The following is the sixth of seven position-by-position 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers NFL draft analyses:
Current makeup: Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester, Mortty Ivy, Marshall McFadden
Last five drafts: Timmons was coach Mike Tomlin's first draft choice in 2007 and is solid but still not quite at Pro Bowl level. Mike Humpal (sixth round, 2008) is long gone, but Sylvester (fifth round, 2010) might have an opportunity to earn a starting job this season after James Farrior's release.
Top inside linebackers available: Luke Kuechly, Boston College; Dont'a Hightower, Alabama; Bobby Wagner, Utah State; Mychal Kendricks, California; James-Michael Johnson, Nevada
The Steelers might take: Hightower; Kendricks; Tank Carder, TCU
Analysis: The Steelers need to find a successor to Farrior, who meant so much to their defense. The combination of Foote/Sylvester may get them by this year, but they might get a chance to grab a real stud if Hightower is available with their 24th pick of the first round. His height and weight matches LaMarr Woodley's, and he could plug the middle of their defense for years. If they go in a different direction in the first round, Kendricks, a smaller, quicker guy, could be there in the second round.
Current makeup: LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, Jason Worilds, Chris Carter, Brandon Hicks
Last five drafts: Woodley was Tomlin's second pick in 2007 and has turned into an NFL star, when healthy. Bruce Davis (third round) was one of several busts from the 2008 draft. It's time for Worilds (second round, 2010) to take his game to a higher level, and Carter (fifth round, 2011) could work his way into some playing time this year.
Top outside linebackers available: Andre Branch, Clemson; Courtney Upshaw, Alabama; Melvin Ingram, South Carolina; Nick Perry, Southern Cal; Zach Brown, North Carolina; Lavonte David, Nebraska; Chandler Jones, Syracuse; Shea McClellin, Boise State
The Steelers might take: Branch; Ingram; Perry; McClellin; Cam Johnson, Virginia; Bruce Irvin, West Virginia; Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma; Kyle Wilber, Wake Forest; Olivier Vernon, Miami
Analysis: The Steelers are always looking for outside linebackers for their 3-4 defense, so they'll be examining defensive ends like Branch and Perry, much like they did with Woodley. An unusually deep crop of these tweeners are available in this year's draft, so expect the Steelers to take at least one OLB like they have in four of the last five years. Branch, Ingram and Perry would have to be first-round picks, so the Steelers more than likely will wait for the middle rounds and go after someone like Irvin, Wilber or Vernon.
Coming Wednesday: Defensive linemen
- Buck Frank