The Pittsburgh Steelers certainly could use an inside linebacker in the upcoming 2013 draft as position is mighty thin and likely to get thinner depending on the ability of Sean Spence being able to come back from the knee injury that he suffered last preseason.
Should Larry Foote ultimately end up being re-signed, and it looks like he will be, the Steelers will only have him and Lawrence Timmons as the two inside linebackers with serious game experience underneath their belts. Stevenson Sylvester, a restricted free agent that is expected to be tendered soon, has yet to play 100 snaps on the defensive side of the football since being drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 draft.
If you look back at the last five years of the draft you will see that "true" inside and middle linebackers normally aren\'t highly sought after in the first round. Sure, Luke Kuechly was selected just last April with the 9th overall selection by the Carolina Panthers, but he was more than worthy of that selection. There is not an inside linebacker in this draft like him.
In 2010 the Oakland Raiders drafted Rolando McClain 8th overall. In 2009 the Houston Texans drafted Brian Cushing 15th overall and in 2008 the New England Patriots drafted Jerod Mayo 10th overall.
When you look at the top middle linebackers this year the list is short and it includes Alec Ogletree, Manti Te\'o and Kevin Minter. Ogletree has character issues for starters and many teams might see him more as an outside linebacker prospect in a 4-3. Te\'o has well documented issues, including poor play in the National Championship game, while Minter lacks speed.
Of the three listed, Ogletree is likely the only sure-fire first round guy, depending of course on how teams see him from a character risk factor. Sure, Te\'o and Minter might sneak into the first round, but judging by history and their intangibles, I think you could very well see both slide to the second round.
So what does this mean for the Steelers? Should either Te\'o or Minter slide to the second round when they pick, they will have a big decision to make. Do they think that they can "fix" Te\'o? Is Minter a player they can pencil in as a starter after he plays on special teams as a rookie? Of the two, Minter would have my vote, but I have a feeling that he won\'t drop that far.
As we sit here in late February I would bet that the Steelers hold off a few rounds before addressing the inside position. They might even double up at the position should they be able to grab the injured Michael Mauti later on for a good value. He would be a risky pick, but the heart and drive is definitely there.
As I also pointed out recently, this wouldn\'t be a bad year to try and find the next James Farrior via free agency. The only problem with that is the fact that they likely won\'t have much cap room to work with. That means shopping on the cheap. I threw out the name of Minnesota Vikings inside linebacker Erin Henderson as a possibility, but that depends on if the Steelers see him as the same fit that I do and the price.
The Steelers certainly have several needs heading into this draft, but unless Minter falls to the second round, I have a feeling that the inside linebacker position won\'t be filled until the later on in the draft.