For those of you who haven't read my posts, I like to do a position by position outlook every now and then on the Steelers draft options. Let's get right to it.
QB: 3 of our 4 Quarterbacks are not signed through 2012. Luckily, those 3 do not include Ben Roethlisberger. Ideally we could resign Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon, but if we can't get both we might have to resign Charlie Batch assuming he doesn't retire. However, a late round prospect worth developing is never a bad idea to look into. Steelers pick: E.J. Manuel, Florida State. 7th round. Manuel has great size and measurables which is all you can really hope for in a 7th round pick.
RB: Rashard Mendenhall bounced back after a slow start, reminding everyone why he's our workhorse back. Behind him Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer have shown more than capable to handle a full workload. 3rd down back Mewelde Moore will be a free agent after this season, and fan-favorite Baron Batch will be coming back from injury to replace him. Still, it may not hurt to look into similar pass-catching backs in case Batch's injury inhibits his future performance. Steelers pick: Jeff Demps, Florda. 6th Round. Similar to Baron Batch, he's extremely fast and productive in the passing game. Unfortunately might be just as injury prone as Batch as well, which is why he falls this far in the draft.
WR: The Young Money crew should be productive for the next few years, with Mike Wallace coming into his own as an elite receiver. Unless we win the Superbowl, I think Hines Ward will be back next year but its not a sure thing. Jericho Cotchery is a good veteran in my opinion and I'd like to see him back if we can afford it. Arnaz Battle will also be back for his special teams play. I could see the Steelers using a mid-round pick on a tall redzone target as it is the only missing aspect of our receiving corps. Steelers pick: Dwight Jones, North Carolina. 3rd Round. At 6'4", Jones could be what Limas Sweed was supposed to be, and with Ward retiring soon, a spot will open up for him.
TE: Heath Miller is inn't going anywhere any time soon, but behind him we could improve. Rookie Weslye Saunders might be able to develop but is still a project at this point. David Johnson is dependable but is in no way spectacular, a more reliable blocker would be worth it. Steelers pick: George Bryan, N.C. State. 5th Round. One of the best blocking tight ends in this class and is a productive receiver as well. Would put up more numbers if he were featured in the offense more.
OT: Tackle is a pretty unpredictable position for the Steelers right now. Max Starks was brought back on a 1 year deal but will need to play very well for the rest of the year to be brought back. Willie Colon is again lost for the year due to injury, while rookie Marcus Gilbert has been solid but banged up as well. Hard to find any Jonathan Scott enthusiasts right now, and hopefully we won't have to bring him back again. Ideally, we could start Gilbert and Colon, but we might need to spend a high pick on an OT if Colon can't be trusted to stay healthy. Steelers pick: Andrew Datko, Florida State. 2nd Round. Datko has a lot of experience starting at LT, and would compete with Gilbert for the position. This pick would need to be predicated by Colon not being healthy or Gilbert not proving himself this year.
OG/C: The Center position is set with Pouncey as an All-Pro starter and Doug Legursky a reliable backup. However, Guard might just be our biggest need next offseason, as LG Chris Kemoeatu can't stay healthy and is only average when he is. Legursky, Ramon Foster, and Trai Essex have all had plenty of chances to take hold of the RG position and have all failed to do so. A good guard to pair next to Pouncey would do wonders for our line. Steelers pick: Cordy Glenn, Georgia. 1st Round. He has some experience playing Tackle but would be a dominant Guard. He could also fill in at RT if Colon isn't able to get back healthy.
DL: Our DEs are set with recent 1st round picks Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward coming into their own. Aaron Smith is likely playing his last season, but Brett Keisel will be back, giving Heyward more time to learn. Nose Tackle is a big need though, as Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke will both be retiring in the near future. I don't think Steve McLendon is the answer, though he is a good rotational player. Steelers pick: Alameda Ta'amu, Washington. 1st Round. By far the best NT prospect of 2012, Ta'amu would give us the missing piece to a potentially dominant DL for the next decade.
OLB: With Woodley signed for the next 6 years, half of our tandem is set. But James Harrison's health is showing signs of possibly declining, so we'll need to get a good look at Jason Worilds and Chris Carter to see if they can step up to replace him. Otherwise, we could take an OLB prospect early like we did in 2007 to groom behind Harrison. Steelers pick: Vinny Curry, Marshall. 2nd Round. 12 sacks last year show he can rush the passer, he could compete with Worilds as Harrison's replacement.
ILB: James Farrior's contract expires after 2012, so that will be his last season if he doesn't retire a year early. Larry Foote is a great backup and we could do much worse than him as a starter next to Lawrence Timmons. Stevenson Sylvester has shown flashes of being able to replace him, but if we aren't confident in him don't be surprised if we use an early pick to round out our Linebacking core. Steelers pick: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame. 1st Round. Te'o is one of 3 inside linebackers likely to go in the first round. He is solid in every facet of his game and has exceptional instincts to be able to lead our defense the way that Farrior has for years. Never underestimate the Steelers' tendency to draft a Linebacker.
CB: Though I was disappointed to see Ike Taylor let up that touchdown against the Jags, he's been having a very good year. I've also been impressed with Keenan Lewis and if he continues to develop this year, this could slide way down our list of needs. He'll be a restricted free agent so we could easily resign him. McFadden will still be around next year, but I doubt William Gay will be resigned. That is most likely due to the fact that rookies Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen should be better in their second year. However, while it looks optimistic now, CB will still be a big need next offseason if these young guys don't show they can be counted on this year. Steelers pick: Chase Minnifield, Virginia. 1st Round. Minnifield stepped up in a big way last year with Ras-I Dowling missing a lot of time with injuries. His 6 interceptions show that he can be a ballhawk and, like Dowling, tends to excel in zone coverage.
S: I think I have Safety as a bit higher need for the Steelers than most people, because I'd like to see Troy play with a great safety next to him. No offense to Ryan Clark, but a top tier FS would be great for Troy and would also ease the pain of losing him when he is injured and/or retires in 3 to 4 years. I'm confident in Ryan Mundy as a backup, but not so much as a starter. Steelers pick: Robert Lester, Alabama. 3rd Round. Lester is usually described as a center-fielder at FS, and excels when reading the QB's eyes while in zone coverage. He needs to improve in run support though.
ST: Sepulveda is entrenched as our Punter for the future, as long as he can stay healthy. However, Shaun Suisham is completely unreliable on field goals, and he's anything but clutch. Steelers pick: Derek Dimke, Illinois. 6th Round. He was 24-of-29 last year, and is off to a great start this year at 7-of-7.
So there are some preliminary names to keep your eye on this year. And just for fun here is my list of needs:
OG, NT, DB, LB, OT, TE, WR, RB, QB.