Steelers Draft Needs: Past Failures Make Defensive Line a Priority in Pittsburgh

After his first season as Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin declared that the team needed to get “Younger and stronger” on the defensive line. The Steelers didn’t use a premium pick on the defensive line in now maligned 2008 NFL Draft, but they picked Ziggy Hood in the first round in 2009 and Cameron Heyward in the first round of 2011.

In 2012 they traded up to get one of the few ‘pure nose tackles’ remaining in the draft and they just extended nose tackle Steve McLendon for 3 more years.

  • Those moves must mean the Steelers are set on defensive line and need to worry about that in the upcoming draft. Right?

Guess again.

In spite of (or perhaps perversely because of) their heavy investment of first round picks in defensive lineman in recent years defensive line remains a serious need area for the Steelers in the 2013 NFL Draft.

The unit is led by Brett Keisel who defied father time and played well last year, particularly in the later half of the season. But Keisel is an unrestricted free agent. More importantly he’s 34.

Should Keisel play at the level he played at in 2013 the Steelers could bring back. But if the Steelers do that and if Keisel oes return in 2014 in anything more than a Jerome Bettis ’04-’05 elder statesman type role then what will that say about the men drafted to replace him?

Of the two Ziggy Hood is the greatest concern. He played well as a rookie in spot duty in 2009, was a little shaky entering the starting line up in mid 2010 but came on strong late in 2010 and during the playoffs. In short he had the look of a player who was establishing himself as a quality starter.

  • Unfortunately that Ziggy Hood has been seldom seen in the two years since.

Hood has played four years in the NFL and coaches are suggesting that his natural position might be nose tackle, which doesn’t speak well about how they see him as a defensive end.

  • But no worries, there’s always Cameron Heyward.

Yes, Heyward, the son of legendary Pitt running back Craig Heyward.

Heyward who, on a snap for snap basis, out performed Hood yet cannot seem to wrest the starting job from him. It is too early to for the Steelers give up on Heyward, but not too early for them to hedge their bets, especially with Ziggy Hood looking destined to be no more than an average starter.

  • Those two realities in and of themselves mean the first round would not be too soon for the Steelers to think about drafting a lineman.

But the Steelers don’t need to just worry about replacing about finding Ziggy Hood and Brett Kiesel’s replacements in this draft, they also must find build depth.

Behind Hood, Hewyard, McLendon, and Keisel the Steelers have:

  • Alameda Ta’Amu, last year’s 4th round pick who looked lost in camp and is currently on probation
  • Al Woods whose has benches as a practice squad player and back up for parts of three seasons
  • Hebron Fangupo, who? Yeah, we asked the same question

Suffice to say, defensive line remains a high priority for the Steelers in the 2013 NFL Draft

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