With so many needs, Steelers can ill afford to miss in draft

| Saturday, March 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The decisions the Steelers face during the three-day May draft might be the most difficult to date for the Kevin Colbert-Mike Tomlin partnership.

There's so much to improve and so few picks with which to do so — and so little money available to go shopping in the NFL free-agent market that starts Tuesday.

Three players on defense (LaMarr Woodley, Ike Taylor and Lawrence Timmons) are set to count more than $10 million each against the cap next season, a staggering $37.4 million that is about one-fourth of the Steelers' $133 million cap. Woodley and Taylor are candidates for big pay cuts — or releases — depending on how much more cap space the Steelers believe they need.

The cap situation, and the lack of flexibility it gives them in free agency, further heightens the importance of this draft.

So do the Steelers draft a cover cornerback who adds youth and speed to an aging secondary? An inside linebacker who can provide run support? With Troy Polamalu about to turn 33, do they take a second high-round safety in as many seasons?

And what about the pass rush, especially now that Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood appear to be on the way out?

The Steelers will have an abundance of options with the No. 15 pick. And just like last year when they took pass rusher Jarvis Jones, they don't dare miss with this one.

Cornerbacks are among the most coveted — and some of the most selected — players in the draft, but Alabama safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix widely is rated as the top available player in the secondary. Some top-50 evaluations in advance of the NFL Combine last month didn't include a cornerback.

Louisville safety Calvin Pryor is a big hitter — he has a Shamarko Thomas-like reputation — with good size (6-foot-2, 208 pounds). Cornerback Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State also is a kick returner, another position where the Steelers need help, but he could be gone by No. 15. The best pure pass defender might be cornerback Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State, but his 40 speed (4.51) is a concern.

The best pass rusher available looks to be UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, a former running back, but he might not last until the Steelers choose. A defensive end with a Steelers-type skill set is Stanford's Trent Murphy, a high-energy, high-production player who might be available in the second round.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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