There is still labor strife uncertainty and a possible lockout on the horizon, but we are going to go ahead as if there will indeed be a draft and start talking about the Steelers 2011 draft needs. If you want to take a look at the roster and what players contracts are up and who the Steelers free agents are, just click the link.
Guard – Both Trai Essex and Doug Legursky are free agents and I could see Legursky being brought back as a swing inside guy, but that is not a lock. Chris Kemoeatu was very inconsistent this year, but is under contract for a while and without a doubt will be the left guard going into camp. Ramon Foster ended the season as the starting right guard, but the Steelers could use an upgrade at the position and some depth. Instantly the name Mike Pouncey is being tossed around Steeler Nation, but Pouncey will be in high demand surely somewhere in the first round as it looks right now. Mike would also be a solution to backing up brother Maurkice at center, but that scenario is a long way off. Regardless I expect the Steelers to draft a couple of guards come April.
Cornerback – Keenan Lewis is not the future from what I have seen. Ike Taylor will likely be re-signed to handle the right side again and he had a good 2010 season. The contract of William Gay is up and he could get some attention in free agency. Crezdon Butler is being brought along slowly and should be able to contribute in 2011, perhaps in a nickel role. Bryant McFadden was extended after the Steelers traded for him, but the Steelers need an upgrade at the left corner eventually. Anthony Madison is merely a dime back and special teams player. He likely will not be brought back. The Steelers will certainly draft at least one corner early it would seem, maybe two. They must be physical types that can tackle as well, a must in the LeBeau defense.
Tackle – The CBA will give a better picture of what will happen with Willie Colon, who will attempt to come back from his Achilles injury. Flozell Adams is also under contract, but will count 5 million against the cap, should they choose to keep him. Max Starks looks to return from his neck injury, but the miles are taking their toll on him. 2010 draft pick Chris Scott is still an unknown quantity. One would think he would get a look at right tackle in his second year. Tony Hills certainly will not be back and although Jonathan Scott ended the season on a high note, he too is a free agent and not worth bringing back. A quality left tackle, if one drops, might be hard to pass up in round one. Regardless, you can bet there will be another young tackle in camp via the draft to go along with a guard.
Safety – Now is the time to start grooming a few safeties. Troy Polamalu heads into his final contract year in 2011 and one would think the Steelers would work to extend him. Regardless, an upgrade over Ryan Mundy would be advisable based on the injury history of Polamalu. Will Allen is the only other reserve safety on the team besides Mundy and he is best known for his special teams play. Ryan Clark is another year older, but under contract until 2013, the Steelers sorely need depth at the position.
Defensive End – Nick Eason was the backup to Brett Keisel this year and will likely not be re-signed. Aaron Smith missed most of the season with a torn triceps and will look to rebound in 2011. Ziggy Hood came on strong in his second season so the Steelers likely will need to draft a right side defensive end to start grooming for the future. Chris Hoke played some end to give a breather or two, but he too is a free agent plus better suited as a nose tackle. Behind Keisel, Smith and Hood, there is no depth.
Linebacker – Hard to see Keyaron Fox being brought back next year and both Larry Foote and James Farrior will be another year older. Lawrence Timmons will also enter the final year of his contract in 2011 and Stevenson Sylvester has only seen mop up duty inside and thus far only really contributed on special teams. LaMarr Woodley likely will be tagged in 2011 and Jason Worilds is still being groomed in the defense. The Steelers can\’t resist good linebacker talent that falls, so I expect another inside or outside guy to be drafted.
Tight End – Matt Spaeth is a free agent and the Steelers might choose to look to the draft for someone to assume his role. Good blocking tight ends that can catch, run and block are hard to find, but they need a guy that handle the snaps that Spaeth gave a game. David Johnson is more of a fullback type, so look for another Big Ten type tight end to be drafted.
Nose Tackle – Although Casey Hampton is locked up for a few more seasons, Chris Hoke is a free agent and the Steelers will likely turn to the draft for a future young nose tackle to groom. Steve McLendon is not the long term solution and likely might not even make it through the final cuts out of camp.
Punter – Daniel Sepulveda is a free agent and has had a history now of knee injuries. It would not be surprising for the Steelers to turn to the draft to get another young punter that is cheap.