Throughout the season, I made a couple posts outlining the future of each position on the Steelers roster. The last one I wrote was at midseason following our week 9 defeat of the Cincinatti Bengals, and if you're interested you can see that post here. I've done a couple mock drafts since then, with my most recent one posted here. But I decided to revisit these posts to look at what the Steelers will be in store for in this 2011 offseason. I'll follow my old format, with a few additions, and go through the roster position by position and provide a 2011 draft prospect that we might consider. I've added the round in which I'd target these prospects as well, which is based on the highest round I would consider taking him. I've also added a Steeler mock draft using some of these names.
QB: Ben has put any off-field issues to bed in my mind. I fully expect him to take the Superbowl loss harder than anyone on the team and come back better than ever in 2011. I think Charlie Batch will retire, and Byron Leftwich will be our main backup. Whether we pursue any outside options at QB will depend on whether Dennis Dixon is resigned. I'd like to have him back, but not if he wants more money than he's worth. Pick: Greg McElroy, Alabama, Rd 6. McElroy lacks many of the skills needed for an NFL QB, and will need to be coached up significantly. But as long as we're taking on a project I want a proven winner and leader. McElroy won a national championship and is a great presence in the locker room.
RB: I was extremely impressed with Mendenhall's performance this year, and he topped it off with an amazing game in the AFC Championship. Mewelde Moore will be a free agent, and will likely be too expensive to keep especially for a RB of his age. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are similar bruising runners who both deserve a roster spot. Perhaps one of them can replace Frank Summers at FB. Pick: Derrick Locke, Kentucky, Rd 4. Locke comes with some injury concerns, but that is unavoidable for a smaller back like him. He excels in the passing game and would provide us with a speedy change of pace to Mendy. He has a tendency to bounce outside too often when he has an open cutback lane, but that is something that can be fixed.
WR: Hines Ward will be back for 2011 which is great because it gives our young receivers more time to learn from him. Mike Wallace is a stud, but I was a little disappointed that he didn't make more of an impact in the playoffs. Rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are both explosive that will only get better with a full offseason of working with Hines. Arnaz Battle and Antwan Randle El are both solid veterans who bring something to the table on special teams. Also don't forget that Limas Sweed is still under contract for 2011. Pick: DeAndre Brown, Southern Miss, Rd 6. Credit seton hall and steelers for this pick. I consider WR to be very low on our list of needs, so nothing more than a 6th round pick. Brown has all the physical gifts you want in a receiver but has some inconsistency and character concerns to answer for.
TE: I think I would go so far as to say Heath Miller is the best blocking TE in the league at this point, and he's a major part of why our pass protection wasn't much worse than it was. Unfortunately, that means a lot less opportunities for him as a receiver so his numbers were down this year. I'm not sure whether the FO will keep Spaeth, it depends on if he thinks he can get a better deal in Free Agency. David Johnson is a good FB/TE hybrid. Pick: Robert Housler, Florida Atlantic, Rd 5. Housler is a better receiver but shows good blocking skills when he wants to. Miller will certainly teach him the importance of blocking, and he could develop into a good overall TE who can fill in well for Miller if he's injured.
OT: There's obviously a lot of uncertainty at OT in 2011, with both starters Max Starks and Willie Colon coming off season ending injuries. Flozell Adams should still be a good swing backup next year, but I wouldn't count on him being able to start another full season without injury. Even if we're lucky enough to get both Starks and Colon back, I think the best thing would be to draft someone we think can develop into a quality LT to eventually take over for Starks while providing depth as he grows. Jonathan Scott and Tony Hills are both free agents. Pick: Chris Hairston OT, Clemson, Rd 3. We could use a higher pick than this if the talent is there, but I don't think any of the 1st round OTs will last until 31. Hairston is a bit inconsistent but there is definitely a lot to like about him. Sean Kugler should be able to coach him up well.
OG/C: Its unfortunate Maurkice Pouncey couldn't play in the Superbowl after such a great year. Making the ProBowl as a rookie, he has shown that he should be able to take snaps from Ben for the next decade. Chris Kemoeatu needs a lot of work in his pass protection but makes up for it by being a mauler in the run game at LG. Everything we've tried at RG has pretty much been abysmal. Trai Essex and Doug Legursky are both free agents, with Legursky being the only one with a chance to get an offer to stay with the Steelers. Pick: Mike Pouncey, Florida, Rd 1. Some view him as a solid 1st rounder and some think he still belongs in the second. Picking at 31 though, it doesn't really matter. This is the ideal 1st round pick for Pittsburgh IMO, as he will pair with his brother for the next 10 years. They'll also probably take paycuts later on to make sure they stay together.
DE: Ziggy Hood had a great end of his 2011 season, and makes me feel better about our D-Line. Brett Keisel also had a ProBowl year despite battling injuries. Aaron Smith suffered another major injury however. The coaches left a roster spot open for him all year hoping he could get back to in time for the Superbowl, which means he will assuredly be back in 2011. Nick Eason is a free agent who might not be resigned. If no other team takes him and we don't find a replacement in the draft, I could definitely see him back though. Pick: Lawrence Guy, Arizona State, Rd 3. This is another instance where if the talent was too good to pass up we could definitely use a higher pick than this at the position. Guy will need some time to develop a fuller array of pass rush moves from the DE position, but at 6'5" 300lbs he is ideally suited for the position. With Smith and Keisel both still at least 1-3 years away from retirement, Guy will have plenty of time.
NT: Casey Hampton looked as dominant as ever this season, and was the biggest (literally) reason why we had such a historically good year against the run. Still, he will be 34 at the start of the 2011 season, so his heir needs to be found sooner rather than later. Backup Chris Hoke will be a 35 year old free agent who, like Eason, might not be resigned if a younger backup is found on draft day. Pick: Phil Taylor, Baylor, Rd 1. Taylor is the only NT in this class that carries a first round grade and is the only one I can say with confidence that should be able to turn into a quality NT in the NFL. Every other option this year has serious concerns and could easily "bust". Even Taylor has some character and work ethic concerns, but at 31 his talent is worth it.
ILB: I don't expect James Farrior to retire, but I haven't heard anything conclusive that he will be back next year. Keyaron Fox will be a free agent, and will likely be brought back if Farrior does retire. Even then, Timmons's emergence means we should be able to survive with Foote, Fox, or Sylvester as the other ILB. Pick: Casey Matthews, Oregon, Rd 4. He's getting a lot of hype because of his bloodlines, but to me he isn't worth more than a late 4th round pick. He would be brought in to compete with Sylvester to be Farrior's replacement.
OLB: Woodley was franchised tagged, which guarantees he'll be back in 2011. He'll get his long term deal when the CBA is reached and be a Steeler for life. Harrison definitely still has a few good years in him, and I think Jason Worilds will be a good backup and heir to him on the right side. We could still use another young guy to provide depth behind Woodley though. Pick: Steven Friday, Virginia Tech, Rd 5. Worilds's former teammate at VT, Friday is a great pass rusher off the edge with good potential as a 3-4 OLB. He had a good senior year that went somewhat under the radar.
CB: In terms of Steelers 2011 needs, this is 1b to the O-Line's 1a in my opinion. #1 CB Ike Taylor is a free agent and on the wrong side of 30, and while all signs point to him being resigned, this remains a big need. Bryant McFadden shouldn't be starting, while Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler can't be counted on to develop quickly enough. William Gay and Anthony Madison are also free agents, but are less likely to be back. Gay is an adequate nickel back in the slot, but cannot handle a starting job. Madison is nothing more than a special teams ace. Pick: Ras-I Dowling, Virginia, Rd 2. After an injury plagued senior year, Dowling's stock has nearly dropped into the 3rd round but is still a good value at the end of round 2. He was once considered an early 1st round prospect just behind Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara. His skill sets also fit what the Steelers ask of their CBs almost perfectly.
S: 2010 Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu had a great season, but may have faded down the stretch in the playoffs. His health is always going to be a concern because of his style of play, which means a good backup is essential. Ryan Mundy was decent in his few games, but lacked any playmaking ability in the secondary. He will be a free agent, and may or may not be resigned. Ryan Clark complements Troy well, but he is a liability in the secondary. Will Allen is a special teams player who can't be counted on to step up if either starter goes down. Pick: DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson, Rd 2. McDaniels isn't the fastest Safety around, but he excels against the run and is also a proven ballhawk. He has some off field issues to answer for, but by all accounts has grown and matured a lot after an assault charge in 2008.
ST: Neither Jeff Reed nor Daniel Sepulveda survived until the Superbowl. Reed was cut and replaced by Shaun Suisham, while Sepulveda suffered another ACL tear and was replaced by Jeremy Kapinos. Both replacements were better than expected, but I'm not sure if either should be brought back. Kapinos is a good plan B if Sepulveda isn't healthy. Suisham was off to a great start but had some bad misses in the playoffs that make it hard for me to trust him next year. We also need to find someone who can handle Kickoff duties. Pick: Alex Henery, Nebraska, Rd 5. Henery established himself as the best kicker in the class, and he can be an adequate punter as well. I don't think he's good enough to take both jobs on by himself, but his versatility certainly helps.
STEELER MOCK DRAFT:
1. Mike Pouncey G, Florida.
2. Ras-I Dowling CB, Virginia.
3. Chris Hairston OT, Clemson.
4. Derrick Locke RB, Kentucky.
5. Steven Friday OLB, Virginia Tech.
6. Chris Neild NT, West Virginia.
7. Kai Forbath K, UCLA.
PROJECTED 2011 TEAM ROSTER:
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon
RB: Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Locke (R)
WR: Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Limas Sweed, Arnaz Battle
TE: Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, David Johnson
OT: Max Starks, Willie Colon, Flozell Adams, Chris Hairston (R), Jonathan Scott
OG: Chris Kemoeatu, Mike Pouncey (R), Ramon Foster
C: Maurkice Pouncey, Doug Legursky
DE: Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, "Ziggy" Hood, "Sunny" Harris
NT: Casey Hampton, Steve McLendon
CB: Ike Taylor, Ras-I Dowling (R), Bryant McFadden, Keenan Lewis, Crezdon Butler
FS: Ryan Clark, Will Allen
SS: Troy Polamalu, Ryan Mundy
ST: Daniel Sepulveda, Kai Forbath (R), Greg Warren
- Only Rookie not to make the roster is Chris Neild, who loses competition for backup NT to Steve McLendon. Neild goes to the practice squad.
- Locke replaces free agent Mewelde Moore as our 3rd down RB.
- Surprise at WR with Limas Sweed replacing Antwan Randle El. ARE is a better receiver than Arnaz Battle, but Battle is great on special teams coverage while ARE's return duties are taken over by Sanders and Brown.
- The way my mock draft went, we didn't really address youth on the D-Line. It didn't end up mattering because Harris and McLendon both make the roster after spending 2 years on the practice squad. Nick Eason and Chris Hoke aren't resigned.
- Willie Gay and Anthony Madison also aren't resigned. Dowling takes one of their spots.
- Final roster spot came down to Fox and Hoke for me. As special teams captain in 2010, Fox gets the nod.
- Resignings: Dennis Dixon, Matt Spaeth, Willie Colon, Jonathan Scott, Doug Legursky, LaMarr Woodley (franchise), Keyaron Fox, Ike Taylor, Ryan Mundy, Daniel Sepulveda, Greg Warren.
As always my posts are meant to promote discussion. So all questions, comments and criticisms are welcomed. What do you all think?