The Pittsburgh Steelers could be looking to improve and add depth at multiple positions across the roster. It is still early in the process, but if you take a look at 2013 NFL mock Drafts across the internet it is clear that no one really knows what the Steelers will do with that first pick. There are plenty of positions they could choose to address early in the draft, but they only have a limited number of picks.
That means that the Steelers may have to do something uncharacteristic and fill a hole via free agency rather than through the draft. Before we look at potential free agents that they could take a look at it is important to first look at where the team stands at important positions as they enter the 2013 off-season. Different mock drafts have the Steelers taking the following positions in the first round of the draft:
Running Back – There isn’t a clear top choice at running back in the 2013 draft class so taking a back with the seventeenth pick doesn’t make much sense. However, with all of the Steelers current running backs about to hit free agency the Steelers will have to decide who to keep around and who to let walk. They will also be looking for a running back in the draft to add to their stable in hopes that they can find a feature back of the future.
Wide Receiver – The Steelers are rumored to want to keep Mike Wallace around. If they decide not too or if they can’t afford him they will need to find a replacement. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders both had their troubles in 2012. Jerrico Cotchery provides veteran depth, but there isn’t much else at the position as of now. Another solid second or third level receiver would help alleviate the loss of Wallace who was the teams top receiver again in 2012.
Tight End – Heath Miller is the starter, but he is recovering from a major knee injury. Depending on his scheduled recovery time the Steelers may need to address the tight end position. Another pass catching tight end would also help to cover up for a less talented wide receiver core given that Wallace is likely to be gone.
Offensive Line – The line may have all five future starters on the active roster in Marcus Gilbert, Kelvin Beachum, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Mike Adams, but there won’t be much depth behind them. That fact is especially true if Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky and Max Starks all leave as free agents.
Defensive End – The Steelers could look at cutting Brett Keisel to save some cap room. If they decide to let their former first round picks, Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward, take over on the line they will need to find some solid back-ups. Al Woods could be one of those guys, but a second back-up will have to be brought in.
Nose Tackle – Casey Hampton will be looking for one more decent contract before retirement and he is unlikely to get it in Pittsburgh. The Steelers need to get more youthful on offense and cut salary and letting Hampton walk accomplishes both task. The only question then is whether or not the Steelers are comfortable with Steve McLendon being the guy at nose tackle in 2013.
Outside Linebacker – James Harrison is expected by many to be a cap casualty this off-season due to his large salary, age and injury concerns. If the Steelers decide to let him walk they will have a big hole to fill. Jason Worilds played well in 2012 as a back-up to LaMarr Woodley, but if the team doesn’t trust him as an every down player they will have to find a replacement and that could definitely warrant a number one draft pick.
Inside Linebacker – Larry Foote is a free agent and the Steelers may want to get younger on the middle of their defense. Sean Spence and Stevenson Sylvester are still around and could see playing time, but a better option could be found in the draft or free agency depending how the team feels. They could also choose to bring Foote back for another season.
Safety – Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are aging and they could both be gone following the 2013 season. In that case the team would need to find replacements for both of them. The best case scenario would be to find those replacements now and let them start being groomed into their future positions.
SteelBlitz 2013 Mock Off-Season (Version 1)
Quarterback – The Steelers have their starting quarterback of the present and future in Roethlisberger. They do need to find new back-ups however.
Off-Season moves (quarterback): Re-sign Charlie Batch to a one-year deal. Draft a quarterback in the sixth or seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft to be the third string quarterback and to groom them as a long-term back-up to Roethlisberger.
Running Back – Rashard Mendenhall is all-but gone at this point. Mendenhall has the ability and talent to be the number one running back in Pittsburgh, but his off-field comments and issues and his ineffectiveness at times on the field has caused him to overstay his welcome. Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Baron Batch are all free agents and Chris Rainey was released so they will need to find their entire stable of running backs this off-season.
Off-Season moves (running back): Re-sign Dwyer, Redman and B. Batch. Find a feature back in the first three rounds of the draft.
Wide Receiver – Wallace, like Mendenhall, is considered to be on his way out of Pittsburgh. The Steelers have three solid receivers under contract for the 2013 season in Brown, Sanders, and Cotchery, but they will need more depth for the 2013 season.
Off-Season moves (wide receiver): Find a replacement for Wallace in free agency or the draft which may require a first or second round pick, but first try and come to terms with Wallace and see if a deal can be reached.
Tight End – Miller is recovering from a major knee injury and Leonard Pope was ineffective and barely played in 2012. The Steelers top tight end at the start of the 2013 season, if Miller isn’t ready, could be 2012 seventh round pick David Paulson.
Off-Season moves (tight end): Hope that Miller can be back soon and find another back-up tight end in free agency. In the draft tight end could be looked at in the last few rounds as they did when they drafted Paulson in 2012.
Offensive Line – The line should be about set in terms of starters, but the team may have to find new back-ups during the off-season.
Off-Season moves (offensive line): Re-sign Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster. Promote Ryan Lee or John Malecki and draft another lineman in the fifth-seventh rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Defensive End – The Steelers need to find a way to get their first round picks on the field in Heyward and Hood. Woods could be a solid back-up, but another back-up may be needed.
Off-Season moves (defensive end): Talk with Keisel. If he isn’t willing to play a lesser-role to allow Hood and Heyward to get more playing time cut him to save salary cap space and draft a defensive end in the fifth or sixth round to be a back-up.
Nose Tackle – Give McLendon a chance to start and hope that Alameda Ta’amu or Hebron Fangupo can be the back-up.
Off-Season moves (nose tackle): None.
Outside Linebacker – The Steelers have two very good outside linebackers in Harrison and Woodley and they will hope to get one more season out of that pair of players. Worilds is a solid back-up and will continue to play behind both of them.
Off-Season moves (outside linebacker): Convince Harrison to take a pay cut and find a mid-round draft pick to start grooming as a starter.
Inside Linebacker – Lawrence Timmons is a budding star, but the Steelers could use a young linebacker to pair him with. They drafted Spence in the third round of the 2012 draft to be that player, but his rookie season was lost to a knee injury. Sylvester is also a potential starter in the waiting if he can put it all together in 2013.
Off-Season moves (inside linebacker): Re-sign Foote to a one-year deal at the veteran minimum. Split time at linebacker between Spence, Foote and Sylvester and give the young guys a chance to show if they can be full time starters in 2014.
Corner – This may be the deepest position on the roster as long as Keenan Lewis doesn’t leave in free agency. Ike Taylor and Lewis are solid starters and Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Josh Victorian give the team a lot of quality youth at the position.
Off-Season moves (corner): Re-sing Keenan Lewis to a long-term contract and do little else.
Safety – The Steelers will need to find at least one future safety this off-season to replace Polamalu and Clark in the future. Polamalu could stick around through the rest of his contract which ends after the 2014 season. That means the Steelers need to find a free safety to groom in 2013 and then a strong safety to groom during the 2014 season.
Off-Season moves (safety): Re-sing Ryan Mundy to a one year deal as the back-up to Polamalu only. Draft a free safety in the second or third round to take over for Clark in 2014.
First Round – a corner could be necessary if Keenan Lewis leaves via free agency. The Steelers could also look at wide receiver to replace Wallace and running back to find a feature back. An outside linebacker would make sense if Harrison is let go. There are also many solid inside linebackers that are projected in the middle of the first round that would make a perfect pairing with Timmons.
Second Round – this spot would be the perfect pick to find a running back. Eddie Lacy of Alabama could be available here and if he is he could be the pick.
Third Round – this pick has to be a safety. There are a lot of good ones in the middle of the draft and this will be the last chance to get one of those players.
Fourth Round – if the Steelers don’t pick a running back in the second they could take a look at Marcus Lattimore here who is coming off of a knee injury. This would be the perfect spot to find a outside linebacker of the future, however.
Fifth Round – with the team in need of another back-up defensive end this would be a good chance to find a project player. They won’t have to step in anytime soon so they can find a player they can groom to be a starter later on.
Sixth Round – they could still look wide receiver, tight end, or offensive lineman here.
Seventh Round – this would be a good spot to look for a project quarterback.
The Steelers may not be able to fill all of their holes with their current roster and draft picks. That would mean looking into free agency which is something they rarely do, but may be a necessity this off-season if they aren’t able to fill all of their needs or if they see a player they like.
Rey Maualuga of the Bengals and Dannell Ellerbe of the Ravens could both be good compliments to Timmons on the middle of the Steelers defense. The last time the Steelers signed a free agent middle linebacker to start it was James Farrior and he became the leader of the defense and helped the team get to three Super Bowls and win two of them.
Wide receiver could also be a position they could target in free agency. They could look at their own free agent in Mike Wallace and try and reach a deal that both sides are happy with. Other free agent targets could be Ted Ginn Jr., Dwyane Bowe, Plaxico Burress, and Devery Henderson. Todd Haley’s offense does not require speedsters so the Steelers could allow Wallace to walk and find a possession receiver in free agency of the middle rounds of the draft.
Quarterback is a position that needs some new blood behind Roethlisberger. If Batch decides to retire the Steelers will need to find a new back-up. They could choose to go the same route that they went when they signed Batch in the first place. A player like Colt McCoy, Brady Quinn, or Tavaris Jackson would give the team a long-term back-up behind Roethlisberger. All of these players also have starting experience so if Roethlisberger misses time (he hasn’t played a full season in his career) they would be able to step in and play without as much of a drop off as would happen with a draft pick stepping in.
There are plenty of positions that could be looked at during the off-season for the Steelers. That means that free agency and the draft could both be used to put together the best possible team for 2013. Pittsburgh still has a team with enough talent to make it back to the Super Bowl and with the right moves this off-season they could do just that. The Steelers front office’s goal is to get back to the playoffs and make another Super Bowl run and they will do everything they can to do just that.