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Steelers draft primer: DEFENSE

April 26, 2011 - Ray Eckenrode

The Steelers had an old defense last and they’ve got an older defense this year. Last season saw several veterans dramatically improve their play (hmmmm, we wonder how you get better as you get older) but very little in the way of new, young talent emerge (although guys like Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester showed promise). That might make this the most important defensive draft that Pittsburgh has had in the past generation. The Steelers MUST come out of this draft with a starting cornerback and at least one contributing defensive lineman.


The skinny: You know the deal here. Mike Tomlin arrived as a 4-3 guy but wisely kept Dick LeBeau and the 3-4. The signing of Casey Hampton last season indicates Tomlin’s increased level of comfort with a 3-4. The selection of a nose tackle this year would seal the deal. With Ziggy Hood’s improvement in Aaron Smith’s stead and Brett Kiesel’s ascension to an elite level, the Steelers can probably survive another year without taking an end, especially if they think Smith can return to his 2010 level of play pre injury. Of course, they haven’t been able to monitor Smith for the past six weeks, so….

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2010) 5

Timing: Possibly first, more likely fifth through seventh.

Possible selection: The Steelers brought in Phil Taylor from Baylor and if they think he’s Hampton’s replacement, don’t be surprised to see them take him. The NT is that important to their scheme.

If they went #1: Taylor is a prototypical 1-2 tweener so it wouldn’t be a reach so see him go at #31.


The skinny: Last year, we were worried about this spot, but the resurgence of James Farrior solidified a lot of things, and Lawrence Timmons began to recognize the promise he’d shown only in flashes previously. Pittsburgh added two promising young LBs in the 2010 draft but it’s not out of the question that they’d grab another one this year.

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2010) 4

Timing: Probably fifth through seventh rounds

Possible selections: Marshall’s Mario Harvey paid a visit and he’d be a candidate to someday replace Farrior if he’s picked.

If they went #1: They won’t but UCLA’s Akeem Ayers would be the guy around that slot, a very unlikely pick considering what a washout the Steelers’ last UCLA linebacker was (um, that would be Bruce Davis).


The skinny: The return of Bryant McFadden (who’s a slightly below average corner) and improved play from Bill Gay (who’s a slightly below average nickel back) improved things here from “disastrous” to “Achilles heel” in 2010. Ike Taylor is apparently a free agent and since it doesn’t appear Keenan Lewis or Crezdon Butler is ready to help there’s no doubt this is the Steelers prime position of need and the most likely place they’ll go in the first round.

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2010) 9.9

Timing: 1st and 6th rounds

Possible selections: The Steelers hosted seven, count ‘em, seven cornerbacks in the past few weeks and if they go #1 it will almost certainly be Texas’ Aaron Williams, the higest rated CB to get a once over in Pittsburgh. But should they be swayed in the first round by Phil Taylor or Danny Watkins they’ve got plenty of other options.

If they (don’t go) #1: Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling would be in the second-round mix.


The skinny: The Steelers have the personnel (Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Ryan Mundy) for this to be a strength again in 2011. Injuries, of course, are the question.

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2010) 3

Timing: Free agent

Possible selection: None, the two guys they looked at (Virginia Tech’s Davon Morgan and Pitt’s Dom DiCicco) are both free agent types.

If they went #1: They won’t.


The skinny: Daniel Sepulveda was tendered last season and promptly suffered his second season-ending knee injury, this time to his plant leg. He’s been tendered again this year (along with Matt Spaeth, William Gay and Willie Colon) but we won’t have any idea what that means until we know the labor terms for 2011. In any event, the Steelers are probably about ready to start looking seriously for some competition for Sepulveda. We assume Jeremy Kapinos will be brought back to compete.

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2010) 4

Timing: Free agent (it’s expected only two punters will be drafted this year).

Possible selection: None

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