Defense could make case for Steelers in draft
There is nothing simple about the NFL Draft, but don't expect the Steelers to complicate matters when they're put on the clock with the No. 15 pick Thursday night.
The Steelers, 8-8 the past two seasons, will have plenty of options because they have a need at nearly every position.
The Steelers need to shore up three positions: cornerback, defensive tackle and inside linebacker. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has watched his once-impregnable and experienced unit transform into a vulnerable and inexperienced unit that was ravaged by injuries, age and free agency the past three seasons.
However, former Steelers running back and current ESPN NFL analyst Jerome Bettis said not to discount the possibility the Steelers will select an offensive tackle with the first of seven selections.
That could be moot if other teams eye their targets, Taylor Lewan of Michigan and Zack Martin of Notre Dame. While Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio and Virginia's Morgan Moses still may be available, the Steelers at that point might not value either as much as a defensive tackle or cornerback.
“They might not have to hit a home run in every round, but the first three they need to find productive players the next five to seven years, especially on defense,” Bettis said. “Whether it's depth or starters, those picks are going to be important.
“They have needs on all three levels defensively. So it gives them the ability not to have to target one particular position and get the best available player.”
Bettis prefers a defensive tackle who could be turned into a nose tackle, mostly because the Steelers were 21st in defending the run after being second in 2012 — an alarming decline for a defensive line that is tasked with funneling running backs to the linebacker corps.
“The run stopper is going to be critical,” Bettis said. “They need a big defensive tackle capable of playing nose tackle.
“But not far behind is an impact linebacker who can play inside or one who can play on the outside to provide depth. The Steelers have always had depth at outside linebacker, but right now they don't have it.”
The Steelers have lost four starting linebackers since 2011: James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior and Larry Foote. They will need to find an inside linebacker to pair with Lawrence Timmons. There are several second- or third-round candidates, including Chris Borland of Wisconsin, Shayne Skov of Stanford and Christian Jones of Florida State.
However, the loss of Ziggy Hood, Al Woods and possibly veteran Brett Keisel could vault defensive linemen atop the Steelers' draft board. The Steelers are taking a long look at Notre Dame's Louis Nix (6-foot-2, 331 pounds) and Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman (6-6, 310).
“Hageman is the kind of guy who can stop the run and give you help at nose tackle,” Bettis said. “Nix is possibly a big-time nose tackle who certainly appears to be attractive pick if he's still available.”
Also, the Steelers will have to resolve issues in the secondary when they arrive for training camp at St. Vincent College in July. It appears second-year safety Shamarko Thomas will replace Ryan Clark, but the Steelers need depth, considering Taylor's age and Cortez Allen's bout with injuries.
It's conceivable that one of the four top-rated cornerbacks — Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State, Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State, Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech and Bradley Roby of Ohio State — could be available midway through the first round.
“Dennard is a very attractive pick because he's solid in man coverage, which is important for the Steelers, who will use him on the back side of their defense,” Bettis said. “He is a press, in-your-face kind of guy who has good size, but the downside might be a lack of super speed (4.5 in the 40).”
For Bettis, it's a toss-up between offensive tackle Lewan and defensive tackle Hageman or cornerbacks Dennard and Gilbert. But if none is available, the Steelers still have plenty of options.
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers wrap lackluster preseason with loss to Panthers
- Steelers notebook: Safety Mitchell faces former team, hurts leg
- Preseason valuable for Steelers’ offensive line
- Former longtime Steelers publicist Kiely dies
- Steelers have plenty of new faces at wide receiver
- Why Steelers will — or won’t — snap out of their funk
- Rossi: Steelers will make small strides this season
- Steelers notebook: Team cuts 15 players, including LB So’oto, RB Hall
- For Steelers outside linebacker Jones, size is not an obstacle
- In last preseason game, a final audition for some Steelers
- Steelers’ Mitchell enduring growing pains