Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Forecast
The Pittsburgh Steelers were perhaps a Fitzgerald Toussaint fumble away from sealing an AFC Divisional playoff victory and marching to New England for the AFC Championship, but the Denver Broncos had other plans. The Steelers may have lost to the eventual Super Bowl champions, but the “Black ‘n Gold” are highly favored in the AFC heading into the 2016 season following a down then up,10-6 season.
The Steelers’ offensive potency is now common knowledge across the league. Pittsburgh ranked third in total yards in 2016 despite playing without Le’Veon Bell for the second half of the season, a mangled Ben Roethlisberger, and without DeAngelo Williams in the playoffs.
When healthy, no other team can boast a more complete offense, and the Steelers don’t need to do much to add to it come Draft Day. Even with WR Martavis Bryant suspended for the season in all likelihood, the Steelers won’t use a high draft pick on an offensive player unless someone extremely skilled falls in their lap.
Defensively, it’s a different story with Pittsburgh. This is a defense that saw massive improvements as the year went on, but a piecemeal secondary will once again be the story and must be addressed on Draft Day.
In order to live up to their Super Bowl hype and continue their upward trend, the Steelers must address the following positions on Draft Day:
The Steelers are historically a smart team on Draft Day, so a first-round pick will be a cornerback with a high level of certainty. The league’s 30th-ranked pass defense in 2015 is undergoing major turnover once again. Cornerbacks Cortez Allen, Brandon Boykin and Antwon Blake are gone, which leaves the re-signed William Gay the de-facto number one guy when the season starts. The Steelers do have 2015 second round pick Senquez Golson (missed 2015 due to injury) and fourth round pick Doran Grant waiting in the wings, but adding depth to ensure longevity is imperative. The Steelers will not sign a big-name corner in free agency - that’s just not who they are.
As for options, this draft’s corner market is very top-heavy, which stresses the need to draft one early as well. Ohio State’s Eli Apple, Houston’s William Jackson, and Clemson’s Mack Alexander are the three favorites, but there is no clear-cut favorite among these three players yet.
This position was one of Pittsburgh’s strengths last season with Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Steve McLendon combining for 14.5 sacks. McLendon is gone, and the Steelers have brought in several defensive linemen in on visits to perhaps replace him. Tuitt could move to nose tackle in Keith Butler’s 3-4 defense because of his size, so a three or five-technique defensive end is a viable option for Pittsburgh. Maryland’s Quinton Jefferson and Clemson’s Shaq Lawson were two of several names the Steelers had on their radar leading up to Draft Day, and even if players like them are taken early, the defensive line pool in this draft is deep enough for the Steelers to wait until the second or third round to select someone that can slot in and play when needed.
Ben Roethlisberger has taken beating after beating in his career, and this year was no different despite being sacked 20 times, the fewest he’s been sacked in a season. Injuries forced the not-so-fast-anymore Michael Vick and shaky Landry Jones into the lineup often this season, delaying Pittsburgh’s potential. While the offensive line has improved, Big Ben has gotten older faster than Steelers fans would like. The 34-year-old play caller has roughly two to three years of elite football left in him, and it would be wise for the Steelers to invest in a young, talented prospect who can fill in when Roethlisberger inevitably gets hurt again.
This year’s quarterback pool is deeper than a lot of onlookers may realize. The Steelers were one of a few teams in extensive talks with Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott, who plays a similar physical style to Big Ben. Memphis’s Paxton Lynch is also an option with a similar style of play, but if the Steelers do get a quarterback, he’ll need to be more than just a game-manager. The Steelers have historically won Super Bowls with quarterbacks who take charge at the helm and rally their teams around them. Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg also falls into this category.
John Petrolias is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Junior / Broadcast Journalism
John Petrolias is a member of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism, and is a play-by-play broadcaster and producer for men’s hockey content, as well as the host/founder of Pittsburgh Sound—Happy Valley’s only Pittsburgh sports talk show. Petrolias has previously covered the men’s hockey team for The Daily Collegian, covers Penn State football for PennLive.com and has interned at the Pittsburgh Penguins, Penn State Athletics/BTN Live Student U production, as well as the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s PR department in Pittsburgh. John aspires to be an on-air journalist or play-by-play broadcaster for a news/sports outlet and plans to go to law school to become a media and First Amendment attorney.