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.
We’ve already looked at the quarterback position, which the Steelers are highly unlikely to address at all in the draft, so let’s move on now to the running back position, which was addressed last year with the drafting of Le’Veon Bell in the second round. First, a recap of the current depth chart:
Le’Veon Bell: Bell already showed in his rookie season that he is capable of being a workhorse back for the Steelers. In the five games in which he carried the ball 20 or more times, the team won. He is a very patient runner that can also throw a mean stiff arm or even leap over a defender when need be.
While it was not always evident, he is also certainly a threat in the passing game, as he accumulated 399 receiving yards to go with his 820 rushing yards in 13 games. The Steelers routinely line him up outside, and defenses must account for him. His work in pass protection will only improve in his second season. He has the awareness down, but his technique failed him at times.
Alvester Alexander: Alvester Alexander was a late signing, replacing the softer Curtis McNeal. A former undrafted free agent, Alexander bounced around on practice squads in 2012, but made an impression with the Steelers and stuck on the practice squad all season. He was given junk time snaps in each preseason game, accumulating 43 yards on 15 carries, with a long of 14. With three-fourths of the positional depth chart scheduled to hit free agency, he is a prime candidate to make the roster in 2014.
Miguel Maysonet: Miguel Maysonet went undrafted last season, and has evidently had at least a cup of coffee with six different teams since then prior to being signed to a futures contract by the Steelers. That’s kind of a red flag. Maysonet gained 30 yards on 13 carries and 13 yards on two receptions during the preseason with the Cleveland Browns.
Draft Strategy: As mentioned, the Steelers currently have three running backs from their 2013 roster hitting free agency in the form of Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, and LaRod Stephens-Howling. I certainly doubt all three will be brought back, and I might even be surprised if two return. That largely depends on how Stephens-Howling heals from his ACL injury. He offers a skill set that Todd Haley covets, but he’s not the only player in the league with that skill set.
Dwyer played well as a complementary and short-yardage back last year, and is also the best pass protector on the team. Unless he wants a change of scenery, I believe he’s likely to return. There’s not much meat on the Felix Jones bone, and a cheaper alternative can be readily had.
I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Steelers address the running back position in this draft. It’s probably a fairly decent bet that they will, in fact, particularly in the late rounds. A record number of underclassmen have declared for the draft this year, and that includes an awful lot of running backs.