By Matthew Marczi
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 starting interior offensive line might be the greatest strength that the Steelers have on their team right now, projecting a healthy and capable Maurkice Pouncey after tearing his ACL early in the first game of the season. David DeCastro and Ramon Foster are both quality guards, while the former has the potential to become an All-Pro at the position.
Pittsburgh had some quality interior depth last season, which they desperately needed, but they’re all currently free agents. With a couple of simple re-signings, there will be no relevance to this position for the Steelers come draft time.
Maurkice Pouncey: Pouncey is a three-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro—once first-team—in four seasons, with the fourth season being limited to eight snaps due to the aforementioned injury. Should he come back healthy and ready to play, he would truly solidify perhaps the greatest strength currently on the team.
David DeCastro: DeCastro showed a lot of the potential that made him a first rounder last year, at times dominating opponents in the running game. While he started off slow and later dealt with and played through injury, he finished the year being named a Pro Bowl alternate.
Ramon Foster: Foster quietly had the best year of his career, and was probably the best lineman on the team in 2013. He had a great season in pass protection, and he showed increased mobility in the running game. He is a deserving starter that doesn’t need to be upgraded.
David Snow: A late-season injury replacement signing, David Snow spent a couple of games on the roster at the end of the year, but he’s not likely to make the team, and comes with no dead money.
Chris Hubbard: One of several undrafted free agent linemen the Steelers brought in last year, Chris Hubbard spent pretty much all of the preseason playing guard on the second-team offensive line, and then spent all year on the practice squad. The Steelers have or had plans to have him learn center as well. He’s certainly a practice squad candidate again this year at worst.
Bryant Browning: A former undrafted free agent in 2011, Bryant Browning was active for one game in his rookie season. He’s currently with his fifth different organization and is unlikely to be a factor.
Nik Embernate: Also one of many undrafted free agents the Steelers signed after the draft, the one they call ‘Embernasty’ was reportedly having an impressive training camp, having just been promoted to second-team guard before tearing his ACL during a blocking drill and missing all of the preseason. Nik Embernate is a wildcard, in part due to the fact that he is strictly a guard. If he can show position flexibility this spring and summer, that drastically increases his chances of making the roster in 2014, or at least the practice squad.
Draft Strategy: There’s really no need to address the interior offensive line in this draft. The only slight question is with Pouncey and if he’s healthy, and more long-term, if the Steelers intend to re-sign him (which I strongly imagine they do).
The team learned by necessity that they have available to them a few linemen that are interior-capable in Fernando Velasco, Cody Wallace, and Guy Whimper. Velasco and Wallace combined to make 15 starts at center this season, while Whimper made a start at each guard position. Wallace also played some guard and Whimper played a bit at right tackle.
If these three could be re-signed, and the Steelers have Embernate and Hubbard to provide competition, there really is no reason that I see for the Steelers to feel the need to address either guard or center during this draft. Of course, that changes immediately if re-signing players becomes an issue, but even at that point we’re looking strictly at depth with three entrenched and high-performing starters.
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