Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Outlook

The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a brutal playoff loss to the hands of Denver Broncos.  Pittsburgh picks 24th.  I mocked Midwestern State Amini Silatolu in round 1 in my last two mock drafts after originally mocking Vontaze Burfict in 2 mocks before the NFL Combine.  I am going to mock a different player at 24 in my final mock draft on Thursday.

Free Agency Status

The Steelers brought back some of their players and continue to build through the NFL Draft.  Teams that build through the NFL Draft win Championships.  Pittsburgh understands this better than anyone which is why their in the hunt each season.

Trai Essex, Ramon Foster, and Doug LeGursky can compete for the right guard job.  None of these players should be starting at left guard.  They can all be solid starters at right guard as long as you have great bookend offensive tackles and interior offensive lineman that can hold their own at left guard and center.

Pittsburgh brought back Jerrio Cotchery for depth.  Cotchery could contribute as a slot receiver with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders playing on the outside if Mike Wallace holds out.  This offense, is not the same without Wallace.  I can see why the Steelers offense would want to put faith in Brown and Sanders after the success both receivers had in 2011.

Pittsburgh retained Charlie Batch as a backup.  The 3rd stringers expected to compete for Pittsburgh’s final quarterback roster spot are Troy Smith a 2007 5th round draft pick and Jerrod Johnson a former Texas A&M quarterback that got replaced by Ryan Tannehill.

Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy at Ohio State before losing a National Title to Florida.  Smith never got to have his moment in Baltimore due to a season ending injury in the preseason that allowed Joe Flacco to runaway with the starting job without a fight.

Smith had 6 starts in 2010 under Mike Singletary with the San Francisco 49ers after Alex Smith got benched in favor of Troy Smith.  Troy Smith threw 5 passing touchdowns and rushed for 1 rushing touchdown in 6 starts with 49ers.  Smith also threw 4 interceptions and fumbled the ball 6 times in those 6 games.  Smith took 18 sacks over that 6 game span.  To Troy Smith’s defense, Joe Staley was injured at left tackle while Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati were in their rookie seasons.  San Francisco’s pass blocking was in shambles.  Not to mention, the 49ers team that year was in complete disarray from a owner to player standpoint.  Jim Harbaurgh did a great job turning around the 49ers straight out of Stanford.

Troy Smith is no Ben Roethlisberger.  With the proper mentoring from Charlie Batch, Troy Smith could become the next big name backup quarterback in the Steel City.  That is, if Smith beats out the next quarterback that Pittsburgh brought in.

Jerrod Johnson had to compete with Stephen McGee and Ryan Tannehill for A&M’s starting job.  Johnson beat out Tannehill for the starting job before losing it to Tannehill.  I think A&M’s coaches like Tannehill so much is because he stuck around even though he could have transferred elsewhere.

Jerrod Johnson fell from Heisman dark horse, to losing the Texas A&M job to Ryan Tannehill, to being a bust in the United Football League which is a new football league attempting to compete with the NFL.  The UFL is basically a minor league version of the NFL.

Jerrod Johnson is 6 foot 5 240 pounds and can move outside of the pocket.  Imagine a minor league version of JaMarcus Russell that you could put on your practice squad and gradually develop into a backup if he puts the work in.  That’s what Johnson provides.

2012 NFL Draft Needs

Left Tackle Marcus Gilbert is a right tackle at best that surrendered 7 sacks as a rookie while Willie Colon is an offensive guard being forced into a right tackle role.

Gilbert can improve becoming a decent right tackle if he gains more experience.  The fact that Gilbert surrendered 7 sacks at right tackle is only a glaring warning of what’s to come this season with the departure of Max Starks.  Gilbert will encounter far tougher pass rushers on the left side that he will be outmatched against a 3-4 outside linebacker like Terrell Suggs.

The Steelers may have had the most woeful interior offensive line when winning Super Bowl 43.  Max Starks and Willie Colon were bookend offensive tackles which is why the Steelers won Super Bowl 43.  The Steelers did not have a left tackle when facing Green Bay in Super Bowl 45 which is why they lost that game.  Say what you want, but pass blockng offensive tackles who can play left tackle are more coveted in the NFL than interior offensive lineman and run blocking right tackles who have the size, but lack the footwork to buy a quarterback time in the pocket.

Stanford left tackle Jonathan Martin protected Andrew Luck’s blindside at Stanford.  Pittsburgh will get a C grade for the first round if they pass on Martin at 24 assuming he slips that far, and the grade could be even lower if they reach for someone or fail to address a need.

 Left Guard Chris Kemoatu is gone.  There are two ways to address this.

Option A Play Conservative Put faith in Marcus Gilbert and Willie Colon at offensive tackle.  Take a guard with the size and power to help boost the running game.  Cordy Glenn is 6 foot 5 345 pounds.  Glenn will be a dominant run blocking guard.  Pittsburgh has had tremendous success with obtaining SEC offensive lineman.  Max Starks, Alen Faneca, Kendall Simmons, Maurkice Pouncey, and Marcus Gilbert all attended SEC schools.  Pittsburgh had a deal in place with Washington at 16 if Miami passed on Mike Pouncey with the 15th pick in last April’s NFL Draft.

Option B Play Aggressive and draft Jonathan Martin if he slips to 24. Pittsburgh can address this by taking Martin as a left tackle moving Marcus Gilbert to right tackle and Willie Colon to left guard.

The latter is the more effective option.  Martin is the safer pick from a physical and mental standpoint plus his potential is slightly higher than Glenn’s.  You know your getting a starting offensive tackle with Martin because of his work ethic, football IQ, and having to learn complex blocking schemes with Andrew Luck at quarterback.

Martin is a starting right tackle worst case scenario if he struggles in Steelers training camp.  Martin is a sure fire blue chip left tackle with talent to best Marcus Gilbert as the Steelers left tackle option on opening day.  I had Martin considered a higher graded prospect than Matt Kalil at one point back in May.  Martin could slip to Pittsburgh because he struggled at his combine and had trouble executing drills during Stanford’s pro day.  Teams will examine this and knock Martin down when in reality, Martin could be the steal of this draft if he goes to a team like Pittsburgh that is one left tackle away like Martin from regaining Super Bowl contention status.

Even adding Martin as a right tackle enables Colon to kick into left guard.  Martin will immediately help the Steelers adding more stability to one of the offensive tackle slots probably the left tackle slot.

Cordy Glenn is being labeled as an offensive tackle.  Glenn played left tackle as a senior in 2011.  Glenn is much better suited on the inside at guard in a run blocking scheme. Glenn lacks the footwork and the pass blocking to be a technician at the next level.  There are also questions about Glenn’s work ethic.  Some teams have these same questions about Martin, but Martin is in good shape at 6 foot 6 305 pounds with the proper conditioning for an offensive tackle.  Glenn is 6 foot 5 345 pounds.  One of Glenn’s biggest weaknesses is the limited versatility that Glenn can provide.  Glenn struggles with footwork to execute in a pass blocking or zone blocking scheme which sort of makes Glenn a one dimensional run blocking guard at the next level.

If Pittsburgh wants to take the more complete lineman between Jonathan Martin and Cordy Glenn they should opt for Martin.  If Pittsburgh wants the offensive lineman who is complete monster from a physical standpoint who will maul defenders as a run blocker then they should select Cordy Glenn.  Both players would help the Steelers offensive line.

Martin is the better player by a long shot and makes far more sense considering the Steelers could use an upgrade at left tackle so they can keep Gilbert at right tackle and move Colon to left guard.

Field Cornerback Curtis Brown a nickel cornerback at best who failed to beat out Aaron Williams and Chykie Brown on the Longhorns depth chart at cornerback.  Brown is ranked ahead of the 32 year old Ike Taylor as the Steelers #1 cornerback on Pittsburgh’s depth chart.  Either Brown is progressing or Taylor is regressing after getting torched by DeMaryius Thomas in Denver.  Its that simple.  Right now I’ll go with the latter because I wasn’t sold on Curtis Brown coming out of Texas.  Taylor’s best days as a #1 cornerback against top tier wide receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, and Andre Johnson are well behind him.

A lot of Steelers fans I know seem to agree with me that Cortez Allen will be the better of the 2 cornerbacks down the road.  Allen is the #6 cornerback on Pittsburgh’s depth chart at the moment.  The Pittsburgh Steelers won’t be able to address cornerback in the first three rounds of this years draft.  The Steelers can obtain a dime corner that could develop into a #2 boundary corner by sitting out for a few years on day 3 of the draft. I doubt Pittsburgh goes in that direction when they have 3rd and 4th round picks at cornerback.  Pittsburgh obtained Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen as developmental corners in the 2011 NFL Draft.

I doubt Pittsburgh can defeat Baltimore given the current state of Pittsburgh’s defensive losses while Balitmore’s defense continues to have depth and experience even though the Ravens lost some pieces on defense.  The Ravens were literally stacked on defense with starters and depth players who could step in as starters. I thought their defense would give Tom Brady the most fits in the playoffs with the state of their depth chart at the time.

Cincinnati will be able to exploit Pittsburgh’s defense with AJ Green being able to have mismatches on Curtis Brown.  Ike Taylor could still stop Green on first downs in the first half.  As the game progresses, Green would wear Ike Taylor out.

3-4 Middle Linebacker Larry Foote is aging and Stevenson Sylvester is a special teams player at best.  Neither qualifies as a long term starter across from Lawrence Timmons.  If the Steelers opt for defense in round 1 then the consensus choice Dont’a Hightower is probably the best bet for the Black and Gold if they want an immediate impact starter with no remote downside to his game.

3-4 Nose Tackle Casey Hampton is going to be playing off a torn ACL.  Two potential successors to Hampton are Memphis nose tackle Dontari Poe and LSU nose tackle Michael Brockers.

Dontari Poe takes off plays, fatigues easily, and is a two down lineman at 6 foot 5 350 pounds.  Poe excelled at the Combine, but his stock has been slipping leading up to the NFL Draft.

Michael Brockers looks sluggish at times when you watch his tape.  Brockers is 6 foot 6 320 pounds.  Brockers can stuff the run, but struggles in pass rushing situations.  Brockers was contained in one on one situations and was useless when interior offensive lineman double teamed him on pass rushing situations.

Brockers is a sophomore redshirt.  Brockers has potential, but he is raw and not ready to play as a full time starter in a 3-4 scheme after playing the 4-3 in college.  Pittsburgh would be much better off waiting until 2013 to address nose tackle.  Jonathan Hankins, Kwame Geathers, and Star Lotulelei are much safer options than Poe or Brockers.  None of the 2013 prospects provide as much upside or long term potential as Poe or Brockers.  The three are safer picks with lower bust rates than Poe or Brockers.  Something for Pittsburgh to think about before deciding that you need to move up for Dontari Poe by pulling the trigger to trade up.

Running Back Issac Redman is a #2 back at best.  Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch, and John clay are all practice squad backs at best competing to be 3rd stringers.  Pittsburgh really needs to add another rusher to their backfield in a draft that is deep at running back.  I get a strong feeling that 2012 will be Mendenhall’s final season in Pittsburgh.  Running back is a second tier need compared to the other 5 needs.  Its still a need in my eyes and its a need Pittsburgh should address in the first 5 rounds of a draft that is really deep at running back.

2012 NFL Draft Strategy

Pittsburgh is not going to address every single need in the 2012 NFL Draft.  It needs to be a requirement for Pittsburgh to find an immediate impact starter in round 1 and its recommended that they address another need in round 2 hoping to double up.

Playoffs or No Playoffs? Playoffs Pittsburgh draws the AFC North, the NFC East, the AFC West, the Tennessee Titans, and the New York Jets on their schedule.  That’s a great schedule for Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh’s first 4 are against Denver, New York Jets with Sanchez not Tim Tebow starting in week 2 for a home opener at Heinz Field, a road game with Oakland Raiders, and Philadelphia at Heinz Field.  Pittsburgh should be able to start 4-0 with this schedule.  After that the schedule gets brutal until December when the Steelers get 3 games at home and a road game with Dallas in December.  All Pittsburgh has to do is win 2 out of 8 games in the middle of the season because the Steelers usually put a higher emphasis on the opening and end of a regular season rather than the middle of the regular season.

This is a 9-7 team worst case scenario even with their depleted offensive line.  Pittsburgh does not have to face Brady and that’s one thing that works heavily in their favor because you can make a case for Ben Roethlisberger being better than any other AFC quarterback.

Baltimore’s schedule is absolutely brutal having to face both the Mannings, Tom Brady, and other aspiring NFC East quarterbacks who feel like they got something to prove.  Did I mention that Baltimore gets the Houston Texans too who are looking for some sweet playoff revenge with a team that was keeping it close with Baltimore despite the absence of Matt Schaub.

Pittsburgh could endure a brutal 2 to 5 game losing streak at some point in the regular season.  At the end of the day, I just cannot see the NFL playoffs without Pittsburgh.  Roethilsberger is the best AFC quarterback next to Tom Brady.  Andrew Luck will surpass Ben and Brady at some point in the future, but Luck needs a few years to have the right supporting cast before being in the same class as a Ben Roethlisberger or a Tom Brady.  Peyton Manning is aging and there is no guarantee that he recovers to his former form before the neck surgery.

Pittsburgh had their run as a dynasty with Roethlisberger like New England did with Tom Brady when making 3 Super Bowl appearances in 6 years.  That gap will close for good unless Martin becomes a Steeler because the Steelers have so many major needs that will not all get immediately addressed on draft day.  Left tackle is the biggest need and Martin really solidifies the offensive line for Roethlisberger giving Pittsburgh one more shot for Ben to win a 3rd Lombardi Trophy for the Steel City.  Pittsburgh still has enough talent to get to the playoffs with Roethlisberger under center.

Pittsburgh will likely lose in the divisional round redeeming themselves after a wild card loss with potential to be an AFC runner up losing the AFC Title game if they draw the right opponent in round 2.