite injuries in each of the last two seasons. Should he regress or get injured again the Steelers are in big trouble. Smart money is on this position being addressed in the first round. There should be good choices at pick 30 or even through the mid-second round if a deal to move up or down can be made. A pick has to be used on an edge rusher at least by the end of the second day.
S:Sean Davis was added last year in the second round to partner with Mike Mitchell. Davis can also play the slot in nickel. Depth is beyond suspect. Robert Golden and Jordan Dangerfield needed to play way too much last season on defense. Both are best suited to special teams roles being on the field on defense only in emergencies. Versatile Jabrill Peppers could be an intriguing possibility in the first round if he drops as some now think possible. Besides playing strong safety in base sets in sub-packages he can play the slot, blitz off the edge or even drop into coverage as an inside linebacker. A pick by the end of the second day is not a given due to other needs, but expect someone to be added to the depth chart by the end of the day on Saturday.
CB:Last year's first rounder Artie Burns remains the hope for the future. Ross Cockrell signed his restricted free agent tender. He got no offers despite requiring only a fourth rounder as compensation. Cockrell is a good scheme fit in Pittsburgh that seemingly has less value to other franchises. Coty Sensabaugh was signed to provide depth. He was released after only four games by the Rams last season despite having signed a moderately expensive free agent deal. Aged William Gay is on his last legs. A second round selection in '15 was basically wasted on Senquez Golson. He hasn't played a snap yet due to injuries. While the depth chart seems anemic, this is the best group of corners in Pittsburgh in five or more years. The Steelers' hierarchy simply doesn't seem to value corners the same way as other franchises. Last year a first rounder was used at corner for the first time since Chad Scott was selected in '97. Incredible depth in this draft does mean using a second day pick on the position has to be seriously considered.
ILB:Lawrence Timmons left for Miami in free agency signing a 2 year, $12M contract after a bounce back season. Best of luck to him going forward, he always gave everything in Pittsburgh. Run stuffer Vince Williams is expected to step in next to athletic Ryan Shazier in base sets. Tyler Matakevich, LJ Fort and Steven Johnson provide depth. Adding athleticism seems a prudent course. Should Shazier miss time this is not an awe inspiring group. Only top end talent seemed to interest the front office and coaching staff in the pre-draft process.
WR:Resigned Antonio Brown is the only sure thing. Markus Wheaton was allowed to leave to the Bears, he will quite frankly not be missed. The status of suspended Martavis Bryant remains unknown. The rest of the depth chart provides quantity over quality. Former second round bust Justin Hunter signed as a free agent can't be counted on to start opposite Brown. Darius Heyward Bey is a veteran stopgap, his real value is as a gunner of special teams. Eli Rodgers proved adequate in his first season manning the slot. He lacks big play ability. Former practice squad player Cobi Hamilton is basically replacement level. Last year's late third day pick Demarcus Ayers lacks the physical skills to be a difference maker. That leaves Sammie Coates. Despite his attempts to play through a broken thumb and fingers, the injuries derailed his season. He remains a question-mark. GM Kevin Colbert has done a solid job of finding receiver talent in the third round or later before things fell apart last season.
RB:LeVeon Bell has developed into if not the best every down back in the league then the second best behind David Johnson. Multiple suspensions due to marijuana use and season ending injuries in '14 and '15 make his backup all the more important. DeAngelo Williams is not expected to be resigned despite still being available. Free agent signing Knile Davis lacks instincts and is best off competing with Fitzgerald Toussaint for the job as third back. Davis does add value as a kick returner. This is another position with excellent depth available in the draft. The compensatory third or fourth round pick seem to be where a back will be most strongly considered.
TE:Ladarius Green flashed glimpses of his big play ability last season. Unfortunately he was only on the field for six games due to an ankle injury and more alarmingly repeated concussions. He reportedly as of late March had still not been medically cleared from the concussion protocol. Green is on record as planning to attend offseason workouts. The outlaw Jesse James flashed the ability to create major mismatches in the passing game thanks to his size and surprising athleticism. He remains a work in progress as a blocker despite his size. Xavier Grimble also proved useful. Tweener David Johnson was resigned as a blocker. In-line every down prospect Jake Butt coming back from ACL surgery after an injury in the Orange Bowl is an interesting late day two target if he falls that far.
QB:Ben Roethlisberger is 35 years old and briefly talked retirement this off season. Landry Jones was resigned, at least the front office and coaching staff seem to realize he is a backup at best. A quarterback to groom for the future is quickly becoming more of a priority. Quite a bit of interest has been shown toward borderline day one and day two prospects.
DE:Starters Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are both Pro Bowl caliber. Tyson Alualu was signed as short term depth. Laterrius Walton is nothing special, but proven adequate in base sets when needed. Only four defensive ends are traditionally kept on the active roster. The Steelers have shown a bit more interest in sub-package edge rushers that would not fit into the traditional outside linebacker role because of an inability to drop into coverage. They perhaps paid more attention to Tanoh Kpassagnon than any other player at any position in the pre-draft process for whatever that is worth.
OT:On the right side Marcus Gilbert is a fixture. Alejandro Villanueva has developed into an asset on the left side, kudos to exceptional line coach Mike Munchak. Chris Hubbard right now is the top backup, not particularly good. Ryan Harris retired after ending up on injured reserve early last season due to a leg injury. Last year's fourth rounder Jerald Hawkins is a wildcard after spending the season on injured reserve after shoulder surgery.
G/C:Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster all return. Cody Wallace ended up on injured reserve last season due to knee problems. He was allowed to walk. BJ Finney held up OK when on the field. Since Hawkins and Hubbard should both be able to slide inside the obligatory third day offensive line pick seems more likely to be used on a tackle.
NT/DT:Javon Hargrave won the starting job as a rookie and provided defensive coordinator Keith Butler with an active, athletic interior presence. Backup Daniel McCullers is a big body that at least takes up space when on the field. Finding a more dynamic backup that could share time with Hargrave and provide even more pressure in the middle in sub-packages isn't the worst idea. It's also far from a priority.