I look at Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe and I get angry at ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.
He made the ridiculous stupid notion in his first mock draft of the 2012 draft season the Memphis mammoth defensive lineman would fall to the Steelers drafting in the 24th position. He went 11th overall, and along with Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, has established himself as the best defensive player taken in that draft.
The Steelers can't complain about the quality player they took at 24 - right guard David DeCastro - but Poe is a rare player who, regardless of collegiate production, has the size, athleticism and resiliency to play three downs along the defensive line and be a dominant player in whatever scheme.
The Chiefs took him at 11, as they were smart to do, and he's still improving. He'll be an excellent player in this league for a long time. But right now, he's not the player on the Chiefs I'd want the most.
What about Tamba Hali? The Penn State product has been a force in his nine years in the league. One of the best 3-4 edge rushers in the league in that time, he's terrorized many teams in the league, and the Steelers every time he's played them.
Sean Smith may need to get a nod, too. The Steelers briefly flirted with the 6-foot-3 cornerback in free agency, likely determining his contract demands were a tad high. He's earning it with the Chiefs so far this season.
Offensively, all-world running back Jamaal Charles is the main standout. Probably the best overall running back the last three seasons in the NFL, Charles ran well when Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley was there, he's running well now. The easy narrative this past draft season was the Steelers selected RB Dri Archer in the hopes he could become some kind of combination of Charles and Dexter McCluster. Right now, Archer appears more of a Jamaal McCluster (according to Pro Football Reference, no player named Jamaal McCluster has ever played in the NFL, making his statistics strikingly similar to Archer's in his rookie season).
If anyone is going to rival Poe for this list, though, it's Justin Houston. And did you know Houston is in a contract year?
Let's add this up...the Steelers bit the bullet and gave OLB Jason Worilds the transition tag, paying him $9.75 million to back up his performance over the second half of the 2013 season. Right now, it appears Worilds will fall short of those expectations. The team likely won't use any kind of tag on Worilds, instead, allowing him to choose from what's likely to be a multitude of mid-level options. Is he going to be more Emmanuel Sanders or Mike Wallace? Chances are better he's neither, getting Sanders' deal and Wallace's production somewhere else.
If Worilds wants out, the Steelers likely won't do a whole lot to prevent him, short of giving him their last and best offer, which won't match his open market value. Houston, on the other hand...if Kansas City fails to value their beast of an outside linebacker, the Steelers could very well free up cap space to bring him in. And perhaps they should.
If they feel comfortable in the notion of Dan McCullers filling in at nose tackle next year (a position playing, on average, 15 snaps a game), the release of Steve McLendon would save $2.25 million on the cap with a half a million in dead money. The team has to wonder if Troy Polamalu is worth bringing back at $8.25 million in cap dollars next year. They can save $3.75 million in releasing him (with $4 million in dead money, spreading $2 million to each of next two years with a post-June 1 designation). That money can be used to help sign their draft class (in a post-June 1 release), leaving what's expected to be a cap increase along with the standard release and extension process to free up space to make a splash on a player in free agency.
Yes, I'm aware the Steelers never do that. The Steelers are also sporting one of the league's best offenses, and they're getting less production from their outside linebacker than desired, and they are on pace to again set a new franchise low for sacks in a season. From 2011 to 2013, they had 37, 35 and 34 sacks, respectively. Through 14 games, they have 24. They had 48 sacks in 2010.
Clearly, something needs to be done about this. And since Poe can't be had in free agency, It would seem Houston fits a need, even if it's all but impossible for him to sign a long-term deal with the Steelers this offseason.