By Matthew Marczi
Ask any Pittsburgh Steelers fan now and he’ll tell you that the offseason began way too early for their team, which even according to team president Art Rooney II should have been in the playoffs.
If you asked that same fan at the Bye Week for their mock draft, however, they might have already had written up as the Steelers faced a seemingly unthinkable winless September to start the year.
There’s always somebody ready to start talking about the offseason, no matter how early on it is in the process. And in the middle of January, it’s still quite early to start talking about the draft—not that there’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s a pre-free agency, pre-salary cap purging look at the Steelers’ draft needs, position by position.
The Steelers have some work to do to address the safety position, both for the short-term and long-term future. Ryan Clark is an impending free agent who seems poised to put on a different uniform in 2013—perhaps a suit behind a desk at ESPN. Troy Polamalu is nearly 33 and is not the type of person to play until he can’t. Like Dick LeBeau, any year from now on can be his last.
Behind them are an aging veteran that is a free agent and a stockpile of unproven and rarely tested youth whose potential is unclear.
Troy Polamalu: After spending the last few years battling injury, Polamalu got through his first healthy season in a while, and though he only had two interceptions—one of which was returned for a touchdown—he forced five fumbles, and turnovers are valuable no matter what form they take. His blown coverages and missed tackles seem to be becoming more readily apparent, but he’s still an incomparable talent that offensive coordinators and quarterbacks have to account for. Hopefully he spends more time at safety than at linebacker next season.
Shamarko Thomas: Shamarko Thomas got off to a pretty hot start, emerging early as the nickel corner for the first couple weeks while Cortez Allen healed. Then he was the dime back up until he was injured in Buffalo. He never played another snap on defense, as he was replaced by Will Allen. He was woefully overmatched by Rob Gronkowski, and that was seemingly a lasting image for many. The Steelers must figure out how to best utilize his skills and minimize his height limitations.
Robert Golden: Now entering his third season, perhaps it’s time to see if Robert Golden can play. He played a very little bit early on as deep safety in the dime package, but other than that he was limited to special teams. Does he have starting potential?
Ross Ventrone: Ross Ventrone played reasonably well during the preseason, but his special teams game was wanting, and that helped get him cut in favor of Damon Cromartie-Smith, who’s now long gone.
Jordan Dangerfield: Undrafted in 2013, Jordan Dangerfield spent the offseason with the Buffalo Bills before being released prior to the start of the season. Unlike his namesake, he’s yet to earn any respect to be in a position to demand it.
Draft Strategy: As you can see by the players listed above, the Steelers need to address the safety position, both now and for the future. Clark doesn’t look to be coming back, Polamalu is year-to-year, and re-signing Allen would be nothing more than a stopgap. Others seem more confident than I am that Thomas will eventually be a starting safety right now, but even if he is, I don’t think it’s this year unless injuries force the issue.
This draft is supposedly quite deep at the safety position, from the top of the draft to the bottom. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Steelers draft two safeties this year, and perhaps three players in the secondary altogether. The coverage ability of Thomas and Golden offer them some flexibility in the secondary.
Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Quarterback
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Running Back
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Wide Receiver
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Tight End
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Interior OL
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Offensive Tackle
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Defensive End
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Nose Tackle
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Inside Linebacker
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Outside Linebacker
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Cornerback