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NFL Pittsburgh Steelers

2014 NFL Draft: Ranking the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Top 5 Needs

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Top 5 NFL Draft Needs for the Pittsburgh Steelers

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Perhaps more than any other team in the NFL, the NFL Draft is a vital weekend for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Always a team that has preferred to build from within, the Steelers haven't had much choice in recent years due to salary cap constraints. Just this week two players, safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller, signed contract extensions that likely will help the Steelers manage their cap space for the 2014 season at least. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has redone his deal multiple times to help the Steelers navigate through a clogged salary cap. Pittsburgh also recently released three players, including longtime linebacker Larry Foote.

But as important as the NFL Draft has been to the Steelers' success, both recently and during their 1970s dynasty, the 2014 NFL Draft is a crossroads for the Steelers. Once again hamstrung by the salary cap in such a way that it seems unrealistic that any significant free agents will be landing in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have a tremendous amount of rebuilding to do through the draft if they are going to turn the ship around after a pair of 8-8 seasons without making the playoffs. This marked the first time Pittsburgh has gone two consecutive seasons without a winning record since 1998-99.

It'd be simpler if only one side of the ball needed help or one position stood out. But the Steelers have needs all over the field, as many veterans will soon need to be replaced and not all of the recent draft picks have really caught on. Plus, the specter of losing some significant players to free agency also looms over the black-and-gold.

Here is a list of the top five needs for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Ed Morgans is an ACC Basketball Writer for Follow him on Twitter @writered21.

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5. A 3rd-Down Running Back

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One of Pittsburgh's successes in the 2013 NFL Draft was second-round pick Le'Veon Bell, who after missing the first few games due to injury burst onto the scene as a solid contributor for the Steelers. Had he been healthy the whole season, Pittsburgh probably goes 10-6, makes the playoffs and the whole atmosphere is different for the Steelers entering this draft. But the Steelers need a reliable third-down back to handle some of the load in the passing game and pick up blitzes. Bell can't carry the whole load or his career will be short. This is a need the Steelers should be able to address late in the draft.

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4. A Sturdy Offensive Lineman

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Pittsburgh's season took a dire turn in the opening game when center Maurkice Pouncey was injured and didn't return. One of the NFL's top players at his position who is responsible for the line calls, the Steelers' offensive line isn't nearly the same without him. Getting him back healthy this season would be like a key free agent acquisition. The Steelers have recently drafted linemen, but Pittsburgh must find one who is adept at pass-blocking especially and has a track record of staying healthy. This is a second-round need for Pittsburgh.

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3. A Run-Stuffing Nose Tackle

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It may not always have shown in the stats, but there has been a clear difference in the Pittsburgh run defense since former big nose tackle Casey Hampton retired. Hampton would eat up two offensive linemen on most plays, leaving gaps for the inside linebackers in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense to limit runs to little or no gain. That hasn't been replaced and the Steelers' defense is much worse off for it. Pittsburgh must find a big body to stuff the middle and not force the Steelers to keep too many people in the box to stop the run. After four seasons, it's not clear if current NT Steve McClendon (320 pounds) is the answer. This is a fourth-round need. Pittsburgh doesn't currently have a third-round pick, having traded it to Cleveland last year, but there are still compensatory draft picks to be awarded by the league.

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2. A New Free Safety

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With the Ryan Clark era all but over in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have to find someone who can start in the free safety position alongside Polamalu. Reserve safety Will Allen is coming back, but he and Robert Golden are the only two on the depth chart at free safety. Golden was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012. Pittsburgh has a big choice to make with the No. 15 overall pick in the first round. Either the Steelers must get a starting safety here or they must go after another critical position of need that you'll see on the next page.

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1. Pittsburgh Must Get Another Top Wide Receiver

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On the bright side in 2013, Antonio Brown blossomed into a true No. 1 receiver with the ability to make plays deep and be a reliable possession receiver. Brown caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns, one of the best seasons a Steelers wide receiver has ever had. But with Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress all free agents and pretty unlikely to return, the Steelers need a receiver who could possibly step right into the No. 2 spot if Sanders does leave. Markus Wheaton, drafted last year out of Oregon State, isn't likely ready for that big of a role. It would be no surprise to see the Steelers take a wide receiver in the first round if the trio of free agents does not return.