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.
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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