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 safeties.
Troy Polamalu: Once among the best players in the game, now quite a shadow of his former self. Polamalu is no longer the difference-maker he once was, even if he is still solid in run support. His coverage skills have diminished, and the smart money seems to be on him either retiring or being released.
Mike Mitchell: A free agent ‘splash’ that wasn’t much more than a ripple in his first season as a starter for the Steelers. How much a groin injury factored into that, who knows, but he underperformed in his first season. Still, he’s virtually a lock as an opening day starter, and should, hopefully, have a better season in 2015.
Will Allen: He’s a guy you have to like, because, even if he doesn’t have all the talent in the world, he knows what he’s doing, and he makes the plays that need to be made. Versatile and experienced, there’s a reason he keeps sticking around.
Shamarko Thomas: Is it Shark’s time to shine in 2015, his third season in the league? He’s already cut his teeth on special teams, but he could be thrown into the fire replacing Polamalu. Thomas trained under him last year, but hamstring injuries prevented him from getting an opportunity to take the field. This is a huge offseason for him and for the Steelers.
Robert Golden: Entering his fourth season, one wonders if Golden could ever be more than a good special teams player. He’s gotten some snaps on defense here and there as a deep safety, but he’ll always be a depth chart victim, most likely, even if he has the talent.
Ross Ventrone: He was a revelation on special teams, and should stick in that capacity, barring a numbers game casualty situation. I was encouraged by his defensive play during the preseason, but he may be too small to ever be a contributor of any significance in that capacity.
Jordan Dangerfield: A hard-hitting safety who has decent size and showed flashes during the offseason, even if he trailed late. He eventually found himself on the practice squad, and now has another shot as a futures signing.
Draft Strategy: The Steelers added three more safeties as futures, such as Isaiah Lewis, who could be interesting, but realistically, there isn’t a round in the draft in which safety is off the board for the Steelers. Even among the top four players listed above, none of them are completely a sure thing. If there’s an opportunity to draft a playmaker in the secondary, it may be too hard to pass on that. Otherwise, a safety later in the draft is certainly well in play, especially with Allen and Golden hitting free agency, the latter restricted.