QB: With Ben Roethlisberger, a quality backup is a must. Luckily, we have two in Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich. However, Batch is likely to retire and Leftwich spent all of 2011 on IR. Dennis Dixon will be the only one under 30 by next summer, and he has shown very little in terms of regular season production. Roethlisberger is also the only one who is not a free agent after this season. I think we should resign Leftwich and either sign a new #3 or draft a someone in the middle rounds to develop. Pick: Ryan Lindley, San Diego State. 5th Round. Lindley has a cannon for an arm and can make every throw in a pro system, but he struggles with the minutia of the position. His mechanics need a ton of work and he needs to make better decisions which is why he is inaccurate on a lot of throws. Fix that, and you've got a hell of a QB.
RB: Rashard Mendenhall tearing his MCL makes the RB situation much more murkey, as he is entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2012. Redman is an exclusive rights free agent which means we can offer him a minimum contract and he'll stay. Mewelde Moore could be resigned for some veteran stability if Mendenhall isn't ready, but if Mendy is ready Moore should not be resigned. A lot of guys love Baron Batch, but he will have to prove his durability as well. Jonathan Dwyer has shown flashes but not enough to count on. Pick: Isiah Pead, Cincinnati. 4th Round. Pead excels more in the passing game but has shown the ability to break long runs as well with his exceptional sPead (ha! get it?). He would make a great 3rd down RB and could split time with Redman if Mendenhall were to miss time.
WR: First of all, a big Congratulations to Hines Ward for reaching 1,000 catches. He has already said he will restructure his contract to stay with the team, and I would love him to stay another year. Wallace and Brown make a great tandem and we will need to work to resign them both in the coming years. Wallace should be given a 1st and 3rd round tender as a restricted free agent. Sanders is not to be dismissed either and hopefully he can stay healthy next year. I would love to have Jerricho Cotchery back, especially if the front office decides to cut Hines. People have thrown Plaxico Burress's name around, and although I was completely against it this past summer I wouldn't be opposed to it this year as long as he is willing to accept a role as a situational 3rd receiver. Regardless, I think we are set at this position for the foreseeable future. Cutting Arnaz Battle will save us a little more than $1mil in cap room. Pick: Laron Byrd, Miami. 7th Round. At 6' 3.5" Byrd could be a good redzone target who also excels going over the middle and catching balls in traffic. Best case scenario he turns into a taller Hines Ward which is the only thing this group is missing out of its young guys.
TE: I've come to realize that Heath Miller may never get another Pro Bowl nod but its not because of a lack of talent. He just doesn't get the same opportunities that a Gronkowski or Graham does. I'm excited to see what Weslye Saunders will be able to do next year. David Johnson is a good H-back/3rd TE even though he dropped a couple balls against Denver. The only way we draft a TE this year is if we don't plan to resign Johnson, who is a restricted free agent. Pick: Brian Linthicum, Michigan State. 7th Round. I heard a rumor that this is Tim Lincecum's cousin with a really bad lisp.
OT: If Starks is resigned there could be a bit of a backlog at OT next year with him, Gilbert, and Colon. However, after tearing his ACL in Denver I don't think he will be resigned. The best case scenario would be to have Gilbert develop into our starting LT, Colon come back healthy as a RT, and resign Starks (if healthy) to a veteran minimum contract as a backup at both positions. I'm not sure if Starks would like that though, since he played very well this year and if not for the injury would deserve a sizable extension. We will probably cut Jonathan Scott to save us $2.2mil, though he could be brought back for vet minimum. Pick: Mike Ryan, Connecticut. 4th Round. Great size and is pretty well rounded as a blocker but doesn't dominate in any one area. A bit of a project but should have room to grow.
G/C: Chris Kemoeatu's penalties are not worth his paycheck and will be released this offseason. The move will probably come after June 1st since cutting him would save the Steelers $2.4mil in cap room, although waiting until after June 1st would save them almost $3.6. Ramon Foster is decent but would be best as a swing backup to both spots, he should be given a 2nd round restricted tender. Trai Essex has been a valuable injury fill-in and would be worth keeping once we cut Kemo. It almost goes without saying, but Pouncey's job is safe. Legursky is a restricted free agent who should be offered a 2nd round tender as well. Pick: Cordy Glenn, Georgia. 1st Round. Glenn plays OT right now for Georgia but should transition to G in the pros. There's no telling how good this offense could be with another top OLman next to Pouncey.
DL: Having spent 2 of the last 3 first round picks on DEs, the Steelers have their future at the position. Brett Keisel was a Pro Bowl snub this year (Freeney and Mathis got in on reputation and nothing else) with a few more good years left in him. The problem is what to do with the NT position since Chris Hoke will probably retire and Casey Hampton just injured his ACL (no surgery is required though). Hampton is due over $8mil and will have to take a pay cut in order to stay with the team. Steve McLendon has done well this year but he is not a true NT because he is simply too small. He should be back though since he's an exclusive rights free agent. Pick: NT Alameda Ta'amu, Washington. 2nd Round. Ta'amu was a preseason 1st round pick for many Steelers fans, but his stock has fallen into the second after a disappointing year. He will probably be best served learning from Hampton for a year if we can keep him. Pick: DE Ethan Johnson, Notre Dame. 5th Round. I included a second pick in this section since I mashed the whole DL together. Johnson is a project and has an injury history but has experience in the 3-4. He had 5 sacks in 2010 when playing in a 3-4.
OLB: I'm sure this has been a very frustrating year for James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, who easily make up the best pass-rushing tandem in the league but couldn't stay on the field together at all this year. Still, Woodley is locked up long term and Harrison has a few years left. Backups Jason Worilds and Chris Carter should have at least another year to develop and fight over Harrison's spot when he leaves. Pick: Adrian Robinson, Temple. 7th Round. Hopefully a sleeper pick, Robinson had 13.5 tackles for loss with 6.5 sacks this year.
ILB: Lawrence Timmons didn't have the season we were expecting on account of playing OLB for a few games due to injury. Still, he is locked up long term and should bounce back next year. James Farrior is in a similar situation to Hines, he's probably playing his last year in 2012 and will need to take a pay cut or else be cut altogether. Larry Foote's future is tied to Farrior's, if Farrior leaves we will surely keep Foote for a veteran presence, if Farrior stays Foote will almost assuredly be a cap casualty to save us about $3mil. Stevenson Sylvester hasn't had many opportunities outside special teams, but he will need to show more if he expects to take over for Farrior. Pick: Dont'a Hightower, Alabama. 1st Round. I was extremely disappointed that Manti Te'o opted to stay his senior season as he was my favorite prospect for the Steelers, but Hightower is a great consolation prize. He would be a great "Buck" ILB while Timmons plays the "Mack" position. He excels in taking on blocks and delivering the big hit inside the tackles.
CB: After so much scrutiny and hating on this group last year, this bunch has turned it around to become the #1 pass defense in the league. Ike Taylor has upped his game after getting a new contract and William Gay and Keenan Lewis have completely turned a corner this year. I'm torn on what to do with Gay, he played well this season but we can't afford to give him much of a long-term contract. Lewis should be given a 2nd round restricted tender. Throw in rookies Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown and we have a solid group going forward. The only disappointment has been Bryant McFadden who will be an easy cap casualty this offseason to save us $2.5 million next year. Pick: Tashaun Gipson, Wyoming. 6th Round. Gipson has solid size at 6'0" and 195lbs. and has recorded 3 interceptions in each of the last 3 years. Not bad for a 6th round pick.
S: Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu have both had great seasons despite their numbers being down. Quite simply, we're lucky to have both these guys for the foreseeable future. I'm not sold on Ryan Mundy as a replacement for Clark, but he should be given a 2nd round tender since he is the only depth we have behind Clark and Troy. Will Allen is great on special teams but shouldn't be counted on as a starter or even reliable backup. He will probably be cut to save us $1.28mil. Pick: Robert Lester, Alabama. 2nd Round. Lester is a ballhawk of a safety who could learn under Clark for a year or two before picking up the spot next to Troy. He is best when roaming center-field of the defense.
ST: Jeremy Kapinos has played well in replacing Sepulveda and deserves a chance to stay. I don't see a rookie who could be better than him this year anyway. Suisham has been an average kicker at best and can't be relied on in pressure situations. If (and only if) the TOP kicker on our board falls to us in the 5th or 6th round then we should grab him but only if we know he's an upgrade over Suisham. If we have to debate over who's better its not even worth drafting him. Pick: Randy Bullock, Texas A&M. 6th Round. Bullock was first team All American this year and can make kicks from 50+. He's almost automatic from within 40 and has a 78% ratio for his career.
So, with all this in mind here is my Steelers 2012 Mock Draft.
1. Cordy Glenn OG, Georgia.
2. Alameda Ta'amu NT, Washington
3. Nico Johnson ILB, Alabama
4. Isiah Pead RB, Cincinnati
5. Ethan Johnson DE, Notre Dame
6. Randy Bullock K, Texas A&M
7. Laron Byrd WR, Miami
With a couple extra Free Agent backups signed, here's what our 2012 roster could look like:
QB- Ben, Leftwich, David Garrard
RB- Mendenhall, Redman, Dwyer, Pead*
WR- Wallace, A. Brown, Sanders, Ward, Cotchery, Byrd*
TE- Miller, Saunders, Johnson
OT- Gilbert (left), Colon (right), Starks, Jared Gaither
OG- Glenn*(left), Foster (right), Essex, Chilo Rachel
C- Pouncey, Legursky
DE- Keisel, Hood, Heyward, E. Johnson*
NT- Hampton, Ta'amu*, McLendon
OLB- Harrison, Woodley, Worilds, Carter
ILB- Timmons, Farrior, Sylvester, N. Johnson*
CB- Taylor, Gay, Lewis, C. Brown, C. Allen
S- Troy, Clark, Mundy, W. Allen
ST- Kapinos, Bullock*, Warren
- All 7 rookies make the roster
- Cap casualties: Kemoeatu, McFadden, Foote, Moore, Hoke (retire), A. Smith (retire).
- Restricted free agents: Wallace (1st and 3rd), Lewis (1st), Foster (2nd), Legursky (2nd), Mundy (2nd), Johnson (7th). McLendon and Redman are brought back as exclusive rights free agents.
- Restructured: Ward, Farrior, and Hampton take pay cuts to stay with the team, maybe even Keisel if he's willing/we need him to. If Farrior isn't brought back, I'm sure we'll resign Foote (Foote is actually scheduled to make more than Farrior next year, so I want to keep James).
- Resigned at veteran minimum: W. Allen, Starks, Gay (offer reasonable contract, if he walks resign McFadden at vet minimum), Essex, Cotchery,
- Free agents signed at vet minimum: QB David Garrard, OT Jared Gaither, OG Chilo Rachel