Perhaps premature, but I thougyht it might be interesting to project next year's roster based on two goals: 1) get younger with hungry, aggressive players; and 2) save cap space. I am taking a cold-hearted view of the team and considering things like loyalty to the player or considering how well-loved these guys are by the fans. Thus, I am projecting that we cut older, potentially over-paid players that will soon be over the hill, or have not lived up to their salary. On offense, this mean we cut Willie Colon based upon his injury history, even if last year was caused by a cheap shot. On defense, we cut Clark, Hampton, Keisel, and Harrison based upon age. We also cut Woodley because he simply has not lived up to his contract. We keep Polamalu because we believe that the team will be better with him on it because he has turned the corner on his injuries. We also do not re-sign Lewis, Starks, Wallace, Mendenhall, or Foster. In light of the fact that this is a pre-draft roster projection, I am going to also include a mock draft for all seven rounds and, where needed, projected undrafted free agents. Concerning our draft picks, I've tried to balance need and best-player available (BPA).
Round 1: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina. A "plug and play" choice, filling a hole at LG and also the BPA at 17. I realize this might give us the most-highly drafted OL in the history of the NFL, but I am firm believer that everything starts up front and we could literally have the best OL in football if everyone stays healthy.
Round 2: Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Florida International. Polamalu's heir apparent and taking him now gives him one year to learn the position and contribute on special teams while doing so.
Round 3: Corey Lemonier, OLB, Auburn. A terrific athlete and potential dominnant pass rusher that could step in if Chris Carter falters in trying to fill Deebo's shoes.
Round 4: Nico Johnson, ILB, Alabama. A tough, run stopping ILB that can also run well (4.62 in the 40).
Round 5: Josh Boyce, WR, TCU. A speedy receiver, 4.38 spped, to ensure that we have someone capable of taking off the top of the defense, ala Wallace. He is known as a tough competitior and a play-maker.
Round 6: Nick Kasa, TE, Colorado. A raw tight end, but with loads of potential and athletic ability. He projects as another Kevin Boss and is a very aggressive run blocker.
Round 7: Rontez Miles, FS, California (PA). This is the kid with the big Steeler tat on his shoulder. He plays fast and aggressive and has fair ball skills. He tore up the senior bowl and combine, so he may go highter than this.
Priority Undrafted Free Agents:
QB: Ryan Griffin, Tulane. Raw QB with loads of upside. Stong arm.
RB: Onterrio McCalebb, Auburn. Pure speed. He may be drafted, but if not, he would replace Rainey.
OT: Roger Gains, Tennessee State. A massive OT that maul people.
OT: Kyle Magnuson, Wyoming (Practice Squad). A very athletic OT that can fill in a ZBS and get to the second level quickly.
Drew Stanton, QB. This just makes too much sense for it to actually happen.
QB: (3) Roethlisberger, Drew Stanton (FA signing from Indy), Ryan Griffin (UFA). Assuming our all-world OL keeps Ben healthy this year, Stanton provides good back-up security and Griffin is our big-armed rookie playing for the scout team and learning the ropes.
RB: (4) Dwyer, Redman, Batch, McCalebb (PR/KR specialist). I think our backs can get it done, especially running behind a healthy OL.
WR: (5) Brown, Sanders, Cotchery, Moye, Boyce. A nice blend of speed on the outside with Brown and Sanders and proven consistency and veteran leadership inside in Cotchery. Moye gives us a red-zone big target, and Boyce is the speedy rookie that can play the slot when needed and run away from the opposing team's FS/SS or nickel back.
TE: (3) Miller [PUP until mid-season), Paulson, D. Johnson (until Heath returns), Kasa. I like this group and really like Kasa's potential.
OT: (4) Gilbert, Adams, Long, Gains
OG: (3) DeCastro, Cooper, Beachum
OC: (2) Pouncey, Legursky
FB: (1) W. Johnson
ILB: (4) Timmons, Sylvester, M. McFadden, Johnson [Spence is on IR for the year]. This is my biggest area of concern with my projected roster. Timmons is, and can be, a beast. But, can Sylvester play up to his potential and stay healthy? I'm betting he gets his act together this year and does it. The coaches seem big on McFadden, and I think Johnson is going to be a very good football player. So, although worried, I'm cautiously optimistic about these four guys.
OLB: (4) Worilds, Carter, Robinson, Lemonier. I realize this projection will cause the biggest hue and cry, but I think it makes sense and very well actually happen. I love Harrison, but the fact remains that he's been banged up and his salary is very high. Woodley is feast or famine. I just see a drop off between him and Worilds, so I'm going with youth. I think Carter has the potential to really be a force on the outside, but Lemonier gives us depth and talent in case that doesn't work out. I'd also love to see the darling of last pre-season get a chance to get after the QB this year.
NT: (3) McLendon, Ta'Amu, Fangupu. Assuming Casey is done, for a variety of reasons, it is time to move on. McClendon gives us great position flexibility in that he can play any spot on the DL. I actually believe is a better at DE than he is at NT because the opposing OGs are shorter and seem to get under his pads too much, but I just don't see the team putting him there to start when we have Hood and Heyward there already. I would keep Ta'Amu (assuming he doens't go to jail) and Fagupo to add depth and ensure that we have true "run stuffer" when needed and for goal line defense.
DE: (3) Hood, Heyward, Woods. yes, I know everyone loves Da' Beard, but he's long in the tooth and this is not a social program. I simply think Hood and Heyward have the capability to be better than Keisel and it is time for the team to move on. I've been waiting for Hood workout warrior mentaility to transition to the football field since he joined the team. It hasn't happened yet, but I'm hopeful that it will. I can easilty envision a switch to NT, where he seems to play better than when he's at DE. Perhaps he just gets engulfed by the OT, but I'm not an expert on line play. Concerning Heyward, he showed flashes last year and I love his tenacity. I think he will be our best DL this year. Woods provides solid depth a the position.
CB: (6) Taylor, Allen, Gay, Van Dyke, King, Brown. Sorry to see Lewis go, but Allen is just as good in coverage and has better ball skills. Taylor is just too good to let go and his legendary off-season training is a terrific example for all of the young guys. I've never been a fan of William Gay, but I doubt he gets cut unless the young guys make him look like a high schooler. I like Van Dyke and King for their size and speed and hope Coach Lake can turn them into capable cover guys. As for Brown, the kids is a special teams stud and he has the ability to be a quality nickel back, if he can get his head in the game.
SS: (2) Polamalu, Cyprien. I thought long and hard about cutting Polamalu along with the rest of the veteran players, but even with a reduced skill-set, he is still Troy P. We also need veteran leadership in the defensive back field, and while I love Ike Taylor, he is not the guy to set the coverage or the tempo. As between Clark and Troy, I'm going with the guy that I think can take over the game. Cyprien learns as Troy's back-up and plays special teams like a demon.
FS: (3) Golden, Cromartie-Smith, Miles. It is time for Golden to shine. Troy has played well with Chris Hope and Ryan Clark, so I'm hoping that Golden has been studying all year, communicatiing with Coach Lake and LeBeau, and comes to camp ready to take over from a very good veteran safety. Cromartie-Smith is there for depth and Miles is the long term replacement for Clark. Miles is aggressive and loves the Steelers. He will bring intensity to special teams and then serve as a "big hitter" when he assumes a starting role in a couple of years from Golden.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)