Ask any Pittsburgh Steelers fan now and he’ll tell you that the offseason began way too early for their team, which even according to team president Art Rooney II should have been in the playoffs.
If you asked that same fan at the Bye Week for their mock draft, however, they might have already had written up as the Steelers faced a seemingly unthinkable winless September to start the year.
There’s always somebody ready to start talking about the offseason, no matter how early on it is in the process. And in the middle of January, it’s still quite early to start talking about the draft—not that there’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s a pre-free agency, pre-salary cap purging look at the Steelers’ draft needs, position by position.
The Steelers could enter the 2013 NFL Draft either stacked at the defensive end position, or depleted. It really depends on what they elect to do with their own free agents. As has been extensively documented, the Steelers currently have three key players at the position set to hit free agency, and while they do have one essential cog in place for the next two years, they have some work to do to reconstruct the defensive end depth chart.
Cameron Heyward: The first first-round pick emerged in a big way in his third season, taking over the left starting defensive end position from Ziggy Hood after the first four games of the season. From that point on, Cameron Heyward was at times the best defensive player on the team, and displayed perhaps the most heart and hustle. And the best thing about him is that he still has room to grow, and he knows it.
Brian Arnfelt: The player second on the depth chart is currently a rookie undrafted free agent that played two snaps in his first season. I think that says enough about the current lack of depth at the position due to the pending free agents. While Brian Arnfelt spent much of the offseason running as the second-team left defensive end and ultimately played well during the preseason, he certainly can’t be described as a known commodity.
Nick Williams: A seventh-round draft pick from a year ago, Nick Williams was known to be a raw, project-type prospect immediately, a message that defensive line coach John Mitchell conveyed in his address to the media following the selection. That project took a detour in season one after he battled injuries through much of the offseason and into the preseason. He was limited to action in one game, in which he recorded a sack, but otherwise looked quite raw. He spent his rookie year on injured reserve.
Al Lapuaho: Al Lapuaho signed a futures contract with the Steelers earlier in January. As an undrafted rookie in 2013, he spent time on the Miami Dolphins practice squad, and earlier was in the St. Louis Rams training camp.
Draft Strategy: The draft strategy the Steelers employ very much depends on how they address the position through free agency. If they re-sign at least two of their free agents, which I tend to believe that they will (likely Hood and Al Woods), then the need at the position is virtually nil.
The Steelers already have two late-round-quality project defensive ends to mold into something workable with Arnfelt and Williams. Arnfelt is close to a classic 3-4 Steelers defensive end archetype who understands technique, while Williams is a true physical specimen that needs to be honed and crafted into the position.
While I wouldn’t be surprised if they addressed the position at some point in the draft, I think the better route is to re-sign their own free agents and work from within. But maybe I’m just overly optimistic about the future potential of these two prospects.
Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Quarterback
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Running Back
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Wide Receiver
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Tight End
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Interior OL
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Offensive Tackle