QB Byron Leftwich, WR Antwaan Randle El, WR Arnaz Battle, OT Flozell Adams, OT Jonathan Scott, ILB Larry Foote, CB Bryant McFadden, S Will Allen.
Early Draft Picks:
C/G Maurkice Pouncey, DE/OLB Jason Worilds, WR/KR Emmanuel Sanders, DE/OLB Thaddeus Gibson.
RB Willie Parker, WR Santonio Holmes, G Darnell Stepleton, DE/DT Travis Kirschke, CB Deshea Townsend, S Tyrone Carter.
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers Offense:
Ben Roethlisberger pissed off a ton of his fans this offseason in the wake of his rape accusation in Georgia. Following this incident, all sorts of stories leaked out about Roethlisberger - how he treated waitresses, how he acted around women in bars, how he was responsible for the Gulf Coast oil spill, and so on.
From a football perspective, there were two things to come out of this. First, Big Ben was suspended for 4-6 games (likely the former), which means that Byron Leftwich will have to start for the first month of the season. The Steelers should be able to go 1-3 or maybe even 2-2 with Leftwich at the helm, so that's not a huge deal.
The second thing is Roethlisberger's focus throughout this entire ordeal. It's highly doubtful that he was able to concentrate on working out or watching film this spring, meaning that when he comes back, it's unlikely that Pittsburgh will be able to play at peak efficiency at any point during the 2010 season. That's why the Steelers have a 3-star quarterback rating below.
Another player who caused a distraction this offseason was Santonio Holmes, who was subsequently shipped off to New York for a measly fifth-round pick. That means second-year Mike Wallace will start across from Hines Ward. Wallace, who caught 39 passes for 756 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie in 2009, may actually out-produce Ward this season. Ward, now 34, slowed down just a bit toward the end of last year. Meanwhile, Heath Miller, coming off a 76-catch, 789-yard campaign, will also receive more targets in the wake of Holmes' departure.
One Steeler who could have benefited from all of this nonsense is Rashard Mendenhall. Ownership has made it clear that the Steelers need to go back to running the ball as much as possible (despite the fact that the ground game was non-existent during the team's most recent Super Bowl run). Mendenhall rushed for 1,108 yards and seven touchdowns on a 4.6 average in 2009.
Unfortunately for Mendenhall, his offensive line is in shambles. Right tackle Willie Colon, a top-notch run-blocker, tore his Achillies' tendon and is out for the year. Colon was Pittsburgh's best lineman, and Trai Essex, who struggled mightily last year, will have to take his place.
Playing across from Essex, left tackle Max Starks and left guard Chris Kemoeatu are decent, but very inconsistent. Rookie Maurkice Pouncey figures to start at center or right guard. Regardless of where he plays, Pittsburgh will have a huge hole at the other position; neither Justin Hartwig nor Essex's replacement will be very good.
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense:
The Steelers suffocated opposing offenses in 2008, limiting them just 13.9 points per game. Unfortunately, they saw that average skyrocket to 20.2 in 2009. Two key injuries to defensive end Aaron Smith and strong safety Troy Polamalu derailed Pittsburgh's season. Each started just five games, only one of which overlapped (the 13-10 win over the Titans in the opener).
Polamalu has participated in light practices this spring. He'll be ready to go by training camp, but considering that he has played in all 16 games just once since 2005, he remains an injury risk. Smith, meanwhile, is completely healthy after tearing his rotator cuff in October. He'll be back next to nose tackle Casey Hampton and end Brett Keisel on the defensive line. Hampton and Keisel, 32 and 31 respectively, are both past their prime, but should still be good for at least one more season. If Keisel falters, promising second-year Ziggy Hood can easily step in.
Of course, Pittsburgh's defense is predicated on pressuring the other quarterback, which is why it wasn't surprising that the front office spent two relatively early picks in the 2010 NFL Draft on rush linebackers Jason Worilds and Thaddeus Gibson. Both will provide quality depth this season behind James Harrison (10 sacks in 2009) and LaMarr Woodley (13.5 sacks). Lawrence Timmons (7 sacks), James Farrior and Larry Foote round out the Steelers' incredible linebacking corps.
All of this pressure should really assist the secondary, provided it can stay healthy for a change. Safety is fine with Polamalu and Ryan Clark; Clark is a decent player who just signed a 4-year, $14 million contract. It's the cornerback position that's the problem. Ike Taylor was horrific last season following a strong 2008. He would have lost his job if the Steelers had anyone else competent to take his place. Starting across from Taylor was William Gay. There wouldn't be anything wrong with that, except Gay was just as bad as Taylor.
Polamalu's return could really shield Taylor and Gay from being exposed as much. If not, the Steelers could always try Bryant McFadden (struggled with the Cardinals last season), or second-year Keenan Lewis or Joe Burnett, both of whom lack any sort of experience.
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule and Intangibles:
Excluding New England, no one in the AFC has a better road record than Pittsburgh since 1996; the Steelers are 59-53 as visitors in that time frame. They're not bad at home either (80-33-1).
Mike Tomlin is one of the better coaches in the NFL. Unlike Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, and coaches of that ilk, Tomlin didn't force the Steelers into playing his familiar system (4-3). He saw that the personnel he had on the roster was much better equipped for the 3-4, and consequently stuck with that scheme. That's one of the many reasons Tomlin was able to win the Super Bowl in his second year as an NFL head coach. It's pretty safe to say that the Steelers would not have won with Mangini; instead, they'd be struggling in their new 4-3 right now with their head coach pining for the lovely Erin Andrews.
Pittsburgh's special teams were brutal last year. Stefan Logan maintained decent kickoff and punt return averages, but the team surrendered a whopping four scores to the opposition. That simply can't happen again.
Heinz Field is a tough place to kick, so give Jeff Reed tons of credit for nailing 27-of-31 attempts for the second year in a row. He may look like he stepped off the set of Jersey Shore, but Steelers fans won't mind as long as he keeps drilling field goals and staying out of trouble.
Daniel Sepulveda missed the entire 2008 season with a torn ACL, so Pittsburgh was glad to have him back. He maintained a 42.7 average with 29-of-72 punts inside the 20.
The Steelers have only three cupcake opponents on their schedule (Buccaneers, Bills, Browns). They have to battle the likes of the Saints, Jets, Dolphins, Falcons, Titans and Panthers in addition to the Ravens and Bengals twice.
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers Analysis: The Steelers would have been a legitimate Super Bowl contender if none of this Ben Roethlisberger stuff went down. However, what's done is done, and Pittsburgh has a suspended and distracted quarterback on its hands who will be without his best offensive lineman. If Roethlisberger is indeed unfocused and unprepared for the 2010 season, the Steelers will not finish with a winning record; let alone make the playoffs.
Linebackers, much? The Steelers drafted three of them, including two edge guys in the first four rounds. Though the rush linebacker position is currently a non-need, it will be soon with James Harrison turning 32 in May. Besides, you can never have too many pass-rushers (especially if you don't have many needs to fill).
Pittsburgh did have a couple of needs though. One was at right guard, which the front office addressed by selecting Maurkice Pouncey. San Francisco fans may be quick to point out that I slightly penalized the 49ers for taking Mike Iupati at No. 17. However, this case is different. Not only is Pouncey a pro-ready prospect; he's really versatile and can play three positions, including center. Line versatility is really important in the wake of injuries.
One area the Steelers ignored until late was cornerback. I was beginning to wonder if they would completely fail to address the position, but the front office traded for Bryant McFadden. McFadden struggled in Arizona last year, but played well in Pittsburgh before signing with the Cardinals last March. Having said that, I still would have done more for this position (perhaps taken a corner instead of one of those rush linebackers).
Overall, this was a quality draft. I think that problems still remain at corner, but that's my only issue.
Overall 2010 NFL Draft Grade given on 4/26/10: B
2010 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
18. Maurkice Pouncey, C/G, Florida
I'll never be a big fan of interior linemen as first-round picks, but Maurkice Pouncey is a very good player who can be used at multiple positions. Solid choice. (Pick Grade: B)
52. Jason Worilds, DE/OLB, Virginia Tech
Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer and Jake Delhomme just crapped themselves because the Steelers just added another physically talented pass-rusher. Unlike half the teams in the NFL, Pittsburgh has a plan and knows what it's doing (though a cornerback would have been nice). (Pick Grade: B)
82. Emmanuel Sanders, WR/KR, SMU
I can't say I'm a huge Emmanuel Sanders fan, but he fits the range and fills a need at wide receiver. He can also help in the return game. Solid pick. (Pick Grade: B)
116. Thaddeus Gibson, DE/OLB, Ohio State
I really like Thaddeus Gibson as a prospect, but I really have to wonder what the Steelers are going to do at the cornerback position. Gibson is great value though, so that saves this grade. (Pick Grade: C)
151. Chris Scott, OT/G, Tennessee
Chris Scott fits the range and scheme. The Steelers had to find another offensive lineman. Good pick. (Pick Grade: B)
164. Crezon Butler, CB, Clemson
Crezdon Butler is an Al Davis-type prospect. He's quick and athletic. He fits the range and fills some depth at a weak position. (Pick Grade: B)
166. Stevenson Sylvester, ILB/ST, Utah
The Steelers must have drafted Stevenson Sylvester as a strong special-teamer because he doesn't fit the 3-4. Pittsburgh had to improve its special teams. (Pick Grade: B)
188. Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Georgia Tech
I didn't like Jonathan Dwyer as a Round 2-3 prospect, but I LOVE him in Round 6. He's coming out of a goofy offense, but he's very physically talented and has the potential to be an every-down back in the NFL. (Pick Grade: A)
195. Antonio Brown, WR, Central Michigan
The Steelers add a second receiver to compensate for the loss of Santonio Holmes. I had Antonio Brown as a Round 6 prospect, so this is a decent value pick. (Pick Grade: B)
242. Doug Worthington, DE/DT, Ohio State
A decent player here in Round 7, Doug Worthington should provide depth up front for the Steelers when they'll need it in the near future. (Pick Grade: B)
The Steelers have won a Super Bowl twice this decade, and both times they responded with a playoff-less season. Last time, it was Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident, appendix and concussion that did Pittsburgh in. This time, it was Troy Polamalu's knee.
Patriots sign G Darnell Stapleton
Colts sign CB Deshea Townsend
Steelers sign OT Flozell Adams
Steelers acquire CB Bryan McFadden from Cardinals for 5th-round pick
Steelers acquire QB Byron Leftwich from Buccaneers for 7th-round pick
Steelers re-sign KP Daniel Sepulveda
Steelers re-sign CB William Gay
Steelers re-sign OT Willie Colon
Steelers re-sign TE Matt Spaeth
Steelers re-sign K Jeff Reed
Jets acquire WR Santonio Holmes from Steelers for 2010 5th-round pick
Redskins sign RB Willie Parker
Steelers re-sign QB Charlie Batch
Steelers re-sign DE/OLB Patrick Bailey
Steelers sign ILB Larry Foote
Steelers sign WR Antwaan Randle El
Steelers re-sign FS Ryan Clark
Steelers sign WR Arnaz Battle
Steelers sign S Will Allen
Steelers tender OT Willie Colon
Steelers re-sign NT Casey Hampton
Cornerback: Ike Taylor, William Gay and Deshea Townsend couldn't get the job done last year. Making matters worse, the young corners (Joe Burnett, Keenan Lewis) didn't step up. There will be plenty of talented corners available in Rounds 2-3 this April. Traded for Bryant McFadden
Right Guard: The Steelers don't have anything here. Drafted Maurkice Pouncey
Inside Linebacker: James Farrior just turned 35. He wasn't a liability last year, but he certainly lost a step. The Steelers would love to get Rolando McClain in the 2010 NFL Draft. A swap with the financially cautious Jaguars is possible. Signed Larry Foote
Wide Receiver: Santonio Holmes was traded to the Jets. Mike Wallace can be a capable No. 2 wideout, but the Steelers will need help here. Drafted Emmanuel Sanders
Nose Tackle: Casey Hampton will be 33 in September. He's still an effective player, but he's not the dynamic force he once was. Hampton is also a free agent, and while he could be franchised, Pittsburgh will be looking for a long-term replacement. Dan Williams will be the pick if he's available in the first round of April's draft. Re-signed Casey Hampton
Defensive End: The Steelers have to get younger at defensive end. Even though they drafted Ziggy Hood last year, an early pick could still be used for help up front; Aaron Smith, Travis Kirschke and Brett Keisel can't last much longer.
Rush Linebacker Depth: There's not much to speak of behind LaMarr Woodley and 32-year-old James Harrison. A Round 2-4 selection will be used to acquire a depth player and perhaps a successor for Harrison. Drafted Jason Worilds and Thaddeus Gibson
Safety Depth: Move this up if Ryan Clark isn't re-signed. The Steelers need to make sure they're not crushed if Troy Polamalu gets hurt again. Re-signed Ryan Clark; signed Will Allen
Offensive Tackle Depth: Max Starks and Willie Colon are set as the starting offensive tackles (Starks only because he's making a lot of money - an upgrade could be used there). However, there is very little behind them. A mid-round pick could be used for depth. Signed Jonathan Scott
Blocking Tight End: Pittsburgh will look into adding a solid blocker to complement Heath Miller at tight end. There should be plenty of options in the middle rounds of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Running Back Depth: Willie Parker won't be back. Not that he has much left in the tank anyway. A reliable backup will need to be added. Without much to work with in free agency, the Steelers will likely use a mid- or late-round pick on a running back. Drafted Jonathan Dwyer
Special Teamers: Pittsburgh had major problems covering punts and kickoffs (especially the latter) in 2009. In total, the Steelers surrendered four kickoff returns for touchdowns! Signed Antwaan Randle El, Will Allen and Arnaz Battle; drafted Stevenson Sylvester
2010 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Larry Foote, ILB, Lions. Age: 30. Signed with Steelers (3 years, $9.3 million; $1.8 million guaranteed)
A very solid guy to have in the middle of your defense. Larry Foote, who can play both the 3-4 and 4-3, led the Lions in tackles with 99 in 2009.
Flozell Adams, OT, Cowboys. Age: 35. Signed with Steelers (2 years)
Flozell Adams commits tons of penalties and is lost in pass protection, but can still open up huge running lanes. He can be a capable right tackle for the next couple of seasons.
Antwaan Randle El, WR, Redskins. Age: 31. -- Signed with Steelers (3 years)
Will Allen, S, Buccaneers. Age: 28. -- Signed with Steelers (3 years)
Jonathan Scott, OT, Bills. Age: 27. -- Signed with Steelers
Arnaz Battle, WR, 49ers. Age: 30. -- Signed with Steelers (3 years)
Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 15): No cap.
Jeff Reed, K, Steelers. Age: 31. Re-signed with Steelers (1 year, $2.8 million)
Jeff Reed has failed to hit at least 82.8 percent of his field goals only once since 2004. This is really impressive considering that he's kicking at Heinz Field, one of the toughest kicking venues in the NFL.
Casey Hampton, NT, Steelers. Age: 32. Re-signed with Steelers (3 years, $21 million)
Casey Hampton isn't the player he used to be, but he's still one of the top nose tackles in the NFL. He'll be 33 on Sept. 3.
The Steelers called Willie Colon their best offensive lineman. That's pretty sad, considering he allowed eight sacks from the right tackle position. That number is a bit misleading because Ben Roethlisberger often held on to the ball too long, but still.
Daniel Sepulveda, P, Steelers. Age: 26. Re-signed with Steelers (1 year, $1.1 million)
Daniel Sepulveda averaged 42.7 yards per punt in 2009 while hitting 29-of-72 attempts inside the 20.
Ryan Clark, FS, Steelers. Age: 30. Re-signed with Steelers
Ryan Clark is a decent free safety who will probably be re-signed. If not, this position will be a huge need for the Steelers.
Travis Kirschke, DE/DT, Steelers. Age: 35.
Travis Kirschke will be 36 on Sept. 6, but he's still a quality rotational 3-4 lineman who excels against the run.
Tyrone Carter, S, Steelers. Age: 34.
Proved his worth as a quality reserve safety.
Charlie Batch, QB, Steelers. Age: 35. Re-signed with Steelers (2 years)
If you have to start Charlie Batch for 2-3 games, you're not feeling too bad. Batch should be fine coming off wrist surgery.
Deshea Townsend, CB, Steelers. Age: 34. -- Signed with Colts
Divisional Rival History: Baltimore Ravens: The host dominates this rivalry, winning 14 of the previous 16 matchups, though it should be noted that Joe Flacco is 0-4 against Ben Roethlisberger. Cincinnati Bengals: Though the Bengals swept the 2009 series, the road team has mysteriously claimed seven of the past nine meetings. Go figure. Cleveland Browns: Pittsburgh had won 18 of 19 against the Browns before that infamous Thursday night game in December. Browns 13, Steelers 6.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2010 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)