Wednesday, April 05, 2006

What a Team Wants, What a Team Needs


Difficult to believe that free agency would allow a crew like this to be assembled again.


The Pittsburgh Steelers begin defense of their fifth world championship on April 29-30, 2006, when they join 31 other clubs at the National Football League’s annual Player Selection Meeting. A draftnik I am not, but I do know that the Steelers build their teams primarily through the draft, preferring to develop homegrown talent than spending millions on overpriced free agents. I used to detest this way of the Steelers doing business. One championship later, I’m rethinking my original position.

This analysis is not intended to identify college players that would be good fits for the Steelers, but rather to identify the most pressing needs that the Steelers have with their roster as it is currently configured. Though these are general groupings (OL as opposed to C, G, or T), a need at a specific position may vault that group up the board. I have also categorized each group in terms of how imminent the need is. Today, I address two positions that I feel are of critical need.

Linebacker

2006 will be James Farrior’s tenth year in the NFL and Joey Porter’s eighth year in the league. Both have played at a Pro Bowl level for the past two seasons, with Farrior’s play slipping a bit during the 2005 campaign. Clark Haggans is a solid, but unspectacular OLB, and Larry Foote is not dynamic. Backup James Harrison has the nasty disposition of a Greg Lloyd, but does not have the body to match. The Steelers are high on Rian Wallace, but he is an unknown entity.

Would say that Steelers need to spend 32nd overall pick on this position, considering that the success of their defense is predicated upon pressure from linebackers and the ability for them to be versatile in coverage and get from sideline to sideline. However, the Steelers have shown a penchant for developing college DEs and tweeners into productive players (Joey Porter, Clark Haggans). They have also had their share of misses in this regard (Alonzo Jackson).

A top ILB should be a priority to play next to Foote once Farrior’s time has passed, or to play before Foote now if more talented and explosive (think Kendrell Bell in his rookie season). Might need to spend the first pick on one. Otherwise, a first day selection of a projected OLB would be critical to develop after Porter’s play begins to decline.

Offensive Line

One might ask how immediate this concern is, and have a reason to question this analysis. But in looking at how the Steelers addressed this situation during the free agent signing period, I have a couple of questions:

- If Chuckky Okobi was truly the center of the future as a five year veteran, why then resign both Okobi AND Jeff Hartings…he of the bad knees, back, and limited availability for practice during the week?

- If the Steelers were truly content at OT, then why pursue Stockar McDougle and Adrian Klemm last year? And why not pursue OTs during free agency this season?

- Has Kendall Simmons truly been the same player since he was diagnosed with diabetes in training camp two years ago?

The Steelers have anchors on the left side that should be able to give them at least 2-3 very solid years. They also like Kemoeatu, who is an absolute road grater, and he may be able to take the job from Simmons in training camp this season. But questions remain about the center and at RT, where Max Starks sometimes plays a lot smaller than his massive frame would allow.

It seems that the Steelers always draft offensive line when they are in the back third of the draft. Since 1992, with draft pick #20 or higher (has occurred 7 times), the Steelers have drafted help along their offensive front five times (Bruener ’95, Stephens ’96, Faneca ’98, Simmons ’02, Miller ’05). The exceptions are Deon Figures in ’93, and Chad Scott in ’97. Look for them to spend a first-day pick on some depth, or possibly their first round pick on someone they project as a starter in 1-2 seasons.

What are your thoughts on these two positions? Please click on the comment button below to agree or disagree. Next week, I will address two more positions that I feel are important, but not critical, needs.