We’ve already started opening the doors on TFQ’s NFL Draft Advent Calendar! This is our Christmas – when NFL teams get to decide what sort of new toys they get under the tree to play with next season.
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Door #14 – The Steelers
2012 finish: 8-8; missed playoffs
TOTAL PICKS: 8
38 (206) (compensatory selection)
Picture the current state of this franchise as a certain post-apocalyptic panorama of London: Everything crumbling down around a banged-up Big Ben.
While Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger struggled to stay in games behind an injury-plagued offensive line en route to missing the playoffs for the second time during head coach Mike Tomlin’s tenure, the Steelers just kept getting older. What’s worse, they lost one of their brightest young stars – WR Mike Wallace – to free agency this off-season. (Wallace signed a 5-year, $65 million deal with the Dolphins as the most sought-after receiver on the market.) So now Pittsburgh faces the daunting task of trying to avoid a genuine rebuilding phase with very little room under the salary cap, and a host of players who are well past their physical prime. All the while, Roethlisberger’s window of opportunity for more Super Bowl rings gets narrower, given that his style of play should certainly shorten his career. Not only did Big Ben lose his close friend and offensive coordinator last offseason when Bruce Arians left for the same position in Indianapolis, won Coach Of The Year there, and is now the skipper in Arizona, but now he’s lost his favourite receiving target, his security blanket (TE Heath Miller) might start the 2013 regular season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, and the running game is all but dead. Oh – and the aforementioned undependable O-line still has concerns along it as well, with emotional leader, T Willie Colon gone to the Jets, C/G Doug Legursky and G Ramon Foster unlikely to return to the team as free agents, and their two best young athletes – C Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro – iffy after serious injuries.
It would be nice, then, for the Steelers to be able to use their top pick (17th overall) to address either their pass protection or an offensive skill position. (RB Rashard Mendenhall also left via free agency, and though he likely won’t be missed much, the Pittsburgh backfield lacks any true playmakers.) However, as bleak as the team’s roster looks on offense, the defense is even worse.
According to ESPN.com, the Steelers entered last season with their identity – the defense – as the oldest such unit in the NFL. (The average age of their starters was 30.1 years; the league average was 28.7.) The Rusty Curtain “boasted” a potential seven starters in their 30s. It would be nice to say they should take a CB prospect, or a safety to start to transition away from the banged-up, aging and wildly inconsistent Troy Polamalu, but defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s style relies on a standard for front seven play that currently exceeds his roster. With that in mind, outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo from LSU fits Pittsburgh’s long tradition of quietly fierce athletic marvels on the outside pass rush, and could perhaps step into the void left by iconic James Harrison. Georgia’s LB Alec Ogletree has off-field issues, but could justify a reach at the 17th overall spot. I just don’t see the Steelers going outside of the box in terms of character. (If they do, it’d be a first.) One thing that is on Pittsburgh’s side is that the first two rounds will be rich with defensive lineman as well. Utah’s DT Star Lotulelei’s recently clean bill of health might elevate his position in the first round, or DT Sheldon Richardson out of North Carolina both played on the inside in college, could create havoc as converted defensive ends in a 4-3, a la Brett Kiesel. There should be numerous options at either LB or DB in the second round as well.
The Steelers desperately need to have an exceptional draft this year, because it truly is the only way this team is going to be able to improve and hopefully push out some of the outdated contracts many of their veterans are saddling the franchise with. If not, it’s going to be a long, cold season in Steeltown.
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STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF THE DAYS LEADING UP UNTIL THE 2013 NFL DRAFT. WE’LL TAKE A LOOK AT EACH TEAM, AS WE OPEN THEM UP IN THE ADVENT CALENDAR. WE’LL ALSO BE DOING A LIVE TWEET-UP DURING THE DRAFT.