The Steelers have at least one pick in all seven rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft, which offers Pittsburgh a chance to stock up on some needed young talent. Three of their selections are compensatory picks, including a third-rounder (No. 97 overall), which effectively replaces the selection dealt to Cleveland in the 2013 trade for safety Shamarko Thomas.
With star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in place for more than a decade, Pittsburgh has had the luxury of addressing other positions in the draft with high picks. And with Roethlisberger still playing well, the Steelers can continue to focus elsewhere on Draft Day. Nevertheless, the clock is ticking on Pittsburgh, which is a team somewhat in transition, with aging stalwarts at some spots and younger players trying to prove themselves at others.
Here are the Steelers’ top needs entering the 2014 NFL Draft:
Cornerback: It would not be a surprise if the Steelers added a cornerback, and perhaps even with one of their first two picks (Nos. 15 or 46). Ike Taylor was a key cog for the Steelers’ last three Super Bowl entrants, but he is in the last year of his contract, and he turns 34 next week. Another key cornerback, William Gay, will be 30 in January. Also, Cortez Allen will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Finally, the depth beyond Taylor, Gay and Allen could stand to be improved, too.
Defensive end / defensive tackle: The Steelers lost defensive tackle Ziggy Hood and defensive end Al Woods in free agency. Also, defensive end Brett Keisel remains unsigned. Steve McLendon can play defensive end, defensive tackle and nose tackle, giving the Steelers a little flexibility. The Steelers also brought in young nose tackle Cam Thomas in free agency. Still, the Steelers seem likely to come away with at least one defensive lineman in the draft, with the defensive end / defensive tackle depth chart spots in most need of help.
Wide receiver: After the departure of Emmanuel Sanders, the Steelers seem likely to give 2013 third-round pick Markus Wheaton a shot at a bigger role in the passing game. However, even if the Steelers are confident in Wheaton’s readiness, the receiving corps could still use a little more playmaking punch. The Steelers signed Lance Moore (ex-Saints) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (ex-Colts) in free agency, bolstering their depth in the near-term. But Pittsburgh still could be a pass catcher short.
Linebacker: Inside and outside linebacker are each positions Pittsburgh could address. Outside linebacker looks to be the bigger need. Jason Worilds is currently signed to a one-year deal, and the depth at the position took a hit with the release of LaMarr Woodley. The Steelers could also seek to bolster their options at inside linebacker, where Lawrence Timmons remains a constant.
Offensive tackle: The Steelers could have reason to add a tackle. After all, right tackle Marcus Gilbert can test unrestricted free agency at season’s end. Also, the Steelers had to change course at left tackle a season ago, with Kelvin Beachum stepping in for the ineffective Mike Adams. However, the Steelers’ tackles could all have upside to improve. Gilbert, Beachum and Adams are all young, and the Steelers have added former Titans head coach and Hall of Fame offensive lineman Mike Munchak as offensive line coach.