The annual draft is certainly important every year for every team in the NFL, but on Wednesday, NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt listed the Pittsburgh Steelers as one of five teams he believes the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft is especially important for.
Pittsburgh’s core players are clearly getting up there in age — and unfortunately for the Steelers, they don’t have a ton of young talent waiting in the wings. Aside from Le’Veon Bell, a second-round pick last year, Pittsburgh hasn’t drafted especially well recently, with top picks like Jarvis Jones (first round, 2013) and Cameron Heyward (first round, 2011) failing to provide needed production. The Steelers have become an old team beset with salary-cap issues. If they want to reverse their decline, they have to find prospects who will improve several areas of the roster, specifically on defense.
While Brandt is correct about Jones not producing during his rookie season last year, Heyward was one of the few bright spots on the Steelers defense in 2014 once he was inserted into the starting lineup. While there’s certainly room for improvement, Heyward led all Steelers defensive linemen with 59 total tackles of which seven went for a loss. He also registered five quarterback sacks and defensed seven passes.
As far as the Steelers becoming an old team, that narrative is getting tired. The team decided not to re-sign aging safety Ryan Clark during the offseason and instead replaced him with free agent safety Mike Mitchell. In addition, linebacker Larry Foote was released and defensive end Brett Keisel remains an unsigned free agent. In fact, only four potential starters, as we sit here in April, are 30 years old or older.
As far the Steelers being “beset with salary-cap issues”, they are in a lot better shape than they have been in several years and they have even managed to sign five unrestricted and three street free agents so far this offseason in an effort to improve their roster. When is the last time that many outside players were signed by Pittsburgh during an offseason? They will also get another $8 million in salary cap space come June went the release of linebacker LaMarr Woodley becomes official.
Yes, this is an important draft for the Steelers as it relates to future years as it is every year in Pittsburgh, but not so much for 2014 like Brandt would have you believe. The Steelers will be doing good to get more than 300 total snaps in 2014 out of any player they draft in May. If they draft one defensive player that winds up starting more than six games baring injuries, I will be shocked. It’s also still too early to judge the Steelers 2013 draft class, as those are the players that will really decide whether or not the team makes it back to the playoffs in 2014 after a two-year absence.