I am already getting inundated with questions via Twitter and email on my thoughts about the Pittsburgh Steelers and the 2013 draft now that the season is over so I will now lay out my initial thoughts on draft needs as a starting point. I am not going to get into specific players yet as we still have bowl games left to be played as well as the Senior Bowl. I usually release my first mock draft after the Senior Bowl as it gives me enough time to knock out some serious film study on prospects.
2013 Steelers Draft Needs
Outside Linebacker – Whether or not James Harrison returns in 2013 is insignificant. Jason Worilds will be entering his final year of his rookie contract next season and LaMarr Woodley is coming off a very, very disappointing and injury plagued season as well. Chris Carter is an enigma all to himself and has struggled to stay healthy in his first two seasons. While Adrian Robinson was certainly exciting to watch during the preseason, we still do not know what his ceiling or floor will be. The Steelers like to keep this pipeline full, and considering the fact that it usually takes nearly two full seasons for outside linebackers in the Dick LeBeau system to get on the field, they will surely draft one this year within the first four rounds. They did not draft an outside linebacker last year, so keep that in mind.
Inside Linebacker – Head coach Mike Tomlin pretty much stated on Monday during his final press conference that there was a little uncertainty moving into 2013 in regard to the inside linebacker position. While Lawrence Timmons has the weak-side spot handled, the strong-side spot has several question marks surrounding it. Even if Larry Foote were to come back next season on a one-year deal his best days are long behind him. Sean Spence, the Steelers third round pick from last season, will be coming off a serious knee injury suffered in the preseason and might be mostly regarded as a weak-side guy more than a strong-side guy. Stevenson Sylvester will likely return on a one-year tender, but he too has shown no signs of being a long-term strong-side solution. The obvious name everyone is focused on here is Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te\’o, and with good reason. If there was ever a player the Steelers might be interested in moving up from 17 to go get, he would be it. We have a long time ahead of us to worry about that, however.
Tight End – When will Heath Miller be ready? He has a long rehabilitation ahead of him after having surgery this past week to repair a torn MCL and ACL so you can count on him missing the mini camps and quite possibly the start of training camp as well. Even if he is ready come week one the regular season the Steelers have serious question marks behind him. David Paulson is not that guy and will never be half the blocker that Miller was in his prime, nor the threat in the passing game. Leonard Pope is unlikely to return and that is a good thing. Miller should have a few good years left in him, but losing him again for a long period of time due to injury would be devastating. Young tight ends can contribute from day one so I expect one to be taken in the first four rounds.
Strong Safety – It looks like the Steelers think Robert Golden might be a candidate to take over at free safety after Ryan Clark is done, but behind strong safety Troy Polamalu sits nobody. Will Allen filled in admirably this past season, but is an unrestricted free agent and up in years. The strong safety class this year is deeper than it has been for the last several, so I would expect one to be taken in the first four or five rounds.
Running Back – Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Baron Batch and Chris Rainey will all be back next season but Rashard Mendenhall likely won\’t. Do the Steelers have an all-purpose running back in the four? Likely not, but the good news is that the position has become a fungible one over the years. I can\’t see the Steelers drafting one in the first round, but any round after that is certainly a possibility.
Wide Receiver – Mike Wallace is all but gone and that leaves Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and David Gilreath as the youngsters on the roster. Jerricho Cotchery is under contract for 2013, but merely a borderline No.3. Plaxico Buress is also an unrestricted free agent, but far from a long-term solution and he will be 36 years of age come the start of next season. The Steelers need some speed to stretch the field like Wallace did so I expect that will be what they will look for in this draft at some point.
Defensive End – Brett Keisel is under contract for one more season so another 5-technique needs to be drafted to groom for down the road. Al Woods continues to be a project behind Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward. Unless a J.J. Watt is laying there in the first two rounds I expect this need might wind up being pushed down in priority.
Quarterback – If the Steelers do not sign a more capable backup to Ben Roethlisberger on the cheap during free agency then they will need to draft a project in the mid to later rounds. There is a good chance that either Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich will back next season, but not both.
Guard – The Steelers have addressed the offensive line early in the last three drafts and they hope Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams pan out as their two starting tackles moving forward. Their could be room for a late round guard depending on what happens with Willie Colon and Ramon Foster during the offseason. I really would be surprised if an offensive lineman was drafted in the first five rounds, however.