Over the last few years I've spent MUCH more time on this (this year has produced it's own challenges), so better late than never..
It'll be much briefer this year, without going over FA and all that stuff so much.
So far, leading up to the draft my take on the Steelers current situation is this:
Prior to FA- The Steelers needed to solidify CB, FS, NT, DE, OLB, WR with depth at RB, ILB & potentially OT.
Cuts/Extensions- By cutting Woodley, and resigning Worilds, the Steelers made their biggest FA move early. The committment is now on youth at OLB. Contract restructures for Polamalu & Taylor guarenteed them stating on, maybe dropping the 'need' at CB.
Signings/Losses- Signing Mitchell basically pushed Ryan Clark out the door. This was another instant upgrade, a good move. Signing Moore to replace Cotchery, Blount to replace Dwyer are both upgrades- Blount could be considered a dramatic upgrade. Heyward-Bey provides a better deep threat that Sanders, but probably isn't a significantly better WR, if at all. Moats is a solid back-up, which upgrades the non-existant Foote in some ways. Cam Thomas is a question. Not a bad pick-up, but as a DE, unsure if he upgrades even from Hood. Certainly not an upgrade on Keisel. If he moves to NT, he might not be a significant upgrade on McLendon (who was poor, despite some board love). Cam Thomas is essentially Al Woods replacement...the 5th DL. McCain, the CB from the Texans, is not an upgrade at all. Losing Keisel at this point could hurt, as no real replacement appears to be in place, unless McLendon is scheduled to shift across. (Not sure if that is even a suitable upgrade).
Players to Step Up- The most obvious players needed to step up next year would be Jarvis Jones (who was handed the starting ROLB job with Woodley's release), Mike Adams (if he can solidify the LT position, the OL is set for years) & Markus Wheaton (Sanders replacement?). If these 3 players can improve on last season, immediate help from outside the organisation is not required.
What will the Steelers look for in the Draft?
I have a number of theories in regard to how Tomlin/Colbert draft players.
Since their first draft, the Tomlin/Colbert mantra has been to alternate 1st round selections from Defense to Offense (perhaps to never allow one side of the ball to drop in player quality?).
In 2007- Defense, 2008- Offense, 2009- Defense, 2010- Offense, 2011- Defense, 2012- Offense, 2013- Defense....2014?
Also, first round selections have MOSTLY involved LOS type players, or Front 7 types on Defense. Only Mendenhall was a 'skill player'. OL, DL & LB's are the focus.
The Steelers do not typically shy away from Jnr's in the 1st round, with a high number of Tomlin/Colbert 1st round picks being Jnr's.
Big school/Big production is the key to early draft picks. No small school players in the first 3 rounds. And Big 10, Big 12, SEC & ACC are the conferences of choice.
The Combine is not just for show. Not necessarily a guide for 1st round picks, but mid-round guys certainly- particularly WR's & CB's- who test well at the combine have been selected- Wallace, Sanders, Brown, Allen, Curtis Brown to name a few. Forget the 40, look for cone drills & jump drills.
Kevin Colbert DOES NOT LIE. When he talks pre-combine, when he gives an assessment of where the Steelers are at, he identifies key areas of need.
With these things in mind.....we can move on...