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Robinson: The position of greatest need for the Steelers pre-draft is …

Brett KeiselCornerback or wide receiver? Wide receiver or cornerback?

 

With the NFL Draft now three weeks away, much of the pre-draft speculation concerning the Steelers is whether they’ll take a cornerback (Darqueze Dennard, perhaps, or Justin Gilbert) or a wide receiver (even if Mike Evans isn’t there at No. 15, which he probably won’t be).

 

Yet neither one of those position picks would help the Steelers at what currently is their position of greatest need.

 

Defensive end.

 

Look at the Steelers depth chart (and it’s below), and it’s obvious how thin they are at a critical position in their defense — and one in which they received mostly solid play last season from Cam Heyward, Brett Keisel and, sporadically, Ziggy Hood.

 

But Hood left to sign with the Jaguars, and Keisel is an unrestricted free agent who, at 35, is unsigned. Just before the start of the free agent signing period March 11, Keisel’s agent, Eric Metz, said the Steelers had shown no interest in bringing Keisel back.

 

However, the Steelers’ only defensive line addition to date is former Chargers nose tackle Cam Thomas, who, at 330 pounds, seems more suited to playing nose tackle than he is to playing defensive end in a 3-4 defense. However, if the Steelers were to take the field today (and they don’t for another four months-plus, of course), he’d likely be playing there.

 

With free agency about dried up, the Steelers’ only avenues for securing another defensive end capable of playing immediately are 1) The draft; 2) Hoping a team releases an experienced defensive end after June 1, for salary cap purposes or 3) Bringing back Keisel.

 

The draft appears to be a real gamble, at least if the Steelers are anticipating immediate help. While this appears to be a loaded and deep draft at multiple positions, the defensive line isn’t one of them.

 

Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina is likely to be a very high pick, perhaps even No. 1 overall, but multiple draft analysts are calling this a weak draft for d-linemen, at least those suitable for the Steelers’ system.

 

Among defensive linemen, Aaron Donald of Pitt is ranked No. 14, Timmy Jernigan of Florida State is No. 18 and Louis Nix of Notre Dame — who the Steelers scouted at the recent Fighting Irish pro day — is No. 28 among all draft prospects, according to NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah. But they’re all defensive tackles.

 

After Clowney heads the list at No. 1 overall, no other defensive end is in Jeremiah’s top 30; Kony Ealy of Missouri is No. 31, Dee Ford of Auburn is No. 33 and Stephon Tuitt of Notre Dame is No. 34. Tuitt recently visited the Steelers for one of the multiple in-house interviews they’ve done post-combine.

 

Might the Steelers be eying Tuitt as a possible second-round pick? Given their thin-as-thin-can-be predicament at defensive end, it’s possible, because it’s obvious they must add someone at defensive end who can take a considerable number of snaps next season.

 

The Steelers don’t often go this deep into an offseason without securing starters at every position but, currently, they need a starting wide receiver opposite Antonio Brown and a starting defensive end opposite Heyward.

 

Even if they are figuring that Thomas will end up as a starting defensive end, they  need someone behind him — and the question is whether that might be Keisel,  who said at the end of last season that he wanted to keep playing.

 

 

Steelers Depth Chart (4/16/14)

 

OFFENSE

WR —             Markus Wheaton (1)

Darrius Heyward-Bey (5)

 

LT —    Kelvin Beachum (2)

Guy Whimper (8)

 

LG —   Ramon Foster (5)

David Snow (2)

 

C —      Maurkice Pouncey (4)

Cody Wallace (4)

 

RG —   David DeCastro (2)

Nik Embernate (1)

Bryant Browning (1)

 

RT —   Marcus Gilbert (3)

Mike Adams (2)

 

TE –    Heath Miller (9)

Matt Spaeth (7)

David Paulson (2)

Michael Palmer (4)

 

WR —             Antonio Brown (4)

Lance Moore (9)

Derek Moye (1)

 

QB –  Ben Roethlisberger (10)

Bruce Gradkowski (7)

Landry Jones (1)

 

 

RB –   Le’Veon Bell (1)

LeGarrette Blount (4)

 

FB –   Will Johnson (2)

 

DEFENSE

 

DE —   Cam Heyward (3)

Brian Arnfelt (1)

 

NT –   Steve McLendon (4)

Hebron Fangupo (1)

 

DE –   Cam Thomas (4)

Nick Williams (1)

 

OLB –            Jason Worilds (4)

Chris Carter (3)

 

ILB –  Vince Williams (1)

Sean Spence (2)

ILB — Lawrence Timmons (7)

Terence Garvin (1)

 

OLB –            Jarvis Jones (1)

Arthur Moats (4)

 

CB –   William Gay (7)

Brice McCain (5)

CB —   Cortez Allen (3) or             Ike Taylor (11)

Isaiah Green (1)

 

SS —    Troy Polamalu (11)

Shamarko Thomas (1)

 

 

FS –    Mike Mitchell (5)

Will Allen (10)

Robert Golden (2)

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

K –      Shaun Suisham (9)

P –      Adam Podlesh (7)

Brad Wing (1)

 

LS —    Greg Warren (9)

Bryce Davis (1)

 

Number of NFL seasons denoted in (parenthesis)

 

Sources: Steelers and ourlads.com

 

 

 

 

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