It’s no question that the Pittsburgh Steelers have their work cut out for them this offseason. The team finished 8-8 for the second straight year in 2013 and have plenty of holes to fill.
The Steelers’ two most obvious positions of weakness are wide receiver and defensive tackle.
The Steelers lost the turnover battle in 2013, finishing with a minus-4 turnover differential. There’s no question that another pass rushing defensive lineman could help put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and bolster the defense.
Offensively, the Steelers finished 2013 ranked 16th in points with an average of 23.7 per game. However, they may soon have a big hole to fill if free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders departs.
That’s still up in the air, but I honestly see the Steelers letting him go. The guy had two costly drops in the Thanksgiving night match-up with the Ravens. The Steelers lost that game by just two points and it’s one they had a good chance to win.
Now that we’ve established the Steelers’ two main positions of weakness, let’s delve further into them.
Let’s look at the defensive line. As ESPN NFL analyst and former general manager Bill Polian has said before about pass rushers, “you need two.” The Steelers had enough problems last year trying to stop the run. Furthermore, they finished tied for 25th in the NFL with just 34 sacks.
Many observers have the Steelers with a defensive back at the top of their list. However, I am a believer in safety Shamarko Thomas and would like to see him given a chance.
If the Steelers decide to take a defensive tackle in the first round they could go with either Louis Nix III from Notre Dame, Aaron Donald from Pitt, or Timmy Jernigan from Florida State.
I’m very high on Nix. He showed up at the combine 14 pounds lighter and this was after missing 2013 with Notre Dame due to a torn meniscus. Donald and Jernigan aren’t bad second options, either. If the Steelers address a different priority in the first round, they can still target Will Sutton from Arizona State, who is projected to go in the second round. They also could wait out a few rounds because of the depth in this year’s draft.
My next priority for the Steelers is wide receiver. There is a lot of uncertainty about the future of Emmanuel Sanders. Personally, I think he’ll leave as a free agent.
If he does, that’s not a huge problem because this year’s crop of college receivers is deep. Two guys projected to go in the first round that the Steelers could land are Mike Evans from Texas A&M and Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State.
Either one of them is a great choice. Both men are 6’5” tall and had incredible college quarterbacks throwing them the ball. Evans had Johnny Manziel and Benjamin had E.J. Manuel and then Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner.
However, if the Steelers draft a defensive tackle in the first round, they could always wait on guys like Allen Robinson from Penn State and Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt. Both are projected as second round picks. Believe me, I’ve seen my share of Penn State football and Robinson is one hell of a receiver.
The Steelers can improve on their recent mediocrity if they upgrade those two positions and add another high-impact defensive player.
In 2013, the Steelers had a chance to win in quite a few of their losses. Miami is one that stands out to me the most. The Steelers allowed 34 points to a team from Florida… in the snow.
They aren’t very far away from making a turn and possibly contending for a seventh Lombardi trophy, but they have their work cut out for them.