Would Aubrayo Franklin Be A Good Replacement For Chris Hoke?

By Cian Fahey

There is a lot of speculation that the Pittsburgh Steelers will pick up a nose tackle for the future in an early round of the upcoming draft. However, the Steelers have lost a veteran contributor at the position since last season and may be looking to add experience and depth instead, or as alongside, a young prospect.

Chris Hoke was a long-standing fixture in the Steelers defense despite only starting 18 games throughout his career. Hoke was a permanent fixture in the rotation when healthy and an outstanding backup for Casey Hampton who was capable of coming in and starting or playing extensively at any time.

Most importantly for the Steelers, Hoke was a proven commodity at a vital position for the defense as a whole.

With question marks over Hampton\’s health, the Steelers\’ depth at the nose tackle position will be crucial early on next year. They should have the attitude that there is no such thing as too many nose tackles entering camp this year.

Even if the Steelers draft a nose tackle in the first or second round, they still would not have a proven commodity to play in Hampton\’s place or to spell him in a greater role. Steve McLendon showed a lot last season starting one game and contributing as part of the rotation.

McLendon is not exactly like Hampton or Hoke as he has greater pass rushing abilities and doesn\’t represent the same presence inside because of his lack of girth. McLendon is entering his third season but essentially didn\’t play as a rookie. He is 26 years of age and cannot be considered proven as a starter.

It\’s conceivable that the Steelers carry four nose tackles on the roster entering next season. With Arnaz Battle, and multiple younger linebackers and cornerbacks contributing on special teams last year, with Emmanuel Sanders expected to return kicks, the Steelers should have a roster space or two to spare for the position.

That would leave the team with Hampton, McLendon, some form of prospect between a late round development prospect or a high pick in the draft, and space for a veteran to replace Hoke.

In that instance, the Steelers would be searching for a nose tackle who shares the skill-set of Hampton. Fortunately, a proven nose tackle is still available on the free agent market.

Despite struggling last year in a 4-3 scheme with the New Orleans Saints, Aubrayo Franklin had a fine year previously for the San Francisco 49ers in their 3-4 base defense. Some may see it as a knock on Franklin that the 49ers run defense excelled without him last year, but a huge reason for that was the emergence of Navorro Bowman over Takeo Spikes.

Franklin is only 31 years of age despite his drop off in play last year. He has played nine seasons for the Saints, 49ers and Baltimore Ravens before them. He is a proven 3-4 run stuffing nose tackle who plays the exact same role as Hampton.

As a veteran, Franklin could also guide the incoming youngster(s) as well as McLendon allowing Hampton to fully focus on his own rehab and getting back to his best. At this stage in free agency, with the market for defensive linemen basically dead, Franklin won\’t be an expensive avenue to explore. He likely wouldn\’t be signed, at least not by the Steelers, until after the draft.

Hoke was a vital replacement for Hampton when he last tore his ACL in 2004. Hoke started 10 games and tallied 24 tackles. That kind of production is a lot to ask for from McLendon and whatever young prospect the team brings in.

Franklin may not be Hope or Hampton, but he could be another vital role player who the Steelers “splash out” on in free agency.

You can follow Cian on Twitter at @cianaf

  • Jprankster2005

    I defiently think they should find a veteran for camp…… I have a question, Is there anyway Hayesworth could come in til Hampton is ready I know he sucked with the Pats last yr. and they let him go and went back to 4-3…… Is there any chance they would look at him or just because of his past do u think that’s enough that the steelers would stay away from him…… I wouldn’t mind having him we know what he can do when healthy and not being a dick in the locker room…… I just heard early on someone said on ESPN that he would be a good fit because of Hamptons injury and the lack of DL’s…….. Just curious…….

  • Pittfann1

    Haynesworth is a cancer and absolutely did not want to be a NT in Washington’s 3-4. I’d want no part of him.

  • http://twitter.com/JamesLucas125 James Lucas

    If Steve McLendon were a 2nd round pick everyone would be calling him the natural replacement for Casey Hampton. Because he was an UDFA he’s a question mark? I don’t understand why.

  • DK

    only 31??… I don’t mean to be critical but I thought that is the current problem with our defense now is that the majority is all over thirty and aging fast…I hope they look to the draft for nose tackle…and has anyone notice that poe has been dropping in some of the boards out there from espn and nfl network…does that mean he will drop to the steelers if so if poe and hightower were there when the steelers pick who would they choose…I’d still take hightower I was high on him every since the national championship game based on his performance and playing in saban’s 3-4 defense and was a leader…and i think this year’s draft is more deep at nose than ILB

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NXON22FQSDCCSA2WHZIRTHQWTU Greig

    McLendon doesn’t have a “lack of girth”. McLendon played at 320 lbs last season. The Steelers don’t accurately report player weights. If you look over the listed heights/weights for most of the Steelers players, they are exactly the same as the players pre-draft measurements.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NXON22FQSDCCSA2WHZIRTHQWTU Greig

    Great point. McLendon has produced more for the Steelers, than guys like Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester, yet there are a number of people who consider both of them to be “starters in waiting”. I’m not willing to go as far to say that McLendon is the long term solution for the Steelers, but I am comfortable enough with him holding down the fort, until the team develops their next great NT.

  • Steeltyke

    DK, we are talking here of signing Franklin as a stop-gap for maybe 1 or 2 years whilst the Steelers fortify the NT position for the long term either through McLendon or the draft or both. For the short term and at the right price this could be a good move as long as Franklin still has what it takes to play at a high level.

  • SamSteeler

    I disagree. Roster spots are to valuable to have 4NT on roster. The last thing we want is two over 30 NT plus McLendon and find that both veterans are done at the end of this year. Need to think about next year. We need to spend a draft pick on a rookie and let him learn the ropes. We all know that Lebeau doesn’t play rookies much on defense.

  • Jprankster2005

    I agree as well

  • Jprankster2005

    I would have to say the same….. I was just throwing it out there to see what people felt……. I think we def. have to get a rookie and a veteran….. And go into camp with 4 and see how it goes……..

  • http://twitter.com/Cianaf Cian Fahey

    Haynesworth can play 3-4 NT about as well as he can play wide receiver. I’ll eat my keyboard if the Steelers sign him and he plays even one game effectively.

  • Fbr_rocket

    I’ve never understood the lack of updating player height, weight, etc. Even if it were just once a year. Question…is Weston just considered a camp body?

  • Jollyrob68

    Yes Franklin would be nice in there rotation.

  • Jollyrob68

    I like McClendon and he will be great in the rotation at NT or 5tech.

  • Dylan

    Yea, they still say Ben weights 241, the same weight he came out of college at. I bet he is at least 260 if not 270.