The Top Five Positions of Need for the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft

Millions of things could happen between the time immediately after the Colts draft Andrew Luck with the top pick of the 2012 Draft and when the Steelers go on the clock with, presumably, the 24th pick. That makes it next to impossible to state the likelihood right now of any one player becoming the next Steelers rookie.

It's even less likely to make such predictions after the first round, so instead of trying to do that, here are the top five positions I see the Steelers addressing with their first-round pick.

And let's just say I see trading up being more appealing than in recent years.

5. Offensive tackle

Just hear me out. With the return of Willie Colon (hopefully for a period of time measured in at least months, instead of plays), and Marcus Gilbert's move to left tackle, the Steelers are likely to keep Jonathan Scott as the main back-up to both positions, and re-sign Trai Essex and his versatility instead of Max Starks.

Continuing on the path of taking offensive linemen high in the draft will pan out, but the problems the Steelers had last season had far more to do with the interior of the line than on the edge. The trend of rushing outside linebackers has been stunting into the middle, where pass protectors are more prone to misreads either to their left or right. While the Steelers tackles haven't been great the last two seasons, there are more pressing needs. Expect a tackle to be taken with the Steelers' third or four pick.

4. Safety

FS Ryan Clark had one of his best seasons, and perhaps the Steelers underestimated his absence in their playoff loss at Denver. However, the size of pass catchers in the NFL is increasing at a high rate, and a bigger safety with stronger pass coverage skills could be a benefit.

Along with that, SS Troy Polamalu plays as fearlessly as Clark does, and that kind of physicality will lead to injuries. S Will Allen is not likely to be back in 2012, and the Steelers need to start looking toward the future of both of those positions.

3. Nose tackle

The retirement of Chris Hoke and the impending contract issue with Casey Hampton leaves only Steve McLendon at a critical position. McLendon is extremely strong and is improving greatly, but isn't ready to be the full-time starter. It's likely Hampton will accept a lesser contract to stay in Pittsburgh, but 2012 will be his last year in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh needs to address the nose tackle position, preferably with someone more athletic than McLendon.

2. Offensive guard

Chris Kemoeatu will not be back in 2012, leaving the Steelers with LG Doug Legursky and RG Ramon Foster. Both will make the team, but an upgrade is needed. After failed draft picks Kraig Urbik (doing just fine in Buffalo) and Keith Williams (on the Bills practice squad), the Steelers have a lack of depth at the position. They've won games with Foster and Legursky, but the reality is they'd be back-ups on far more teams than they'd be starters.

Georgia's Cordy Glenn could be the kind of swing player (can play both guard and tackle) the Steelers love drafting, and could be available at 24. Don't rule out the possibility of trading up to land Stanford's David DeCastro, though.

Iowa State's Kelechi Osemele is another swing prospect who could be available in the second round.

1. Inside linebacker

Inside linebacker barely finishes ahead of guard. Yes, I'm aware of the state of the offensive line. The issue here isn't talent as much as it's depth. Depth, not only on the team but in the draft.

The Steelers have to be eyeing Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict and Alabama's Dont'a Hightower with great interest. They are both big and hit with serious power, and can crush a running back downhill. Burfict is a bit fiery, but would be a great candidate to shadow a savvy vet like James Farrior for a while to not only learn the complex buck linebacker position, but learn how to handle himself on and off the field like a pro.

Hightower is probably better suited for a 3-4 inside linebacker because he has better coverage skills. He seems just too talented to last until 24, but, like DeCastro, he may be the kind of player the Steelers need to trade up to acquire. Mack ILB Lawrence Timmons doesn't seem to be moving over to the buck, and Stevenson Sylvester was beyond underwhelming in his only significant snap count of the year against New England, and outside of practice squad LB Mortty Ivy, there isn't anyone backing up Farrior or LB Larry Foote (the contracts of Foote and Farrior are both up after 2012). They need to address this position throughout the draft, and they're going to need to make a decision on their future at this position.

That brings an interesting wrinkle to the speculation mill. If the Steelers simply don't seem as interested in finding Farrior's replacement it leads to the question of what the defense will be in the near future. A middle linebacker's role in a Tampa 2 defense (the same defense Steelers coach Mike Tomlin studied under Tony Dungy, who, incidentally, took much of it from former Steelers coach Chuck Knoll in the 70s) isn't as complex as the responsibilities a buck LB has in a 3-4. Timmons has the athleticism to play in deeper coverage, a requirement in the Tampa 2, and having one less inside/middle linebacker being on the field could be the reason why the Steelers haven't really gone after inside linebackers in recent drafts.

All of that certainly is a stretch, especially considering the Steelers play a lot of Cover 2 now as it is. But there are good (potentially great) players who will be available when the Steelers go on the clock.

We just know it won't be a quarterback. We don't think.

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