Ok, before I get all those people saying its useless to talk about anything draft related until the season is over i just wanna say one thing: if you think its useless then stop reading now and everyone will be happy. Please just accept the fact that draftniks like myself enjoy obsessing over little things like this and its fun. Now, I've been thinking about doing this project for a while and it basically is made up of two parts. In Part 1, I'll examine our roster in depth, looking for holes and weaknesses that could be fixed or upgraded in the 2011 Draft. Then in Part 2, I'll try to find a college prospect who I think would fill the hole well. Obviously there will be some disagreements as to which holes are more important, but this is just to get some healthy conversation and debate on the issue.
No better place to start than with the QBs. Now, I'll say this, no team in the nfl is better prepared to deal with Ben's suspension than the Steelers. That seems obvious, but with Leftwich and Dixon we have the best backup QB situation in the league in my opinion. That said, this could drastically change in 2011. Batch will likely be cut once Ben is back, and will probably retire once the season is over. Leftwich is signed through 2011, so I'm not too worried about him. However, now that Dixon is starting (and looked decent against Atlanta) he has the opportunity to showcase what he can do and try to find a team willing to make him a starter since he will not usurp Ben. If he performs well in the next 3 weeks, a team might take a chance on him and make a trade. If that happens, we might want to look at a late round prospect whom we can groom into a decent backup.
Mendy came through in a big way for us on Sunday in OT. I think its safe to say we all are happy with him as the starter and I'll move on to his backups. MeMo has been all that we could've asked for when we signed him in 2008. That said, I think he has given us all he can give and since his contract is up after this season I dont see him being resigned. Redman made the cut this year after serving on the Practice Squad in 2009 and looks like he could solve our short yard and goal line problems. He didn't have a great game against Atlanta but he still has 15 games to make his mark. After a slow start, Dwyer showed enough potential in the preseason that putting him on the PS was too risky, so he'll work with the backups and hopefully improve on the details of his position. Looking ahead: we could use a more explosive change-of-pace runner for Mendy. Redman and Dwyer both have potential but both are more bruisers than speed guys, my hope is that one of them is converted to FB and we get a Reggie Bush-type back in the late rounds.
This could be one of our major holes going into the 2011 Draft if these young guys don't prove they can produce this season. Not only that, but Hines has made it clear that if he gets another ring, he's going to retire like his friend Jerome Bettis (talk about a Catch 22). This early in the season I'm going to assume we'll still have Hines in 2011, which brings me to Wallace. I have very high hopes for him but until he proves he can play with starting CBs I'm not going to go crazy with his projections. As far as Randle El and Battle go, I think we all know they're not any type of long term answer. Sanders looks promising as a possible replacement for Ward, and if all Brown can do is become a great kick/punt returner he'll still be considered a success in my book. Pittsburgh still hasn't seen a true #1 receiver in a long time though (any hopes of Santonio being that guy are obviously screwed) and there are plenty of options in this year's draft for that. At least 3 receivers will go in the first round and not one of them is shorter than 6'4" so Ben's wish for a big receiver could come true. However, I will (very tentatively) mention that Limas Sweed should be healthy by 2011 and will still be under contract.
TE (3): Heath Miller, Matt Speath, David Johnson
When you take into account how reliable Heath's hands are and how good of a blocker he is, I'm confident in saying he's one of the top 3 overall tight ends in the league. He hasn't been asked to do some of the things Dallas Clark and Vernon Davis has, but I think he could easily put up those types of numbers if we let him. Speath has looked like a decent receiving TE but cant hold a block worth anything, while Johnson looks like a good blocker who cant catch. Maybe we could look at a late round prospect to replace one of them, but to be honest our #2 TE is not a situation you need to worry about much.
This is not a knee-jerk reaction to Starks's injury, but I think OT is our biggest need going into the 2011 draft. For now we'll assume Starks only misses a few games and stays healthy for the rest of 2010. Show of hands: who wants to rely on Flozell Adams for more than 2010? No one? Didn't think so. Yes Willie Colon should be back by 2011 but coming off major injury his effectiveness will be unknown until it is possibly too late. We need a backup plan that doesn't involve Hotel Flozell. Now, if Colon does come back no worse for wear, we can groom the rookie to replace Max Starks at LT. I dont know about you, but I'm tired of worrying about our OL year after year. Continuity is great, but at some point you need an influx of talent. Scott is a career backup and I think its time to cut the cord on the Tony Hills experiment. We need new blood.
I've always thought Kemo was underrated and it looks like Pouncey will be a beast, but we still have major problems at RG. Essex is a good backup because he can also play OT if we need, but he really has no business starting in this league. It looks like Foster could be decent especially for an Undrafted Free Agent, but again he shouldn't be starting for anyone. One sexy pick that will have a lot of people talking come April would be drafting Mike Pouncey, Maurkice's twin brother. I'm not against this, but unless Mike slips into the second round I think addressing another need would be more beneficial.
I'm a bit surprised neither Sonny Harris nor Doug Worthington made the cut, because all reports I ever heard was that they both surprised the coaches since they came in with such low expectations as late round picks. Hopefully Worthington can make strides on the practice squad and contribute next year. Looking at the starters, this is a truly dominant unit. Smith could easily be the best 3-4 DE ever when its all said and done. Hampton has always been a great NT and Keisel is solid if not underrated. Whats even more encouraging is that Hood looks like he will replace Smith with little to no dropoff. Still, this unit is extremely old by NFL standards with Ziggy being the only one under 30, so a youth movement is essential. With Hampton signing a 3 year extension, getting his replacement isnt a huge need, but I certainly wouldn't oppose it. I would probably plan to wait a year and take one early in 2012, but you obviously cant plan that far ahead and if an opportunity presented itself to get someone now I would take it. Hoke and Eason are good backups for now, but like ARE and Arnaz Battle they aren't long term solutions.
I will say this once and be done with it: PAY WOODLEY AND DO NOT LET HIM GO ANYWHERE. We seriously cannot afford to lose him he's a great playmaker and seems to be gaining a more vocal role on the team. Anyway, there was obviously a linebacker youth movement this offseason as we spent 3 of our first 5 picks on bringing in new projects. If we resign Woodley, we would have a couple more years for Worilds and Gibson to develop and hopefully one of them will turn into a good replacement for the aging Harrison. We're set here for a while.
I think this could be Farrior's last year, and at best we'll have him for 2011, but I think we're in good position to replace him with little dropoff. His contributions go beyond the playing field though, and someone will need to take on his leadership responsibilities. Timmons seems more like Silverback in that he's quiet and reserved, so he might not be our guy, that is definitely a situation to monitor as this season goes on. On the field, Timmons looks poised to breakout and we have great backups in Foote and Fox, with a budding project in Sylvester. If Farrior does retire, we might have to go a year with Timmons and Foote starting unless Sylvester really improves. Still, this doesn't seem to be a huge area of need for us going forward.
This is right below OT as a major need in my opinion. Ike is in the last year of his contract and I dont see him being resigned as he just turned 30 in May. McFadden is fine for a few years, but probably wont be able to match up against opposing #1 receivers consistently; he's more of a #2 CB and can't be counted on to take over for Ike. I think we all know Willie Gay should stay at nickel, so that brings us to Lewis. He had a promising training camp and preseason, but backtracked with a terrible game against the Giants. He wasn't even active against the Falcons, so I'm assuming he's in Tomlin's doghouse. Hopefully he makes the same adjustments that Mendenhall did last year and bounces back in a big way. Lewis and Butler both look promising but as of now they can't be counted on to take over for Ike either. There's a great crop of CBs in this year's draft with both size and athleticism. Bringing in someone with playmaking ability to complement Troy would be huge.
Troy is amazingly athletic, instinctive, and injury prone. Getting a solid backup for him would go a long way, but I wouldnt call it a need. Ryan Clark signed a 4 year extension, so getting his replacement isn't a true need either. But Clark hasn't been stellar and if we could get someone to replace him I say go for it. Both Mundy and Allen cannot be trusted as anything more than backups.
Ok, I'm nitpicking, but I really dont understand why we have to keep Greg Warren on the roster. I'd really like to draft a guy who can long snap while contributing to the actual OL (even if its just as a backup). It cant be that hard to find someone who can do both. Sepulveda is young and awesome... moving on. Put me squarely in the camp that says draft a new Kicker. Reed is reliable and has been good for us for a long time. But its not like he's immune to missing kicks (as we saw again on Sunday) and his lack of a big leg is well documented on kickoffs. Not to mention he brings bad publicity to the team since he's a drunk. Lets get a guy who can kick it in the endzone and doesnt break bathroom stalls.
So there's my take on our roster. Part 2 coming soon.