I recently wrote an article grading the Pittsburgh Steelers offense before the draft, and now I’m switching gears to the defense. With several positions of defense in need of future starters, there should be a lot of new defensive names on the Steelers roster by the time the draft is over. Here’s your grades for the defensive roster as of this point before the draft.
The defensive line has gone through an overhaul the past several seasons. We have seen the likes of Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Chris Hoke, and Brett Keisel (for now) leave the Steel City after more than a decade with the organization. We thought the future was here when first round picks were spent on Cameron Heyward and Ziggy Hood, Steve McLendon turned out to be an undrafted gem, and Al Woods as very solid depth for the position. Now, both Hood and Woods are gone, there is no clear cut starter at RDE and virtually depth besides Cam Thomas, and he may have to start in a new position. I was sure that the Steelers would at least bring back one of either Hood or Woods to start, and had the Steelers picking cornerback and wide receiver in the first two rounds. But now that defensive end is a need, and Stephen Tuitt has fallen down draft boards, hearing his name called on day two of the draft wouldn’t kill me like it once would have. The bright side is that Cameron Heyward looks to have a very bright future in the Steel City, and Steve McLendon still has room to grow. However, as of now, with not only depth issues but starter issues, the defensive line won’t receive a high grade.
Last year, I cringed when hearing Jarvis Jones’ name called in the first round by the Steelers. Now, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the sack master. To many, linebacker should be a name called during the first two days of the draft. Personally, if they take one at all, it should on day 3. Three of the four starters are set with Jarvis Jones, Lawrence Timmons, and Jason Worilds. The inside linebacker spot next to Timmons is up for the taking, but it looks like Vince Williams is the early favorite, who I am a big fan of! Behind them is both Chris Carter, Arthur Moats, and Terrance Garvin, a mix of youth and experience, could be better but will have to for now unless a rookie unseats them. At the inside, there is youth. Kion Wilson and Sean Spence both look to back up the starters (if Sean Spence is fully recovered). The linebacker position isn’t too far away from becoming elite once again, with the pieces already in place, now the development process starts. Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams had their good and bad moments as rookies, but to start as rookies in this defense in the first place speaks for itself. Both should vastly improve this offseason, especially Jones, which would help the defense in its transition back into putting fear in the hearts of opposing offenses. Lawrence Timmons’ play speaks for itself, he is the veteran and leader of the linebackers. Jason Worilds had quite the second half of a season, and if he continues that play, the Steelers could have a monster on their hands. Now for that long term contract. With youth all over the place and the linebacking corps looking up, the grade isn’t as bad as some might seem to think.
Let’s get this out of the way, the safety position is set. If I were doing a grade for just the safeties, the grade would be an A, but I am combining both the safeties and cornerbacks. Mike Mitchell was a great signing, hoping for him and Shamarko Thomas to be the next Clark and Polamalu. Troy Polamalu looked like himself last season, which at his age is a good sign. Shamarko Thomas played pretty decent for a rookie and should expect him to see more playing this season. Will Allen came in late and played very good as a backup, just watch the first Browns game. And then Robert Golden who is young and has experience in the system as your 5th safety, not bad. To the cornerbacks, this is Ike Taylors last season, and it should be. He played terrible last year, and should be happy he is playing this season. William Gay played probably the best of the cornerbacks and should man the slot until a rookie unseats him. Cortez Allen had big hopes but didn’t quite play the way many imagined. He once again has big hopes going into this season, which is really a make or break season. Im still out that he will play the way the Steelers imagine him and will be the future of the Steelers cornerback spot. Behind those 3 is nothing to brag about, so depth at the position is a serious need, as well as a starter for Ike Taylor come next season. With the safety spot in good shape, but the cornerback spot a little shaky, meeting in the middle is fair.
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