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When you finish the NFL Season one win short of the Super Bowl, you know that the key to eventually getting to that Big Game will not just improve your team to beat the team that kept you from it, but to also set up your team for many years of success. Such is the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who finished the 2016 season 11-5 and AFC North Champions, but with a bitter taste in their mouths as they fell short of Super Bowl 51 after falling hard to the New England Patriots 36-17. Those same Patriots would go onto beat the Atlanta Falcons to win their 5th Super Bowl in their history.
There are many reasons why the Steelers lost that AFC Championship Game in the manner that they did, and one of the main reasons is their defense, which failed to show up against a strong Patriots offense, led by QB Tom Brady. They had no pass rush and Brady exploited their secondary.
It is said that Defense wins Championships and the Steelers 6 Super Bowl Championships have come because of great defenses which have produced several Hall of Famers. Even the 2 that they lost (Super Bowls 30 and 45) were teams that got there because of great defenses.
The Steelers know that their offense is set with QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, WR Antonio Brown, the now-reinstated WR Martavis Bryant and an excellent offensive line, but they know that the key to their success is a balanced attack, and in their case that means fixing a defense that finished 12th overall in the NFL in Total Defense (16th vs. the Pass) as opposed to tie for 5th (With Indianapolis) in Total Offense.
Although they added some defensive pieces in Free Agency, anybody that knows the Steelers are fully aware that they stick to their principle of improving their team in the NFL Draft which begins Thursday night through Saturday in Philadelphia, Pa. Thursday night will feature the 1st Round picks in which the Steelers will pick 30th. Friday will have Rounds 2-3, (Steelers have a compensatory 3rd Round pick) and Saturday will have Rounds 4-7.
Who will the Steelers pick? That’s the $54 million question as they have several options to choose from, especially on defense. And while many fans and some media types hope that the Steelers pick Big Ben’s future replacement in this draft, it wouldn’t be no surprise if the Steelers didn’t make that a priority (especially since Big Ben’s probably 3 years from being done) but since they’re known for selecting the best player available in the Draft, it still wouldn’t be a surprise if they added a QB if the best one in the round is sitting there.
To no surprise, the Steelers aren’t verbally showing their hand when they speak of the Draft. At their annual Pre-Draft news conference, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert and Head Coach Mike Tomlin stated that this will be an unpredictable NFL Draft.
“We are picking at No. 30, and I am sure there are 30 guys that can help us,” said Colbert. ““A lot of times going into this part of the draft process we have a pretty good idea of where this thing could go,” “This year it’s really an unpredictable draft. There are so many different variables that we see could happen around the league, and I think it all starts with the quarterback position. There are so many differing opinions on who the quarterbacks are, who is going to take who, where. It doesn’t matter to us, but it leads into the unpredictability. I think you will see more trade up, trade down possibilities around the league. That part is unpredictable, more so than in the past.”
“The analytics guy that develops a ‘will index,’ they are on the cutting edge,” said Tomlin.
Despite their non-answers, we know that the Steelers aren’t blind or ignorant of their needs and you can expect them to start the early process of the draft focused on defense.
Here’s the Steelers predictions for the top 2 Rounds
Round 1-Inside or Outside (or Edge) LB-Although they have a Pro Bowler in Ryan Shazier and a rising star in Bud Dupree, the Steelers know they still have holes to fill in their pass rush and although they’ve got 39-year old James Harrison for at least 2 more seasons, he’s not going to play forever and this is the position that they need to start thinking about for the future. On the inside, they allowed veteran Lawrence Timmons to depart and join Miami and were that close so signing the Patriots Dont’a Hightower. In 3 of the past 4 seasons they have picked a linebacker in the first round (Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier, Dupree) and last season it was CB Artie Burns.
Most projections have the Steelers picking ILB Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt), while other Mock Drafts have them taking Edge Rushers Carl Lawson (Auburn), Carl Harris (Missouri) and others have them selecting Cornerbacks Tre’Davious White (LSU) Marlon Humphrey (Alabama)
Still there are other mock drafts who suggest that the Steelers will go offense in this round by selecting WR John Ross (Washington). While others have them selecting QB Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech)
Prediction: Lawson from Auburn
Round 2-It can still be used for another defensive pick as they still need to fix their secondary so they could pick a CB or go with an inside LB. Or if the Best QB Available is there, they could select him.
Prediction: Cornerback or inside LB.
Local Draft Hopefuls
The Pitt Panthers could possibly have their largest number of draft picks since 2004 when that crew was led by WR Larry Fitzgerald. This year, Pitt could come close to surpassing that number as they have a few local players who could join the NFL this weekend. OLs Doran Johnson (Belle Vernon), Adam Bisnowaty (RB James Conner, QB Nate Peterman, TE Scott Orndoff, OL Adam Bisnowaty (Fox Chapel), Dr Ejuan Price (Woodland Hills), TE Scott Orndoff (Seton-LaSalle) TE Tyrique Jarrett (Allderdice) and RB James Conner who is from Erie has local ties as his high-school Erie McDowell was part of the WPIAL when he played there.
Here’s the non-Pitt player with local ties who hopes to hear his name called in the next few days:
LB Jaylen Coleman-Although he broke his leg and tore his Achilles in 2015 and 16 respectively, Coleman finished his 3-year career with 76 tackles and an interception for the Rockets. His uncle is former Steele Lamonte Coleman who played on the team in 1995 and earned an AFC Championship ring with the team.
In addition to the 7 rounds of the NFL Draft, the hopefuls can also hope to be signed as an undrafted Free Agent which will give them the opportunity to allow NFL Rookie Camps, Mini-Camps, Training Camps, and the Preseason to make strong impressions.
Notes: The New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders made news Wednesday as they added veteran running backs in Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch, respectively. Peterson was signed as a free agent from the Minnesota Vikings and the once-retired Lynch was acquired from the Seattle Seahawks for a late 2018 Draft pick.
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