The calendar is quickly flipping through the month of April, and each day brings us closer and closer to the 2015 NFL Draft. By now, teams should have by and large accomplished everything that they have set out to do in terms of free agent roster building, which means that their sole focus is now preparing for the draft.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have finally been able to clear the Troy Polamalu hurdle and settle into their pre-draft roster. We have broken down the Steelers’ moves at each position in free agency in terms of re-signings, free agent additions and subtractions, cuts, and retirements, so now we begin the final process: determining draft needs.
We will continue our focus to the defensive side of the ball as we seek to determine the areas in greatest need of being address in next week’s draft for the Steelers. The second defensive position up for further examination is the nose tackle, where Pittsburgh retains all three players who lined up there last season.
Naturally, discussion of the nose tackle position begins with Steve McLendon, who has been the Steelers’ full-time starting nose tackle for the past two seasons since Casey Hampton departed.
McLendon has been around, of course. Originally entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2009, he began his career primarily working as a defensive end before gradually getting more work inside, ultimately starting one game when both Hampton and Chris Hoke went down in 2011.
In 2012, McLendon got limited snaps, but impressed during his brief spurts on the field, recording two sacks and forcing a fumble. He was signed to a three-year contract following that season and entered the starting lineup.
He is now in the last year of that contract, and he has acclimated himself well to the position in that time, with the main concern being his durability. He has missed six games due to injury in the past two years, and played hurt through much, if not most of that time.
Behind McLendon on the depth chart who certainly is not criticized for being undersized for the position, that being the 6’7”, 350 lbs. Daniel McCullers, a late-round second-year player who played above expectations as a rookie and who has received positive commentary for the work that he has put in during his first full offseason.
McCullers is a player who has struggled with his size in the past, among other issues, but the belief is that in a professional environment, he can remain focused. His power on the field is evident, but he must improve his awareness in terms of ball location and double teams.
The last option at nose tackle is Cam Thomas, who started most of last year at defensive end, but was the first primary injury replacement for McLendon last year. He has fallen on the depth chart at both spots, but should be more serviceable in this lesser role.
The nose tackle position is an interesting one in terms of assessing need, because McLendon’s long-term viability could be considered in question, while we still have much to learn about McCullers’ ceiling. With McLendon in the final year of his contract and exhibiting signs of recurrent injury, and being one of the older defenders, might the Steelers want to jump on the chance at grabbing another nose tackle if it’s there waiting for them? I would lean toward no, but it could be a temptation.