The Pittsburgh Steelers have become arguably the finest franchise in all of sports; a model of consistency built upon a punishing ground game and a defense that has, historically, most closely resembled a curtain made of steel.
Now, however, the foundation of this team has shifted somewhat, and it’s been reflected on the team’s 0-4 record.
Ground game? Ha. That’s cute. Through four games, the Steelers 232 rushing yards (yes, if my math is correct, that’s 58 yards per game) ranks dead last in the NFL. They haven’t had a franchise running back, realistically, since 2000, the last great season for Jerome ‘The Bus’ Bettis (sorry Willie Parker fans).
The defense? Old reliable under the immortal Dick LeBeau? Yeah, she’s still hummin’, thankfully. Though it’s not without its holes: the entire defensive line needs a face lift (except you, Brett Keisel, you’re still beautiful), more depth is needed at every linebacker spot and an influx of talent needs to be brought in to assist a quickly aging secondary.
Given the team’s meager record, they’ll more than likely have a top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft (which they haven’t had since 2000), so who should they focus on? Finally find the heir apparent to Bettis? Continue adding on to what has become one of the worst offensive lines in the league? What about finding more future studs on defense, like current rookie Jarvis Jones? How about a long-term replacement for Troy Polamalu?
You could make a serious case for all of the statements above, except finding their next franchise back. The way the NFL is headed, no one is going to draft a running back in the top 10 for a very long time, unless they have the ceiling similar to that of Adrian Peterson. Everywhere you look, you see stud running backs who slipped through the cracks and are now making names for themselves (Arian Foster, Frank Gore, Jamaal Charles, etc.).
I think, realistically, if you look at the Steelers draft record (particularly at the top), they’ll favor either an offensive tackle or a nose guard. Addressing either one of those positions would be brilliant, at least in my humble estimation.
At tackle, there’ll be a number of high-end options, as this is one of the deepest tackle classes we’ve seen in a long time. Jake Matthews (Texas A&M), Taylor Lewan (Michigan), Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) and Antonio Richardson (Tennessee) all will be viable candidates, and should still be available. Any single one of them would be an immediate and gigantic leap forward over the likes of what the Steelers have on their current roster (Mike Adams, Levi Brown, Marcus Gilbert and Guy Whimper).
Another potential direction could be either one of the two Notre Dame defensive linemen, DE Stephon Tuitt or NT Louis Nix, who should also be available. Tuitt is approximately 10-times the player that Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward are, and would immediately step into the starting lineup.
The best solution, at least in my eyes? Go with Nix, the best 3-4 nose tackle prospect we’ve seen since Vince Wilfork. Current NT Steve McLendon is solid for a rotational guy, but he’s not the kind of guy to spearhead a defense, which is what the NT does. Nix is that guy. The kind of guy who’s going to take up two-gaps on every down and occupy multiple blockers so the linebackers can flow freely to make plays.
The Steelers could go in a number of directions considering their needs and their potential top-10 pick. None of those needs, however, are more pressing than the needs along the offensive and defensive lines.