With training camp already upon us, I'm hoping to squeeze out the last parts of my series detailing the possible future of the Pittsburgh Steelers. If you read Part 3, you read about where this team is possibly headed in regard to free agency. Based on that info, Here's my breakdown of the most immediate team needs for 2013, separated into 3 Tiers:
TIER 1: Barring miraculous and unforeseen events this season, will still be a major need next offseason.
1. Kicker- Yes, Kicker is our biggest need right now unless Suisham suddenly becomes a different player. Does that mean we take one in the first round? Of course not. Would I be upset if we took one in the 3rd like the Jaguars? Maybe not.
2. Safety- Still, I think next offseason's focus will be on injecting youth into our secondary. I have Safety as a top need because of the age of and lack of depth behind Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu.
3. Cornerback- Ike Taylor is also getting old and expected #2 Keenan Lewis is a free agent so CB is third. More than one of our 3 young guys will have to really impress me before I downgrade the position as a need.
4. Inside Linebacker- This was major need going into the 2012 Draft, but drafting Sean Spence in the 3rd round can't be considered an instant fix. I believe this position will hinge on Stevenson Sylvester, who will need to prove that he can beat out or eventually replace Larry Foote.
TIER 2: Uncertainty surrounding contract statuses or unproven players at these positions
5. Wide Receiver- WR has to be considered near the top because as of right now, our top 3 guys will be free agents next year. Brown and Sanders will be restricted, so its not as dire as that sounds, but if we lose Wallace the position could jump up to Tier 1.
6. Runningback- RB and OLB are hard to pin down right now, but we should know more about them after this year. This could be a major need if no one steps up in Mendenhall's absence. We will hope to see an effective committee from our young talent.
7. Outside Linebacker- The battle for #3 OLB is one that isn't being talked about enough. Jason Worilds could get more competition than he bargained for from Chris Carter as they vie for the first one off the field in relief of Woodley and Harrison. The winner could very well be the successor at ROLB, but they will need to show it.
8. Tight End- If Weslye Saunders doesn't step up this year, we could be in the market for a #2 TE who can open up the playbook as a receiving threat.
9. Defensive End- As for DE, if former #1 picks Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward are the future, they will still need capable backups and right now we have nothing. If one of them is for some reason not part of our future, we'll need Brett Keisel's replacement sooner rather than later.
11. Nose Tackle- Alameda Ta'amu was drafted to be the final piece on our new-look defensive line, but Steve McLendon might have something else to say about that. It looks like they'll both be around for the next 2 seasons, so they'll have plenty of time to duke it out.
TIER 3: Little to no chance of these positions being major needs next offseason.
12. Offensive Tackle- Amazing to see all 3 OL positions at the bottom of a list like this. OT is the more dire of the 3 because of the uncertainty surrounding Mike Adams and the free agent backups. But I don't expect us to give up on Mike after only one year unless he struggles more off the field than on it.
13. Quarterback- We have our #1 and #2 set, but #3 is up for grabs and a mid-round player to develop behind Big Ben is needed.
14. Offensive Guard- DeCastro and Colon will be established by this point, and Legursky and Kelvin Beachum are adequate backups.
15. Center- Pouncey and Legursky are more than fine, and if Kevin Colbert has any say Kelvin Beachum will get looks at center as well.
With that in mind, here is my preliminary 2013 Steeler Mock Draft. (Additional 7th round compensatory pick added for William Gay's departure to Arizona)
1. TJ McDonald S, USC
2. DeMarcus Milliner CB, Alabama
3. Geno Smith QB, West Virginia
4. Caleb Sturgis K, Florida
5. LaAdrian Waddle OT, Texas Tech
6. Patrick Larimore ILB, UCLA
7a. AJ Francis DE, Maryland
7b. Rashard Hall S, Clemson
As I alluded to above, we need to find replacements for 3 out of our 4 starting DBs, and we don't even know who the 4th is right now. Hopefully, if things fall this way we can address the need immediately like we did with the Offensive Line this year. Smith is brought in to groom behind Ben, and hopefully can at least turn into some Kevin Kolb-type trade bait. If we're drafting at the end of each round like I think we will be, it will be about time to jump on the class's top Kicker at the end of the 4th. I mentioned Waddle in my previous post, and hopefully he could be a G/T tweener like Essex. Larimore, Hall and Francis are brought in for depth with the hope that they develop into capable backups.
So there are some players to watch in the next year. In Part V of this series, I'll finish this series with what you really want: the 2013 Roster.