The Steelers will enter the off-season with some obvious questions, with the fates of players such as Jason Worilds and Troy Polamalu hanging in the balance. It's possible Pittsburgh could lose as many as seven players who were consistent starters on their defense this and past seasons, including four who helped anchor a Super Bowl defense back in 2009. Most notably of all, the man leading that group is now gone, as Dick LeBeau rides off to greener pastures in hopes of finding a new journey.
Fortunately, such turnover means Pittsburgh is afforded a fresh start. With defensive needs at every position except defensive end and inside linebacker, the Steelers find themselves with a plethora of options in the draft, particularly in first two rounds.
It's been well-established the Steelers should chase a cornerback or outside linebacker, a fact demonstrated by several mock drafts. Pittsburgh really only has two choices to make in the draft: if they determine they are in full-blown rebuilding mode on defense, the can go for value based players, or they can decide an immediate impact player is needed and go in that direction. Both strategies can pay dividends. The Steelers, however, have the rare luxury of being able to do both.
While that sentiment may be vague, allow me to explain. Typically, a team might opt to stick to a draft strategy. For example, Team A has the 11th pick in the draft and needs a quarterback. There are three quarterbacks they consider worthy of first round selections. Of course, quarterback one and two get taken in the first 10 picks, so Team A quickly jumps on the third best quarterback, despite questions about the quarterback's skill, because they needed a quarterback. Even though the top two defensive ends were on the board, the team took a risk and drafted a position of need rather than searching for value. Well, congratulations Jacksonville, you just drafted Blaine Gabbert, passing on both J.J. Watt and Robert Quinn.
Obviously, draft scenarios are often unpredictable because there isn't a blue-chip prospect like Andrew Luck or Calvin Johnson in every draft. But, situations like this sometimes demonstrate how "a reach" might not be the best strategy.
The Steelers have the luxury of having so many defensive needs, reaching for a player might not be a realistic possibility. If Shane Ray somehow falls to the Steelers, they would obviously pounce right on him, but if some of the draft's top pass rusher start getting selected, Pittsburgh can snatch up a top cornerback. If the Steelers decide one of the three nose tackles receiving first round grades is worthy of selection, they could pull the trigger on that pick without much to room for outsiders to criticize. The Steelers can draft a player based on both value and immediate need because there's a plethora of mid-first round defensive talent, and the Steelers have a need at almost every position.
With so many needs on the defensive side of the ball, Pittsburgh certainly has options, and that sort of open-ended drafting strategy could open the doors for a brighter future and a return to a once-proud Pittsburgh defense.