2011 Season Summary:
While the Steelers posted an impressive record of 12-4, they book-ended the season with two of the worst losses in recent franchise history. The 35-7 beating by the rival Ravens in week one and the embarrassing overtime wild card loss to Tim Tebow and the Broncos made the season feel like it was worse than it was. A slew of injuries to star players on both sides of the ball and more inconsistent offensive line play plagued the team all season.
Positions of Need:
Inside Linebacker – With the release of veteran James Farrior, the Steelers are banking on Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote to man the middle. However, Timmons also covers the OLB position if starters Harrison or Woodley are injured, which was often last season. A young ILB would relieve some of the pressure on Timmons and Foote and provide depth, initially, before challenging for a starting spot.
Guard/Tackle – Chris Kemoeatu (LG) was cut recently following a big step backward in 2011. The team hasn't had a legitimate pulling guard since they let Alan Faneca walk after the 2007 season. Max Starks (LT) was cut in the pre-season last season, but was brought back in after injuries took their toll on the O-line. Starks is a free agent and doesn't look to be a priority to be re-signed.
Nose Tackle – Veteran back-up Chris Hoke retired and Casey Hampton could start 2012 on the PUP list. Hampton has been the epitome of the 3-4 nose tackle for several years, but the Steelers need to think about his replacement now. Ziggy Hood was drafted as a defensive tackle, but has played more (and most effectively) as an end.
Safety – It may seem strange to flag this position when they boast Polamalu and Clark, but both men play a bit fast and loose with their bodies. A serious injury is inevitable and picking up some insurance in the draft may be a wise idea.
First Round Targets:
Dontari Poe (NT, Memphis) – At 6-foot-4 and 346 pounds, Poe fits the size requirement for a nose tackle and his sub-5.00 40-yard dash time makes him a bit of a freak. He has the potential to not only eat up blocks, but also to split them and get up-field to create chaos.
Dont'a Hightower (ILB, Alabama) – Hightower is a brutal but fundamentally sound tackler who plays fast, strong and with good instincts. He can dominate opposing running games and has shown he can play intermediate coverage...ideal for the Steelers zone-blitz scheme.
Mike Adams (OT/G, Ohio State) – Adams has the size (6'7”, 323lbs.) to play outside at left tackle, but the Steelers feel he could play at left guard as well. He has good lateral movement and a good punch at the point of attack.
Vultures: Teams To Keep An Eye On:
The Carolina Panthers are interested in Poe, as are the Eagles and Jets – all of whom pick ahead of the Steelers. The Baltimore Ravens could look to leap-frog over the Steelers to steal Hightower. He would fit their defense and provide a future after Ray Lewis.
If the Panthers pass on Poe at the ninth spot, Pittsburgh may look to trade up to get him. Poe is not likely to fall to 24th – a fall that would take him passed the Eagles (15th), Jets (16th) and Bengals (17th). The most likely trade partner would be the Dallas Cowboys who are sitting at 14th and are in the market for a cornerback. The trade would be to swap first round picks, with the Steelers adding in their third round pick (87th) and possibly a third round pick next year. The Cowboys should be able to pick up either Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina) or Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama).
2011: 1.31 - Cameron Heyward, DE (Ohio State)
2010: 1.18 – Maurkice Pouncey, C (Florida)
2009: 1.32 – Ziggy Hood, DT (Missouri)
2008: 1.23 – Rashard Mendenhall, RB (Illinois)
2007: 1.15 – Lawrence Timmons, LB (Florida State)