No matter how good your team may be doing, there will always be a vocal cross-section of the fan base that, at any given point during the season, is already looking at who their favorite team should be drafting the following spring.
The Pittsburgh Steelers fan base is certainly no exception, and, though they finally went 11-5 and won their division, even the most diehard fan could not deny that the organization has some holes to fill.
While the offense improved, and is on an upward trajectory, there are still tweaks to be made, and successors to be found. The defense has struggled, and is switching coordinators, which may call for a slightly different type of player.
So we’ll take a look at the Steelers roster position by position in the early offseason to determine how each group stacks up in terms of draft need. The next position to go under the microscope will be the outside linebackers.
Jason Worilds: The Steelers’ biggest free agent name. Whether or not they retain him may be the single biggest decision that shapes how the rest of their offseason goes. If they don’t re-sign him, then outside linebacker becomes a major need. If they do, they have to determine how much money they have left over for other business. And while he is a good player, he’s no Pro Bowler. That just shows how hard up they are for pass rushers.
Jarvis Jones: Who is this guy? After two seasons, we still don’t know. Of course, that has largely to do with an early season injury. He had two sacks and a forced fumble in his first three games, and the Steelers are hoping that is more representative of who he will be in the future. Right now, he’s the only OLB of note on the roster who isn’t scheduled to become a free agent.
James Harrison: Would the Steelers possibly fall back on one more year of Harrison if they are unable to sign Worilds, and draft his eventual successor in the draft? Will Harrison still want to play another season, with a shift at defensive coordinator, minor as it may be?
Arthur Moats: An under the radar free agent signing who certainly proved to be valuable. He started about half the season in a rotation with Harrison and notched four sacks and two forced fumbles. He would be a great depth signing, but not someone you want to chisel in as an opening day starter.
Howard Jones: A practice squad survivor, he has some speed off the edge but he’ll have to show he can be a complete player in year two if he has any hopes of making the 53-man roster. The Steelers have a history of spitting out UDFA OLBs.
Shawn Lemon: A productive pass rusher in the CFL a year ago, perhaps his more intriguing feature was his penchant for the strip sack, as he forced a league-record eight fumbles a year ago. Good speed off the edge. I don’t think they would have brought him in if they didn’t think he could at least compete for a roster spot.
Draft Strategy: Looking at the roster right now, prior to free agency, it looks okay, but that will change dramatically in under a month from now with three of the top four players above seeing their contracts expire. If the Steelers somehow fail to re-sign or replace Worilds in free agency, you have to think trading up in the first round for an edge rusher comes into play, but I would be surprised if they leave that big of a hole in their roster until the draft. Certainly they’ll come away with at least one, if not two edge rushers in the draft, and the position is very much in play for the first pick.