Earlier in the offseason, we took a position-by-position look at where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand with their roster before the free agency process both ravaged and replenished the talent pool.
The Steelers entered the process with 22 free agents. They re-signed six of them, while losing eight more to other teams, with eight remaining unsigned. They also added seven free agents from other teams.
With the roster picture now much clearer and draft needs much easier to determine, it’s time to revisit those positional draft charts to see which positions are areas of need come draft time.
The next position we’ll revisit will be the interior offensive line position. This may in fact be the most secure position on the entire roster, from the starting lineup to the projected depth behind them.
Maurkice Pouncey: Though he is coming off an ACL injury that will be about a year removed when the season begins, Maurkice Pouncey is a three-time Pro Bowler in three complete NFL seasons. He is a rock along the offensive line, and the Steelers will be looking to retain him long-term—they just hope they won’t have to make him the highest-paid center in the league.
His athleticism is rare for the position and is not easily replicated by journeyman replacements. Along with the rest of the unit, new position coach Mike Munchak could help take him to the next level of his game.
David DeCastro: David DeCastro came awful close to turning in a Pro Bowl performance in his first full season after a rocky start that included taking Pouncey out for the season. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate, and I see no reason to believe he won’t be able to earn a trip outright in 2014. He still has some room to grow in pass protection in particular, but has already shown on a number of occasions that he can be very effective pulling in the running game.
Ramon Foster: Often the forgotten man, the 28-year-old Ramon Foster turned in arguably the best—certainly the most consistent—offensive line performance for the Steelers last year, where he particularly excelled in pass protection. He also made modest strides in playing on the move while pulling.
Though some still seem determined to replace him, I believe he’s earned the right to have a secure spot in the starting lineup. This trio above has the capability of making up one of the best interior offensive lines in the league.
Cody Wallace: Forced into his first stretch of real NFL activity in his career, Cody Wallace started the last four games of the season for the Steelers at center, and he played well enough to be rewarded with a three-year contract. He plays with a mean streak. I think those two things say just about enough of what needs to be said. As it currently stands, he figures to be the top offensive interior reserve.
Nik Embernate: A highly-touted UDFA last year, Nik Embernate’s rookie season was cut short before reaching the preseason when he tore his ACL during drills. Just before that, he was moving his way up the depth chart. He will look to resume his ascendance up the depth chart this year, and perhaps earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
Chris Hubbard: A surprise success, Chris Hubbard spent the entire year on the practice squad, beating out several other interior OL candidates for the privilege. The Steelers have expressed interest in making him center-capable, which would obviously play in his favor for making the roster this season.
Draft Prognosis: I’ve purposely left off Guy Whimper from this list because I believe the Steelers intend to keep him at tackle this season. There are reports that the team still intends to re-sign Fernando Velasco, which would give them a superior depth pairing with Wallace, both of whom can start at center and guard at replacement level.
With that in mind, I have a hard time imagining the Steelers actually drafting an interior offensive lineman in this draft. There is simply no need for it, and unless a player with such disparate value presents himself, I can’t imagine they would favor an interior offensive lineman over a position of greater need.