The Pittsburgh Steelers Top 5 Positional Needs (According to Dom)
5. Running Back
How dreadful was Pittsburgh’s ground attack last year? Well, as I referenced in an earlier post, Jonathan Dwyer’s 623 Yards were the lowest team-leading total for any Steeler Running Back during a regular season since 1991! Do not get me wrong, Dwyer as well as Isaac Redman (2012: 410 Rush Yards, 2 TD’s, and 244 Rec Yards) are solid “battering-ram” and “short-yardage” Backs when used in that capacity. But as “Every-Down” ball-carriers, they leave much to be desired from speed, athleticism, and big-play standpoints. It would have been nice if Rashard Mendenhall (2012: 52 Carries, 182 Rush Yards, and 1 Rec TD) had stepped up his game last year after his ACL injury. But “Mendy” illustrated last year that his career is likely finished, and the Steelers are unlikely to bring him back for a new contract. Behind Rashard is Baron Batch (2012: 25 Carries, 49 Yards, and 1 TD), and the 2011 7th Round pick provides nothing more than Special Teams help, and drops of cake-easy Touchdown passes.
With a new Zone-Blocking scheme set to be installed this offseason, the Steelers are in need of finding a Back who can carry an appropriate load and succeed in said system. I have already discussed my thoughts on some of the prospects who could be found later on for the Steelers. But if the team wants to draft a Giovani Bernard (North Carolina) or a Mike Gillislee (Florida) on Day 2, I certainly will not complain.
4. Wide Receiver
First of all, I really hope that the Steelers do not sign Steve Breaston. This team does not need any more Slot Receivers, and to dedicate money to a player who has been as unproductive as Breaston was last year (2012: 7 Catches for 74 Yards) would be foolish for a team with already pressing salary cap constraints. My thoughts on the former Chief and Cardinal aside, the Steelers do need to find a future starter at the Wide Receiver position over the next couple of months. Mike “Butterfingers” Wallace will be on his way out of town as a UFA as we all know, and the Steelers do have Antonio Brown (2012: 66 Catches, 787 Yards, and 5 TD’s) as the starter at one outside spot, and Emmanuel Sanders (2012: 44 Catches, 626 Yards, and 1 TD) as the #1 guy in the slot left to pick up the slack. Behind those two though, question marks plague the rest of the Wide Receiver corps.
Underrated veteran Jerricho Cotchery (2012: 17 Catches, 205 Yards) might be a cap casualty, David Gilreath has almost zero experience, and Plaxico Burress (2012: 3 Catches, 42 Yards, and 1 TD) could be unsigned as well. If those things happen, Pittsburgh will need to find a Wide Receiver to help out Ben Roethlisberger. But what type pass-catcher should they look for this offseason? Well if you read my thoughts above, what the Steelers’ Offense needs is a large-bodied (6’3”+ 200 lbs.+), physical, field-stretching Wide Receiver who can play outside the numbers, and be a Red Zone threat as well. As I mentioned three weeks ago, I am a fan of Keenan Allen of California, and I believe that his skill-set is what this Wide Receiver corps currently lacks. So if he is on the board at #17 overall, I really hope that Pittsburgh looks in his direction as he could compliment Brown and Sanders nicely.
3. Free Safety & Strong Safety
I know, I cheated a bit when I combined both of these positions. Yet each Safety spot is currently facing similar quandaries regarding the depth at each, or lack thereof. Free Safety Ryan Clark might have had his moments in 2012, and played at close to a Pro Bowl level (2012: 102 Tackles, 2 INT’s, 1 FF, and 2 FR’s). But I question whether or not the Steelers will want to re-sign a 34 year-old Free Safety with below average ball-skills, a history of concussions, and a number of Personal Foul penalties to a new contract when this year ends. As far as Troy Polamalu is concerned (2012: 34 Tackles, 1.0 Sack, and 1 INT), Pittsburgh might want to begin to look in a new direction at Strong Safety also. The 2010 Defensive M.V.P. has been hobbled by injuries throughout his storied career, and I am sure that Pittsburgh’s Front Office is concerned with how much longer the soon to be 32 year old can ultimately play no matter what Dick LeBeau says.
Pittsburgh might have to unload backups Will Allen and Ryan Mundy during the Free Agency period as well, as both players are UFA’s. If both end up walking, it would leave 2012 UDFA Robert Golden as the team’s most experienced backup at the Safety spots. Although I believe that Golden can develop into a capable backup Free Safety and contribute a great deal sub-package Cornerback during his career, the Steelers will still sorely need depth and an eventual “transition strategy” in place at both positions.
2. Inside Linebacker
Even if the soon to be 33 year-old Larry Foote takes a hefty pay cut, the Steelers’ situation at Inside Linebacker could be an utter mess come the 2014 season. Lawrence Timmons of course is the exception, as Timmons (2012: 106 Tackles, 6.0 Sacks, 2 FF’s, 1 FR, 3 INT’s, and 1 TD) was again hosed for a Pro Bowl berth last year (like he was in 2010) after another productive season in 2012. While Timmons has the “Mack/Weakside” position on lock-down for the next half decade, the situation at the “Buck/Strongside” position is much more murky. Larry Foote played well for a 32 year-old last year, considering he had not started full-time since the 2009 season. In fact, Foote was quite the productive player (2012: 113 Tackles, 4.0 Sacks, 2 FF’s, and 2 FR’s) considering the departure of veteran James Farrior in March of 2012. Unfortunately, Foote was a liability in pass-coverage, and could be deemed a UFA expense for a franchise in need of some “cap shedding” moves.
Monetary issues aside, I still believe that the team will try to sign Foote for a 1-year deal, because of the non-existent depth behind both Foote and Timmons at Inside Linebacker. Foote’s backup is Stevenson Sylvester, a 2013 RFA who has only recorded 1 start over his 4 year career, and spent most of his time playing inconsistently on Special Teams. As much of a question mark as Sylvester is, he at least can suit up as Foote’s backup on Sunday’s. Behind Timmons, the depth does not exist because 2012 3rd Round pick Sean Spence mangled his knee in last year’s preseason finale. Spence’s injury was so gruesome, that I would be downright shocked if he were able to suit up this season, if at all, during his professional career. With all of these things in mind, I earnestly hope that the Steelers are able to draft a talented Inside Linebacker to pair with Timmons as they head into the future.
1. Outside Linebacker
Even if the soon to be 35 year-old James Harrison (2012: 70 Tackles, 6.0 Sacks, and 2 FF’s) takes a hefty pay cut, I still believe the Steelers’ most pressing positional need exists at Outside Linebacker. If Harrison is released though due to his past injuries and the franchise’s salary cap constraints, Pittsburgh could be bereft of their best player the position before the regular season even begins.
LaMarr Woodley has been a ghost (2012: 38 Tackles, 4.0 Sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, and 1 FR) since he swindled the Front Office into giving him an extension worth $61.5 million two years ago. Injuries and weight issues have led to LaMarr’s play being “awful” according to one Steeler player, and anyone who has watched him over the last two years knows what the anonymous player is talking about. Now at 29 years of age, Woodley probably does not have many good years of football left in him if he continues to come to offseason workouts weighing close to 290 lbs.. I can’t say that I didn’t warn you readers two years ago that Woodley’s contract would be a disaster for the Steelers. Oh well.
Behind Woodley and Harrison, the Steelers do have a capable backup in Jason Worilds. Over his career, Worilds (2012: 26 Tackles, 5.0 Sacks) has played well in spot-duty, and should step in as a starter if #92 is given his walking papers. The former Virginia Tech Hokie however has had his fair share of injuries over his 4 year career, and he will be a UFA after the 2013 campaign ends. Behind Worilds on the depth chart are Chris Carter and 2012 UFA Adrian Robinson. Carter has recorded 0.0 Sacks over his 2 years in the N.F.L., while Robinson was strictly relegated to Special Teams duty last year. The unit as a whole combined to record only 15.0 Sacks over the course of the 2012 regular season, so the acquisition of some young and promising talent is an absolute must for Pittsburgh if they wish to make their Defense better as they rebuild.
Readers: Time to chime in now! Do you agree with my Top 5 list? Are you stoked to watch The Combine workouts? Which positional unit will you watch the most?
Players Contract Info. Provided By: Spotrac.com