Nothing in the offseason is more enjoyable than draft speculation. It turns out, some BTSC readers and moderators work in draft knowledge the way some artists work in oils or clay.
There's been some great dialogue going in the comments of our Steelers Draft series (most recently, Rebecca Rollett highlighted the possibility of the Steelers drafting an inside linebacker with the 24th overall pick). Along with those posts (which will continue through the week), we wanted to dig a bit deeper into some overlying issues facing the Steelers this offseason, and how the draft may be used to address them.
I put together a string of questions and posed them to each of the participants.
Question: It's rare the Steelers go into a draft with one really thin position, let alone two (OG and NT). Salary cap restrictions and retirement forced a difficult position for the Steelers this off-season. Which, if either, position will the Steelers look to free agency for help (beginning March 13), and which will be their top draft priority (April 26)?
NTs in FA can be very expensive, so I'd be really surprised with our financial situation if we even consider looking at FA NTs. Also, ideally we'd like to remove some of our financial dependency on that position (see Hampton's due $8 million this season). Guard, on the other hand, might be interesting. Carl Nicks, Evan Mathis, and Ben Grubbs will all be far too expensive. But, what about Jake Scott from the Titans? Maybe we could steal him for a few million a year and cut Kemoeatu. Therefore, I think we'd be looking at a NT with our 1st or 2nd pick. I think Alameda Ta'amu in the 2nd would be a nice steal.
- John Stephens
He's not lying. The kinds of nose tackles that excel in Pittsburgh's defensive alignment cost quite a bit. However, the Steelers won games this past year while utilizing either Chris Hoke or Steve McLendon, neither of whom cost much. Perhaps decent value can be found in free agency without a hefty price tag. Probably unwise to bank on that, though.
Ta'amu will be a hot commodity for sure by the second round. He'd be the Steelers' version of Terrence Cody - a massively big run-stuffing tackle taken in the second round. He's probably not a three-down player, but neither is Hampton, whether he is 100 percent healthy or not.
The Steelers should go after a Guard in free agency, over a NT. The Steelers have enough talent on the D-line, and enough short term options, to allow time to groom a rookie NT over the course of the season. McLendon is good enough to hold down the fort, which would allow the rookie to play in rotation, as he learns the job. Also, the rest of the front seven is talented enough, to cover up for any weak links in the chain. The same can't be said for the O-line, because they need someone who can play at a high level immediately.
As far as the draft is concerned, I feel that NT is a bigger priority, because the positional value is higher. The heart and soul of the Steelers, is their defensive front seven. When they have three extremely talented players on the D-line, every other position on the defense plays at a higher level. The pass rush becomes more effective, which makes the DB's job much, much easier, and increases the opportunities for turn overs.
- Greig Clawson
Clawson agrees with Stephens, and provides some good insight behind the importance of the defensive line. Let's keep in mind, the BTSC-sprouted phrase "One Thousand Pounds in the First Three Rounds" could include defensive linemen as well.
I believe it is much easier to find a quality OT in free agency than a quality NT. We've had Jonathan Scott the past two years play as a serviceable backup (although he hasn't been very serviceable at times) and the front office managed to scoop up Max Starks after it was confirmed that he could resume his playing career. The only quality free agent NTs I can think of that were available last year played on the same team: Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers. If worst comes to worst, we'll have to cut Hampton, sign one of those guys as a backup, and draft a future replacement at that position. OTs are always available in the draft and free agency, while quality NTs are often scarce. With Marcus Gilbert possibly going to LT next season, NT is one of the top priorities for us in the 2012 draft.
- Parris Brantley (aka StoneColdSteel)
If we're comparing a 0-technique (straight-up over the center) to a 3-technique (off the shoulder of the guard), I would tend to agree it's a bit harder to find in free agency. That's mostly because it's hard to find bulky quick-footed men, period. The rub comes in the word "quality." Starks benefits because he's familiar with the team and the offense (last year, anyway). Scott played with OL coach Sean Kugler in Buffalo, so they were comfortable with who they were getting. Flozell Adams was just a great veteran football player, and did a pretty decent job in his stint in Pittsburgh.
Can the Steelers find guys like that again?
Conclusion: The group generally feels a nose tackle would be a better position to fill as a priority through the draft instead of free agency.
It's hard to disagree with that categorically. While Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster may not be setting the world on fire, they will both still be on the team come training camp. Hampton, if not outright released, is a sure-lock to start the year on the PUP list.
Next Edition: Running backs