I love the Steelers draft - especially the picks of Heyward, Gilbert and Brown. Here is what I expect of the Steelers roster in 2011-2012.
I'll start with the defense, the STEEL CURTAIN itself. We have a new member in Cam Heyward , our #1 draft pick who may come right in and take the starting job that Brett Kiesel has held for so many years. While Kiesel is a fan favourite, and a favourite of my own, Heyward brings youth to the defensive line along with Ziggy Hood . Aaron Smith is still around for another year to back up Heyward and Hood and Kiesel. We have youth and depth at Defensive End - You have to love the future.
Casey Hampton has been around since being drafted in the 1st round of the 2001 draft. Steven McLendon is there if Chris Hoke doesn't join us - so again, we have pretty decent depth. Hampton is once again going to hold down Nose Tackle for us and should be around for a few couple seasons yet before we need to draft another NT in the first two rounds of the draft to start grooming.
LaMarr Woodley is coming off his first contract since being drafted in the 2007 2nd Round - if he leaves Jason Worilds is there for us. Worilds is ready to start in the NFL, we drafted him in the second round last year. But even so, Woodley should definitely be re-signed. Lawrence Timmons is locked up for one more season and will hopefully be with us for years and years and years and years to come. Larry Foote is there to back up Timmons. Woodley and Timmons represent the youth in our Linebackers.
James Harrison and James Farrior represent the veterans in our Linebackers. With the draft pick of Chris Carter in the 5th round and Steven Sylvester around who was also drafted in the 5th round last draft - we can let backup Keyaron Fox walk - who is off-contract. I would probably prefer to see an Inside Linebacker drafted in either Round One or Round Two of the draft next season or two to replace or groom to replace our aging linebackers in Harrison and Farrior. These two are really special players though, and it is going to be a hard decision when and how to replace them. However, I feel the Steelers are all about grooming young players and replacing old players before they become bad - ie we replace our old guys too early rather than too late if anything.
Now for our secondary - Ike Taylor is off-contract and we have drafted Curtis Brown in the third round who should start in the first week. Bryant McFadden should be back and Cortez Allen was drafted in the fourth round as a project. However I think I would feel more comfortable with better backups to McFadden and Brown - especially with Brown being a rookie - than William Gay and Allen. A decent backup Corner may be a good free-agent target for us. Just someone we can sign to a short-term contract who is capable of stepping in if Brown goes down or doesn't pan out or McFadden goes down.
Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are great players although they are starting to age some. Especially Polamalu who throws his body around so much and seems to be injured every year. Ryan Mundy and Will Allen are our backups in these positions - and with Polamalu injured most seasons, someone like Will Allen is bound to end up playing. If we feel Will Allen can't be as impactful as we would like on the field, then maybe a better quality SS would be a good free agent target.
Our offense is looking pretty solid. We got to the superbowl on half of an NFL-quality O-Line last season. Ben Roethlisberger is our guy at QB and we probably have the best depth in the league with Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich . I'm unsure whether we are going to bring Denis Dixon back, who is off-contract this season.
At Running Back, Rashad Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and 7th-round Draft Pick Baron Batch along with FB David Johnson provide the Steelers with a solid core in the Running game. We have depth, youth and quality. Wide Receiver is a similar story with Hines Ward , Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Antwaan Randel El, Antonio Brown and even arguably Limas Sweed (who I still haven't lost hope with) provide great depth. Wallace is one of the league's best deep threat. However, our main priority is to replace Hines Ward when he retires or starts to drop. Tricky situation, easier said than done. Aside from Brown (6th round), all of those WRs named have been drafted by the Steelers in the 2nd or 3rd rounds. I think either next draft or the one after we need to draft a WR in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd round of the draft. I don't see Sanders becoming a superstar WR, a great slot guy - sure. But we need a superstar guy to replace Ward. We had that with Holmes, but obviously he didn't pan out. Brown is another solid slot guy, and Sweed has talent but who knows whether he can use it productively. Our Tight Ends are young enough and we have two good TEs with Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth.
At offensive line we have drafted Marcus Gilbert at Tackle. He should come in and start right away. Jonathon Scott is young and was drafted in the 5th round of the 2006 draft by us. Flozell Adams is a 14-year pro, and it seems it is time for him to take a backup role to Gilbert and Scott at his age, so he will likely retire if he isn't starting I believe. He can still contribute and may have to if we have anything close to the amount of O-line injuries we had last season. Tony Hills if off-contract this season, and Chris Scott is our other backup at Tackle. I would personally re-sign Hills simply because I am frightened of not having any players to play if our O-line is injured again this season.
At Center, Maurkice Pouncey is a phenom and he may just be with us for his entire career. I personally like what Doug Legursky did for us last season when he was thrown in the deep end and think he is fine as our backup there. At Guard, we drafted Keith Williams in the 6th round as a project. A lot of fans seem to want to replace Chris Kemoeatu , but I stand by him for another few seasons at least. He is a good player and we can groom Keith Williams or find another player in the earlier rounds of future drafts possibly. Ramon Foster and Trai Essex should be back at Right Guard, although Essex is off-contract - I would love to re-sign him as we need all the depth we can get at O-line.
I feel like we have good depth in most positions and shouldn't need to be too active in the free agency market.
Potential Free Agency Targets
- I think a suitable backup CB who can step in and play if needed on a short term contract could be used
- If we don't feel Will Allen is up to it, try and sign a better backup to Polamalu as he is often injured
Potential Future (Next Two Seasons) Early Round Draft Choices
- Nose Tackle to groom to replace Hampton
- Inside Linebackers to groom to replace Farrior and Harrison as they age
- Polamalu backup and eventual replacement
- Potentially another CB
- Stud WR to replace Ward
- Guard to improve upon Kemoeatu/Foster combo we have currently
Overall, while the experts may once again pick the Ravens to win the division - we should take the division and make a run at the superbowl again. I'll be realistic and say we won't make the superbowl this season as we made it last season and the odds are very much against it. But I don't think a 13-3/12-4 season isn't out of the question. Potentially second seed behind Patriots I would say.