Steelers Draft Needs – Safety

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 safety position. No position on the team got more attention from the Steelers than did safety this offseason, and for good reason.

With Ryan Clark on the decline, they opened their wallets for a new free safety. Troy Polamalu was in the last year of his contract, so they added two more. Will Allen proved his value as the quarters safety last season, so he’s back as well. This is the deepest the position has been in some time, at least on paper.

Troy Polamalu: Polamalu is a future Hall of Famer. That fact is virtually certain. He has 32 interceptions and 13 forced fumbles in his 130 starts, to go along with 12 sacks and about 100 passes defensed, but his impact on games goes far beyond that. At his best, he can sense the pulse of the game and make just the right play at the right time, seemingly at will.

Last season found Polamalu named to the Pro Bowl once again with five forced fumbles and two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. He even played at linebacker depth a lot down the stretch. But he’s not getting any younger, and his ability to guess in coverage isn’t on an upward trend either. How soon is too soon to start grooming his successor? Is he already on the roster?

Mike Mitchell: Coming over from Carolina, Mike Mitchell is the rare Steelers free agent actually signed to start. He had a breakout season of sorts last year, and will play best as a deep safety with strong range and some blitzing potential. This should take some pressure off Polamalu and allow him more freedom. Mitchell does have some cleaning up to do when it comes to tackling, even if he’s capable of delivering the big hit.

Will Allen: Allen signed with the Cowboys only because they offered him a chance to start. They didn’t like what they saw and benched him after just a couple games before eventually releasing him. The Steelers welcomed him back with open arms and he finished the final third of the season playing a vital role as the sixth defensive back. Among his contributions were an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovered and nearly returned for a score. He will provide valuable experienced depth this season.

Shamarko Thomas: What is the long-term future for Shamarko Thomas? Will he be the next strong safety after Polamalu retires? Thomas is short, but so is Polamalu. On the surface, they seem to share many qualities. Thomas had some success as a rookie when not being lined up one on one against All-Pro tight ends, but the Steelers expect a jump from him in year two, even if he’s not starting. He’ll likely play some dime this season, and maybe even some nickel, since he has some natural cover ability.

Robert Golden: While he’s developed into a strong special teams player, Robert Golden doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to getting significant playing time on defense. He played some early in the year due to injuries, but was back to special teams after that. It’s hard to know what type of player he is on defense without seeing him play.

Draft Prognosis: The Steelers would appear to be set at the position for the year. In fact, it would hardly seem possible to add another at the position, as they already have five. Golden isn’t going anywhere by virtue of his special teams play alone.

But if one of the top safeties should fall to the second round? Surely they would have to at least think about taking him. Allen would be the odd man out in that scenario. Polamalu is nearing the end of the road, and Thomas may ultimately be best as a sub-package player.

While it’s not a need this year, it could be in a year or two. That’s how the Steelers used to draft, but they don’t seem to be able to afford to lately with so many significant needs. The future at cornerback is approaching faster than it is at safety.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • CuldesacBill

    I can’t really see them drafting a safety early, but maybe later on. I am surprised by how many safeties they have brought in for visits. They might go for a safety later on in the draft like Hakeem Smith from Louisville.

  • dgh57

    Drafting a pure Safety to compete with Golden on day 3 is about the best I see us doing with regards to the position.

  • Milliken Steeler

    I honestly don’t see a safety now early anyway, unless they feel like they are in a draft the best position available mode because their choices for that round were gone. In this deep draft I doubt it though.

    I could see them snatch a guy like Safety Kenny Ladler though, in the fifth or 6th if he dropped there.

  • LatrWildcat

    The Steelers do seem to be set at safety for the next year or two and to have a need for an outside corner, but the problem is that after Gilbert, there’s really not another starter-caliber corner with the size, skills, speed, & physicality to play outside. Roby has character flags and I would not take him. Dennard & Fuller just do not have the recovery speed you want in an outside guy.

    On the flip side, there are several starter-caliber safeties that may be available in the 2nd or 3rd round – Brock Vereen, Deone Buccanon, & Jimmy Ward. All are productive, athletic, sure-tackling safeties with the range to cover the deep zone and support against the run,

    Despite their immediate holes on the roster, I really think the Steelers need to think about the long-term health of the team & pick the more talented players when they are available, rather than picking a lesser player because the draft is weak at a position of need. This recent practice is starting to leave the team with a talent-deficient roster in many areas.

  • GoSteelerz

    They didn’t mention Jordan Dangerfield. I guess they aren’t expecting much, but his college highlights looked pretty good to me. He’s a young man out of Towson who spent last season on Buffalo’s practice squad. Especially from a smaller school, it’s an adjustment coming to the pro’s. With a year on a practice squad, maybe he can make the leap necessary to stay on a roster and become an impact player. At this point, though, it still may not impact their draft strategy, as much has yet to be proven either way.