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 2017 NFL Draft. The spotlight today is on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers have the 30th overall pick in the draft, and four picks in the top 105 selections. Look for general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin to continue their methodical approach in search of the future of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 NFL Draft: Top 3 Needs
Linebacker (Inside and Outside)
In what seems like a perpetual need year in and year out on the North Shore, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to focus their early attention on linebacker. The glaring need is at outside linebacker as the defense is dangerously thin at that spot.
While the starters of James Harrison and Bud Dupree are playmakers, there’s not much to be said about the depth after that. Arthur Moats, L.J. Fort, Anthony Chickillo and Steven Johnson are decent depth players, but none of those names scream “playmaker.”
The departure of defensive stalwart Lawrence Timmons to South Beach opened up the starting position for fellow Florida State alumni Vince Williams. Ryan Shazier is entrenched as the other starting middle linebacker. Unfortunately, just like outside linebacker though, there is not much depth behind the starters.
The Steelers should seriously consider using two of their four first picks on two linebackers. Whether that be two outside linebackers, or a combination of inside and outside, the lack of depth is a real concern and needs to be addressed with athletes that know how to get to the quarterback.
Even with starter Ross Cockrell signing his restricted free agent tender and the addition of free-agent Coty Sensabaugh, the Steelers need help at cornerback. The recent additions give the Steelers a bit of breathing room, but the need should be addressed now.
With arguably the deepest cornerback class in ten years, the Steelers can go about this selection a number of ways.
After not selecting a cornerback in the first round the draft for 13 years, the Steelers picked Artie Burns in 2016. Burns was certainly “learning on the job” the first half of the season, but towards the end of the regular season it was clear Burns is a true talent at corner.
There’s a serious problem behind Cockrell, Burns and Sensabaugh…William Gay will be entering his 12th season and saying he’s “lost a step” is an understatement. The oft-injured Senquez Golson performed exceptionally well at Old Miss, but he hasn’t made it to the regular season due to season ending injuries. After Golson, the Steelers currently have Brandon Dixon, Mike Hilton and Al-Hajj Shabazz.
Don’t be surprised if the Steelers go cornerback in back-to-back years in the first round and select a top tier cornerback to pair with Burns for the future. While the need for more depth in the secondary is certainly apparent, the Steelers may also choose to fill it in the second and third rounds.
After flip-flopping about 12 times between safety and tight end, I’ve finally decided on the latter. The human question mark that is Ladarius Green was ultimately the deciding factor in going tight end here.
There is absolutely nothing to complain about when Green is healthy. But, as we all know, that is a big IF. Off-season ankle surgery was the first culprit to strike Green, but a history of concussions and a few hard hits ultimately did him in for the 2016 season.
When healthy, Green turns an already potent and dangerous offense into a downright scoring machine. A defense cannot guard all of the Steelers home run threats when Green is available. He stretches the seams and opens up all the coverage underneath him, all while possessing the ability to score every time he touches the ball.
Jesse James is a great tight end for the Steelers as he does everything he is asked to do. He runs and pass blocks and at times can be the safety valve for Ben Roethlisberger when needed. This is no knock on James, but he’s not a “playmaker” tight end. He’s a serviceable tight end that does the little things right and few things wrong.
If the opportunity is available for the Steelers to select a playmaking tight end in the top 105 picks, they should seize the opportunity.