Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers Must Address Passing Game in 2014 NFL Draft


Everybody and their mother seems to believe that the Pittsburgh Steelers need to employ a defense-heavy strategy in the 2014 NFL Draft.

I cannot say that I blame those people for their concerns. Nose tackle could be a need since Steve McLendon had injury issues and underwhelmed during his first season as a starter. Defensive end depth could be limited since Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood could both walk as unrestricted free agents (UFAs).

Outside linebacker could be a disaster if Jason Worilds walks, and the addition of some more depth at inside linebacker would not hurt either. Plus, the Steelers lack any sort of experienced depth behind Ike Taylor, William Gay and Cortez Allen at the cornerback position.

Yet as pressing as some of the team’s defensive issues are, the Steelers brass would be wise to address some glaring needs at wide receiver and tight end early in the 2014 NFL Draft.


Wide Receiver: Bolstering the Depth Chart

If Emmanuel Sanders balks at any contract offer from Pittsburgh during the free agency period, then he should be as good as gone. In the event Sanders leaves, Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye, Kashif Moore and Justin Brown will be the only wide receivers on Pittsburgh’s roster who will be under contract for the 2014 campaign. Even if the team successfully re-signs Jerricho Cotchery, Brown and Cotchery will be the only wide receivers on Pittsburgh’s roster who will have any extended experience at the professional level.

The first and second rounds should feature plenty of wide receivers for Pittsburgh to choose from, and the diverse skill-sets will definitely give the Steelers’ brass options when they go on the clock.

If the Steelers are looking for a larger-framed wide receiver to augment their passing game, then there could be a few names to keep an eye on in the first two round of the draft. Mike Evans of Texas A&M, Davante Adams of Fresno State, Allen Robinson of Penn State and Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State would all be solid choices for the Steelers to target.

Now I know that some of you might be opposed to Pittsburgh selecting another “smurfish” receiver. And while I agree that adding a larger-framed guy cannot hurt, keep in mind that Derek Moye and Justin Brown have turned the heads of many on the coaching staff during their first years with the team. Thus, the big-bodied solutions the Steelers are looking for at the wide receiver position could very well be on their roster already.

If that is the case, then they could try to replace Sanders with speedsters like Marqise Lee of Southern California or Odell Beckham, Jr. or Louisiana State. If they are looking for more of a Jerricho Cotchery-type pass-catcher, Beckham, Jr.’s teammate and Jarvis Landry might also fit the bill as a second or third round selection as well.


Tight End: Adding Explosiveness

Heath Miller has made multiple Pro Bowls and is still one of the better tight ends in the NFL. He has been a rock for this franchise since he entered the league in 2005, and is one of the offense’s most reliable weapons. Miller’s awesomeness aside, the Steelers’ offense could stand to use another passing-game weapon to pair with him moving forward.

Just imagine how effective that players like Miller and Antonio Brown would be if there was a large-framed and athletic target on the field with them who could draw matchups away in the passing game. Although the potential tight end prospect in question does not have to be a fantastic in-line blocker, the fact that they could matchup nightmares for safeties, linebackers and smaller cornerbacks in the slot is something which Pittsburgh’s offense and Ben Roethlisberger sorely need.

Even though the Steelers are drafting at number 15 overall, I would love to see them spend that selection on either Jace Amaro of Texas Tech or Eric Ebron of North Carolina. Although both players are not the type of classical ‘in-line’ blockers as tight ends, their fantastic combination of size, speed and agility. They are capable of making Pittsburgh’s offense even more explosive, and their size should make them fantastic red zone targets to boot.

Spreading the field and letting Roethlisberger distribute the ball to his play-makers is what helped the Steelers achieve a 6-2 record down the stretch. Employing jumbo formations and an over-use of blocking tight ends and fullbacks who can’t threaten defenses in the fashion which other more athletic weapons can is what this offense needs to stop, not continue.


Final Thoughts

I know that most of you will get sick of me reiterating this throughout the offseason, but Pittsburgh must be on the lookout for explosive offensive weapons in the early stages of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Steelers’ offense could improve by leaps and bounds with the addition of another wide receiver and an athletic tight end, and ignoring those glaring needs in May could be extremely costly for this rebuilding franchise.

Providing a signal-caller as talented as Ben Roethlisberger with more play-makers is not a negative, and the tight ends, wide receivers and running backs already on Pittsburgh’s roster could be even more effective with the addition of another weapon.

Although the defense will need a bit of a facelift this offseason, it would be nice to see the Steelers’ brass try to make their offense an even more formidable force. Standing pat with their current pool of personnel is not the answer, so I hope that the front office is aggressive enough to acquire some players to help at the wide receiver and tight end positions.





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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft Eric Ebron Jace Amaro Marqise Lee Mike Evans

  • [email protected]

    Dom this is an interesting thought – but only if we plan on trying to win games by 45-35 scores, or something like that…. IMO the most critical pick we could make this draft (albeit not necessarily at #1) is getting a TRUE NT, not a larger DE trying to be a NT (a la McClendon). Nix sounds like the man, but could be others later. I would go further in saying that shifting McClendon to DE, where he could better use his pass rushing skills, and drafting a stud NT really solves two problems not just one – NT fixed for the foreseeable future and added depth at DE. McClendon caught everyone’s attention with his ability as a pass rusher, so why not use him to replace the underwhelming Ziggy Hood? I would pick as follows: #1 stud CB (Dennard, or the kid from OK State), #2 NT/DT, #3 Safety, #4 WR or TE, #5 either WR or TE (the position not picked at #4), etc. With the exception of the Broncos (who I think may fizzle out) all the best teams in the league feature that awesome D (Seattle, SF, Carolina), as we once did not too long ago. Does this sound right to you? BTW, read your article on NOT moving Taylor to Safety and could not agree more – ergo my use of a high pick for Safety (one more year for Troy for the rookie safety to learn and start Shamarko next year with Troy – Clark long, long gone).

    • Dom DiTolla

      As I’ve stated before, I’m not opposed to this draft being defense heavy. They need help at multiple positions on that side of the ball. Yet if those high round picks are going to rot on the bench if LeBeau is still in town anyway, then the offense might need to win games by 40-35 scores regardless of who is selected since they are destined for special teams duty for half of their rookie contracts.

      I cannot justify drafting a NT, CB, OLB, etc. at #15 overall who would see 0-25% of the snaps over a tight end or wide receiver who could make the offense an even more explosive force. If those high round defensive rookies don’t play, it’ll be the same story, different chapter with the defense next fall. Plus, how much playing time do you believe Thomas will receive if Will Allen returns? Or Garvin and V. Williams once Foote comes back.

      If they’re going to play the rookies and work them into the lineup on defense, then I am totally sold on that idea. Look at how much guys improved down the stretch last year. Yet the only reason guys like J. Jones, V. Williams, Garvin and Thomas received chances to play was because of injuries or a total lack of depth at their respective positions. Next year will be a rebuilding one anyway, so I would love to see the rookies be worked in on that side of the ball.

      With that in mind, I would love to see McLendon moved to the 5-technique and I am anxious to see how Arnfelt and N. Williams improve from year one to year two. True NTs can be found late as well as early, so they could put that off to have Mitchell develop another late round success story. Also, how many true NTs are there left in the pass-happy NFL anymore?

      Don’t sleep on Robert Golden playing safety either. Guy was a safety and cornerback at Arizona and has chipped in during subpackages the last two seasons.

      • [email protected]

        Ahhhh, I see. Agreed that if the D players selected high in our draft are not allowed to play then by default we may as well go offense with the first pick. Guess I’m thinking/hoping that either: 1) LeBeau, Tomlin may have learned their lesson (not learned with Keenan Lewis) with the emergence of Heyward and Worilds, or 2) As many seem to want, LeBeau retires (although I personally would hate to see that, a bit sentimental there on my part). Perhaps this was the year that the Steelers coaches/management finally learned that we are NOT dominant as we once were and therefore must take a new approach to playing rookies more.
        I wouldn’t take a NT with the first pick, but certainly would consider one of the 2 or 3 top CBs there. I have liked the little that I have seen of Golden (there you go again – too few snaps for a talented guy!) and believe that Will Allen has been just great as a role player (and starter when necessary). Just don’t think either is a true stud starter but they are solid. I’m thinking Thomas has much more upside than either.
        Not sure about the rebuilding year next year though – I may be overly optimistic but I think the last 12 games (vs. the first 4) were a truer picture of these Steelers and our division, including the Bengals, really isn’t terribly intimidating – the other 3 teams could certainly be had. If I’m not mistaken I think we were 4-2 in our division THIS year so one would think that with an ‘improved’ team next year we could really take off.

        • Dom DiTolla

          Until the philosophy changes when it comes to younger players receiving reps, I’ll subscribe to the notion that the status quo of sitting is still in place. Hell, if they went defense with 3/4ths or more of their draft class and intended to play them if they deserved it, I would be extremely stoked.

          I totally understand why people want to go defense heavy, but if the guys aren’t going to play or contribute, then there’s really not much of a point to pass up talented guys who could make the offense an even more explosive force.

          Remember, this team could lose two of their top three wide receivers to free agency during the upcoming offseason. Moreover, Wheaton, Moye and J. Brown have barely seen any professional playing time.

          As far as the NT position is concerned, guys like Hampton don’t come around every year, and there really isn’t a guy worth taking in the first two rounds who fits that zero-technique mold. I would advise against taking a guy who would play only in the base defense anyway, and teams like the Patriots have illustrated that taking the NT off the field by spreading it and forcing in the sub-packages is a perfect way to attack the defense. I’m not saying that finding a great NT is not important, I am just saying that certain. teams can and have rendered them useless.

          Moreover, this team has not drafted a cornerback in Round 1 since 1997. If Justin Gilbert isn’t there at 15, I have a hard time believing that one would be a BPA & position of need at that juncture.

          • levy smith

            We need a shut down corner! but they will not resign him. steelers won’t pay for a top corner. If we draft a corner in the 1st rd he’s gone in 3 or 4 yrs. I like a nt a good run stopper in the middle. If we are going to keep and pay Ben let’s draft evans he’s to good to pass up.

          • Dom DiTolla

            Spending a 1st round pick on a NT who might not see the field in year one or even two and will only play 15-30 snaps a game on a regular day, and basically be non-existent against teams who can spread them out and force them into subpackages makes little sense.

            Plus, no NT with that type of talent exists in the top half of this draft class.

      • [email protected]

        Oh, and almost forgot – even though the NFL is no doubt pass happy as you say, it would seem the trend is currently toward more, not less, 3-4 Ds so if you believe that the NT is the key to that defense then more of the big heavies will be coached up to play the position even if they have not played it in college. IMO it takes a lot more than just a big fat guy in the middle (I’m sure you agree), but rather that rare big fat guy who is truly athletic as well. I would try to get one 3rd round latest if you want that combo of strength, selflessness and athleticism. Otherwise this D really doesn’t reach it’s true potential (as it did when Hampton was in his prime).

  • Bill Hrovat

    Seems like we should be looking for a qb as well. Ben does not seem like his old self. Very jittery and off target way too often. Maybe two 1st rounders for ben?

    • Dom DiTolla

      Getting rid of the team’s best player is not the answer. Plus, it took two 1st round picks to acquire the rights to draft RGIII, a guy who hadn’t played a down in the NFL. It would take at least four-plus to pry Big Ben away.