Steelers have five former first round picks starting on defense in 2014

Jonathan Daniel

Three of those five are linebackers, and the fourth linebacker was a second round pick. That's a large investment that needs to pay dividends soon, especially considering the last outstanding Steelers' defenses had less.

Going with a projected starting defensive lineup of:

DE: Cameron Heyward
DE: Cam Thomas
NT: Steve McLendon
ILB: Lawrence Timmons
ILB: Ryan Shazier
OLB: Jarvis Jones
OLB: Jason Worilds
CB: Ike Taylor
CB: Cortez Allen
SS: Troy Polamalu
FS: Mike Mitchell

The Steelers have five first round picks and two second round picks in that group. The Super Bowl championship team in 2008 had three former first round picks - Casey Hampton, James Farrior and Troy Polamalu - with two second-round picks, LaMarr Woodley and Bryant McFadden. Interestingly, it started three players taken in the seventh round or weren't drafted - Brett Keisel, Ryan Clark and James Harrison.

The increase of higher draft picks on the defensive side of the ball comes after the team had an unprecedented run of offensive linemen taken in the premium draft spots, the first and second rounds.

Perhaps that unbalanced philosophy led to the fact the Steelers became a mediocre defensive team in 2013 - a rare level during Dick LeBeau's tenure as defensive coordinator.

It's not merely about the draft picks themselves, it's the kinds of players they selected. Some will point out the lack of a pure nose tackle, others will point out the shortcomings at inside linebacker. The reality is it's a combination of all things, up to and including opponents' offenses making plays.

Steelers LB Ryan Shazier: The full story

Throw luck in there as well. If Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson catches that pass in the end zone in overtime, and if any one thing goes wrong in two razor-thin margins of victory against Baltimore, the Steelers may have missed the playoffs entirely that season.

Luck won't be any more or less a factor in 2014 as it was then. Perhaps there isn't reason to believe, in May, the 2014 team is better than the 2008 squad that didn't allow an opponent to gain more than 300 yards until Week 16, and only once more in the playoffs. But the hierarchy of draft picks and those presumed to be starting this coming season is similar, if not better.

So ultimately if it comes down to the talents of the free agents assembled, and the positioning and experience of their top draft picks, a stingier Steelers defense should be expected.

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