Steelers 2017 Draft Priorities Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered this league year with well over a dozen players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. They ended up retaining five of those unrestricted free agents, and also tendered their two restricted free agents.

Pittsburgh also added help from outside of the organization at wide receiver, defensive line, running back, and cornerback, but suffered several free agency losses, chiefly at wide receiver and linebacker, and suffered yet another retirement in the process. There was one significant player release, and no contracts were restructured. One franchise tag and one major extension also transpired. They still have four unrestricted free agents who remain unsigned.

The organization has been clear throughout recent weeks that they have essentially wrapped up all meaningful free agent activities, with the focus turning to the draft, so now is a good time to take a look back and see where each position started at the beginning of the process and where it is now leading up to the draft.



Current Positional Roster: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Zach Mettenberger

Immediate Draft Priority: Low

Near Future Draft Priority: High

Quarterback is a position that is going to generate a lot of discussion until they draft somebody, whether it’s this year, next year, the year after that, or the year after that. With Roethlisberger thrusting us into a yearly will-he-or-won’t-he, that is inevitable. He is in his mid-30s and has suggested he’s not going to play until he can’t. Jones is not his successor, and Mettenberger isn’t even Jones’ successor. The Steelers don’t need a quarterback in 2017, but in 2018? 2019?

Running Back:

Current Positional Roster: Le’Veon Bell, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Knile Davis, Brandon Brown-Dukes, Gus Johnson, Dreamius Smith, Roosevelt Nix

Immediate Draft Priority: Medium

Near Future Draft Priority: Medium-High

With Le’Veon Bell under contract on the franchise tag right now, the near future need is higher than the immediate, until an extension is worked out. But they look to be going into this draft seeking a backup to Bell, so that makes it a fairly notable priority.

Wide Receiver:

Current Positional Roster: Antonio Brown, Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Cobi Hamilton, Demarcus Ayers, Justin Hunter, Canaan Severin, Marcus Tucker, Dez Stewart [Martavis Bryant]

Immediate Draft Priority: Medium

Near Future Draft Priority: “

The thing with the wide receiver position is that there are just so many unknowns. What can they get out of Coates? Assuming Bryant is even back, will he pick up where he left off? Is Rogers going to continue to develop in the slot? What about all the other guys? Do they need a better number two? That’s why the priority has to fall in the middle. They have the talent and potential, but not the answers.

Tight End:

Current Positional Roster: Ladarius Green, Jesse James, David Johnson, Xavier Grimble

Immediate Draft Priority: Medium-High

Near Future Draft Priority: “

Tight end is another position with questions, mainly about Green. How is he? How big a concern is his future? Considering his concussion history, it might be wise to function with him as though they are on borrowed time, which is why I think the priority here is medium-high. James is not an above average number one tight end, so if it’s not Green, it will eventually have to be somebody else. Plus they could use another blocker.


Current Positional Roster: Alejandro Villanueva, Marcus Gilbert, Jerald Hawkins, Brian Mihalik, Chris Hubbard, Keavon Milton, Matt Feiler

Immediate Draft Priority: Very Low

Near Future Draft Priority: Low

This group is pretty set as far as I’m concerned. They have their starters and they have some intriguing backup options. I have high hopes for Hawkins and Hubbard did well last year, while Mihalik could develop. Ryan Harris’ retirement, however, might put this position in the Steelers’ board.

Interior OL:

Current Positional Roster: Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, B.J. Finney, Chris Hubbard, Mike Matthews, Kyle Friend, Matt Feiler

Immediate Draft Priority: Very Low

Near Future Draft Priority: Low-Medium

Like the tackle spot, the interior offensive line is rock solid right now with good starters and good depth. And who knows, maybe Matthews shows something. But Foster is 31, so that raises the near future priority here. Even assuming Finney could succeed him, that would create a depth need. Still, that is down the line, and Foster is still playing at a high level.

Defensive End:

Current Positional Roster: Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, L.T. Walton, Johnny Maxey

Immediate Draft Priority: Low-Medium

Near Future Draft Priority: “

Pittsburgh did bolster this spot with Alualu in free agency, and Walton showed development last year. Throw in Hargrave and that is a good number of bodies. Still, the wildcard is that nickel package. Their ends play inside in their most widely-used package. Maybe they want a 4-3 end who stays outside in that front.

Defensive Tackle:

Current Positional Roster: Javon Hargrave, Daniel McCullers, Roy Philon, Lavon Hooks

Immediate Draft Priority: Low-Medium

Near Future Draft Priority: Medium

Hargrave is obviously the starter, but there seems to be increasing belief that McCullers’ time is running out. He will be a free agent after this season, so that makes the near future priority even higher than finding some competition for his spot while he is still in the building.

Outside Linebacker:

Current Positional Roster: James Harrison, Bud Dupree, Arthur Moats, Anthony Chickillo, Farrington Huguenin

Immediate Draft Priority: Very High

Near Future Draft Priority: “

There is no beating around the bush here. Harrison is probably not going to play into his 50s so he is going to need to be replaced at some point. Oh, and they also need help right now. They’re not getting consistent pressure enough, nor are they doing so sufficiently with a four-man front. That is a major problem and needs significant resources to address it.

Inside Linebacker:

Current Positional Roster: Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich, L.J. Fort, Steven Johnson, Akil Blount

Immediate Draft Priority: Medium

Near Future Draft Priority: “

This really hinges on Williams transitioning into a starting role. If he can handle it, then that settles things down significantly. Even still, it would be comforting to find another mack in order to get behind Shazier, who has had injury issues every year.


Current Positional Roster: Artie Burns, Ross Cockrell, William Gay, Senquez Golson, Coty Sensabaugh, Al-Hajj Shabazz, Mike Hilton, Devonte Johnson, Greg Ducre, Brandon Dixon

Immediate Draft Priority: Very High

Near Future Draft Priority: “

In today’s NFL, cornerback is almost always going to be a significant priority no matter how many you have. Just look at the Bengals, who have drafted five in the first round in an 11-year span. They have Burns, but if they can upgrade Cockrell with a better man-coverage option, it sounds like they’re more than open to that. That is probably even more important in the slot, with Gay aging, Golson limping, and Sensabaugh no long-term solution.


Current Positional Roster: Mike Mitchell, Sean Davis, Robert Golden, Jordan Dangerfield, Jacob Hagen

Immediate Draft Priority: Medium-High

Near Future Draft Priority: High

Personally, I think the Steelers have a solid group of safeties, but they clearly have a good deal of interest here. They seem to want to find a safety with superior coverage skills, which makes sense. Importantly, Mitchell will soon be 30 and has two years left on his contract. He may not get another contract after that, so someone will have to start, and it won’t be Golden or Dangerfield if they can help it.


Current Positional Roster: Greg Warren, Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Kameron Canaday, AJ Hughes

Immediate Draft Priority: Very Low

Near Future Draft Priority: “

Boswell is a good one. Berry can be a good one. Warren is rock solid, but he is getting up there in years, and apparently you can actually use a draft pick on a long snapper without getting laughed at these days.

About the Author

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