By Cody Strahm @CodyJStrahm on June 12, 2014
It's hard to believe the Pittsburgh Steelers haven't qualified for postseason play since 2011. Will they finally get over the hump and back into the tournament in 2014? Here are five early predictions for their season.
The Steelers' 2014 draft class has boom or bust written all over it. Their choices, most notably in the first four rounds, were high-upside, high-downside prospects. I'm not going to speak on the career arc of the class, but I'm not expecting Pittsburgh to get much from its rookies this fall.
While this year's rookies will struggle, a rookie from 2013 will find his stride. Running back Le'Veon Bell should benefit from the return of center Maurkice Pouncey. Bell only averaged 3.5 yards per carry last season, but showed glimpses of a more productive runner with better blocking. He'll surpass 1,200 rushing yards as a sophomore.
In 2013, cornerback Ike Taylor was the only defender in the entire NFL to give up over 1,000 yards in coverage. He enters 2014 on a short leash. It's hard to believe that Taylor, who is 34 years old, will return to form at this stage of his career. Although Pittsburgh isn't equipped with much depth at the spot, Taylor won't last the season's entirety.
The aforementioned struggles of the rookie class will include first-round pick Ryan Shazier. The Ohio State product will make some impressive plays, but will also get consistently washed away defending the run. Thus, veteran Lawrence Timmons will have to elevate his game to clean up Shazier's shortcomings. Timmons will record a career high in tackles, finishing about fifth in the NFL.
After back-to-back 8-8 campaigns, the Steelers are desperate to record a winning season and get back to the playoffs in 2014. I just don't see them being better than the Bengals or Ravens in the AFC North, though. Another .500 finish will, once again, ensure that Mike Tomlin's club watches the postseason from the couch.
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