The National Football League Draft is 40 days away. While it’s true that few, if any teams have a ‘plan’ established for the annual event, usually at this point you can start to pinpoint some things. We already know what the Pittsburgh Steelers need and what positions they are likely to target in late April but is their plan any more clear now than it was before free agency started?
What we know is that the Steelers need help on the edge. Whether it’s Charles Harris, Takk McKinley, Carl Lawson or someone else, the Steelers are most likely to use their first round pick on this position. With the plethora of depth in this cornerback class, logic insists that the Steelers wait until the second round to draft one.
But this is where the plan, which looked so clear before free agency, now seems quite muddy. With the loss of Lawrence Timmons to Miami via free agency and the failure to land Dont’a Hightower, the Steelers find themselves thinner than you might imagine at the inside linebacker position.
There is a large portion of the fan base who believes that Vince Williams is now the starter with Timmons gone. I think we need to be careful with that line of thinking. Williams is an excellent tackler but he doesn’t read and react the way you need a starting inside backer to do. He is not a three-down linebacker either.
So what does that mean for the draft? What fans have to be prepared for is the very distinct possibility that Pittsburgh may look to draft an inside linebacker ahead of a cornerback. For this to happen, it would mean that the Steelers would have failed to bring in any other free agent player.
What also has to be considered here is that the Steelers, like most defenses today, spend well over 50% of their time in nickel and dime packages. Could they survive using Williams rather than a free agent or rookie? Yes, I think they could but I believe they’d rather not have to go that route.
In terms of overall positions of need as I type 40 days from the draft, edge and cornerback are indeed the overwhelming front-runners. The doubt creeps in because the Steelers have never been shy about taking the best player available should he be there.
Will an inside linebacker be a greater need than thought? What if a running back or tight end they didn’t expect to be there is?
40 days out probably means a draft plan still has some doubt regardless but I get the feeling the Steelers thought free agency was going to go better than it has. That’s the major reason why the strategy in the draft is still a bit muddled.
Photo courtesy: Post-Gazette