Oh, the offseason.
For every team not named the Patriots or Seahawks, the 2015 regular season can't come quickly enough, as the evergreen optimism surrounding every offseason culminates during the annual NFL draft. Thankfully, plenty has been written about the draft, as endless mock drafts, prospect rankings and collegiate film make the issue of being bored during the offseason an impossibility.
With a historically poor defense, at least by Pittsburgh Steelers standards, the 2015 edition of the team has some holes to fill. Fortunately, the NFL draft is stocked with cornerbacks, outside linebackers and even several highly touted nose-tackles, which coincidentally, are arguably the Steeler' three biggest positions of need.
Typically, mock drafts remain relatively similar, as analysts all watch the same tape, are aware of team needs and deal grades accordingly. The 2015 draft class, however, seems as wide-open as it's ever been. The Steelers, for example, have been mocked a different player in almost every speculative pre-draft article written so far.
This fact is partially attributed to the obvious; the Steelers have a plethora of defensive needs.
So, what does a team with defensive needs across the board do to compete? Well, that all depends on who you ask.
The Seattle Seahawks will point to their Legion of Boom as an indicator of success, while their rival San Francisco 49ers built their formerly championship-caliber unit through their linebacking corps. The Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions, two teams ranking in the top four in total defense last season, would claim their formidable defense lines are the reason for successful defenses. The Steelers need players at all three levels, as draft experts have predicted either a cornerback, outside linebacker or nose tackle wind up in Pittsburgh.
With the 22nd pick in the draft, the Steelers have plenty of options. Cornerback is a huge need, and there are two players, Marcus Peters and Trae Waynes, who have received first round grades across the board. In fact, a cornerback might be the best choice for a pick-and-plug player. The 2015 draft class, however, is ripe with cornerback talent, as seven players have received first of second round grades from various scouts, meaning the Steelers might be wise to wait until the second round to snatch up one of the drafts many talented cornerbacks. Besides, the Steelers haven't selected a cornerback in the first round since the Clinton administration.
Nose tackle is another popular suggestion for those hoping to fill a positional need. The Steelers like Steve McLendon, but his contract expires next season, and it's yet to be determined if he's a true nose. The retirement of Casey Hampton and the steady decline of the Pittsburgh defense have paralleled one another, indicating a slight relationship at the very least. With with the talented Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward book-ending the defensive line, a great nose tackle, like Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown or Eddie Goldman could help transform the Pittsburgh trenches into a strength. But, the Steelers also like Daniel McCullers, and he's yet to get a chance to prove himself. Unless the Steelers fall in love with one of the prospects, a defensive tackle might be hard to justify selecting in the first round.
Pass rushers, on the other hand, are needed immediately, and there's some primetime talent available. Vic Beasley, Dante Fowler, Alvin Dupree and Shaq Thompson are all potential targets for the Steelers, as added talent to the outside linebacker position could be a great building point. During the dominate James Harrison-Lamarr Woodley years, Pittsburgh consistently ranked among the top of the league in sacks. Completely related to that tidbit was the fact the Steelers ranked highly in both total defense and points allowed, while remaining a perennial playoff contender. The Steelers, honestly, aren't that far away from building a formidable front seven once again. Adding an outside linebacker, a young, raw, clean slate for Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin to work with, could potentially be the piece the Steelers use to rebuild the defensive unit.
Regardless of what the Steelers do, the team has proven drafting good players has been a strong suit, despite accusations otherwise. If the team decides to trade up and draft Amari Cooper fans should trust the team knows what it's doing, and trust that Colbert has a master plan. With the 22nd pick, the Steelers have options, but it seems like targeting a pass rusher might be the smartest, most beneficial option.