Now that the major free agent signings have been finalized, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be looking at the top three needs for each team heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. Today, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the focus. The Steelers have the 25th pick in the NFL, and it will be a big one, because this team is a going to be a contender this year. Expect them, especially early to be looking for players who can make a day one impact.
Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 NFL Draft: Top 3 Needs
Currently the only real defensive tackle signed is Daniel McCullers. McCullers is a former sixth round pick and a project, and by all accounts the Steelers did not show any signs that they were ready to move on to him by playing him in only 12 games for 102 snaps last year. Still, they let Steve McClendon go to the Jets on a fairly friendly deal. The Steelers could have afforded it, so either McClendon turned down a similar deal or they were fine with him moving on.
The Steelers do play a lot of sub package football, and they typically would align in a sort of 2-4-5 look. It gives them a slot corner and turns a linebacker like James Harrison into a pure pass rusher. In that regard, they have Cam Heyward, and Stephon Tuitt who can fill the defensive line in that package, and it will be effective.
Still, on the line in general they are lacking in the depth department, and with that look you are going to get burned in the run. The Steelers should be looking at this draft and saying that if they do not walk away with a defensive lineman in the first three rounds that they have failed. Pressure starts up front and the run defense starts up front, and even with a guy like McCullers, and the recent signing of Ricardo Mathews getting a few snaps, they will have to find some help to rotate in and stop the run.
In the first round there could be a few guys worth looking at. Andrew Billings out of Baylor, Vernon Butler from Louisiana Tech, and Jarran Reed from Alabama could all be available at pick 25. Billings is a guy with the potential of one of the best players in the draft. His big knock is that most think that he cannot play more than two downs at a time. That would almost fit in perfectly for Pittsburgh because he has the size to clog the run on his early downs, and they look to Tuitt, Heyward, and Harrison to pressure on third down. Whether it is Billings or not, the Steelers will have to address the defensive line. They will have to find a guy that will clog the line and they will have to do it early in the draft.
The Steelers current starting strong safety would be Robert Golden. Golden is the special teams captain, and has mostly been brought up to be the backup free safety to Mike Mitchell. Late last year Golden had to sub in for Will Allen, who had really been out of place in his role as well. Allen is 33 now and currently has not been signed. Shamarko Thomas is on the roster, but the former fourth rounder has made two starts in three years. As the only pure strong safety between him, Allen, and Golden you have to assume he just doesn’t have it if he cannot start over them. Tomlin has hinted that the problem with Thomas lies between his shoulders, and after three years you cannot assume the light bulb will just turn on.
The hope is that this year they do not need to bring back Allen to start again because they are moving on to better things. The Steelers have been active with a variety of positions in the draft season, but really have been keying in on safeties. Notable players in which the Steelers have met with that could be drafted in the first three rounds include Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell, Darian Thompson, Karl Joseph, Keanu Neal, and Su’a Cravens. They clearly are interested in addressing the position, and due to the caliber on the list of names that they have either brought in or attended their pro day, they clearly have their eyes on addressing this position early. Whoever they draft will more than likely be looking to start, or put in significant snaps right away.
The Steelers last need will come down to cornerback or outside linebacker. When you look at the depth chart, William Gay, Senquez Golson, and Cortez Allen are currently signed for the next three years. You can understand that there are questions about cornerback, especially due to the fact that Golson and Allen did not give you any snaps last year. But at outside linebacker, they currently only have Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo signed past 2017. Jarvis Jones is a free agent this year and James Harrison has made it clear that 2016 will be his last year, if he even comes back for it.
The Steelers invested in cornerback by signing Gay to an extension this off-season and by drafting Golson in the second round last year. They also have Ross Cockrell and Doran Grant on the roster, a guy they traded for and drafted just last year. They will need one of Cockrell, Grant or Allen to step up in the nickel, but if they belive in the kid Golson, it shouldn’t be the most pressing need. While they drafted Dupree in the first round he is not the Harrison replacement. He will be rushing opposite of Harrison. Dupree is a guy who is athletic and the hope is he can do a variety of things off the ball and rushing the passer. Jones was supposed to be in the role that Harrison plays as the pure pass rusher, but the 2013 first round pick is slowly looking like a bust, with five sacks in three years.
That said, if Noah Spence or Shaq Lawson is on the board at pick 25, the Steelers should run up to the podium themselves to select him. Spence probably has a more likely chance than Lawson to be on the board, mainly due to off-field issues. There are reports the Steelers have shown some interest in Spence and may have looked into those issues prior. This draft class is not the strongest or deepest at outside linebacker, but in the second or third rounds they could see a guy like Shilique Calhoun, Kamalei Correa, or Kevin Dodd who all would fit the role as the pass rushing extraordinaire. With it being a deeper draft for corner than linebacker, it just seems to be another reason they would want to address this early on.