Now that the 2014 season is in the books, at least for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a lot of attention is given to the NFL combine, free agency and the draft. Historically, the Steelers have sat quiet during the free agency bonanza, and instead chose to build the team via the draft, although last offseason seemed to be an exception. An obvious need is in the secondary, regardless of position. Without a doubt the team’s biggest weakness in 2014, a mixture of age and injury led to the defense giving up 50 pass plays of 20+ yards and 15 pass plays of 40+ or more yards, both near the basement of the league.
The possible retirement of both cornerback Ike Taylor and legendary safety Troy Polamalu, coupled with a patchwork set of corners in Antwon Blake, William Gay and unrestricted free agent Brice McCain, leaves the secondary perilously thin heading into the offseason. And what about Cortez Allen? Before the season, he was handed a five-year, $26 million contract, then was benched several games into the season.
With the Steelers not drafting a first round corner since 1997(Chad Scott), could this finally be the year they pull the trigger? Michigan State’s Trae Waynes, Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson, Florida State’s P.J. Williams and the talented but troubled University of Washington’s Marcus Peters are some of the top options at corner who should be available with the 22nd pick. Or, with the jury still out on safety Shamarko Thomas, do they try and grab Alabama’s Landon Collins as a potential replacement for Polamalu? Last offseason’s marquee free agent signing, safety Mike Mitchell, had a very underwhelming year. This past week the news came out that he played the entire 2014 season with a groin tear, so there is hope that his 2015 season will be far better than what he displayed in 2014.
How about the bread and butter of a 3-4 defense, the rush outside linebacker? With only Jarvis Jones signed through 2015, this position, much like anywhere in the secondary, could become a big headache in a hurry. Shane Ray, a tweener defensive end/outside linebacker from Missouri, as well as Dante Fowler, another tweener prospect from Florida are two potential impact 3-4 outside linebackers but is it realistic to think either would fall to the 22nd pick?
Or, instead of focusing on a glaring need, would the Steelers be more inclined to take the wild-card approach once again and go with the best player available? With the offensive tackle spots still somewhat murky, would the Steelers’ brass pull the trigger if a top prospect fell into their laps, much the same way as David DeCastro did in the 2012 draft? Tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert have had their ups and downs all season, but Saturday’s season ending loss to the Baltimore Ravens was the culmination, as Beachum was flagged for a holding penalty, negating a Dri Archer touchdown. Gilbert, meanwhile, gave up one sack and five hurries before leaving the game with injury. If a top-rated tackle were to fall, would it be silly to think the Steelers would pass him up? Cedric Ogbuehi of Texas A&M is a player who could be there. After a strong junior season, he was being touted as a potential #1 overall pick, but a poor showing the past year has pushed him down some draft boards. Brandon Scherff of Iowa is another interesting prospect. An aggressive, nasty mauler is the best way to describe his game, and he has the size to play either tackle spot, or guard. If a top tackle prospect were to fall, the Steelers could essentially move the undersized Beachum to his more natural guard position, then pencil their first rounder into the lineup. Mike Munchak can arguably be called the team’s biggest pickup last offseason, as he improved the group overall by leaps and bounds. With another offseason of tutelage from the offensive line guru, the offense could be even better in 2015, which is scary for opposing defensive coordinators.
With the NFL season coming into the home stretch, offseason preparations have already begun for the majority of teams. Now is the time to fill in the cracks, when prospects begin to rise or fall, whether due to a poor showing at the Senior Bowl, a slow 40 time at the combine, etc.
Although a seventh Lombardi Trophy wasn’t hoisted, the 2014 Steelers showed vast improvement over the previous two 8-8 seasons. With another strong draft this year, it should propel the team to even greater heights next season.