Steelers need to improve pass rush, ground game in draft

The Steelers produced one of their worst draft classes in history in 2008.

Yet, they proceeded to win the Super Bowl that same season.

If they have the same lack of success with this year’s draft, which begins tonight with the first round, the Steelers more than likely won’t even sniff the Super Bowl in 2013 – and maybe for several years.

That 2008 draft featured some of the all-time busts for the Steelers – Limas Sweed, Bruce Davis and Tony Hills. In fact with the offseason free agency losses of Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Mundy, none of the seven players selected by the Steelers that year remains with the team.

The Steelers, though, were able to absorb the miscalculations in 2008 because they had players like Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, James Harrison, Willie Parker and a young and healthy LaMarr Woodley.

The cupboard is much barer now, and the Steelers are going to need to find some impact players – despite what they say – if they’re going to improve on last season’s uncharacteristic 8-8 campaign.

The Steelers could use help at virtually every position on the team, but the two areas that seem to stand out the most are the pass rush and the ground game. Due to the losses of Mendenhall and Harrison, the Steelers are thin at both running back and outside linebacker.

The Steelers will most likely not use tonight’s first pick on a running back because this year’s crop of backs doesn’t include any Adrian Petersons or Trent Richardsons. Alabama’s Eddie Lacy might be the only running back that gets selected tonight, but he doesn’t appear to be worth the 17th pick of the draft.

If the Steelers are infatuated with Lacy, they could trade back in the first round or trade up in the second round. But they would like to pick a “special” player in the first round, much like they did last year when guard David DeCastro fell to them.

That special player could be Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who has the potential to be a disruptive force as a pass rusher. Jones would make the most sense for the Steelers with their first-round pick unless LSU outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo is also still available.

However, Jones could be already gone by the time the Steelers are on the clock because the draft never turns out the way Mel Kiper or Todd McShay has it scripted. If Jones and Mingo are both taken, the Steelers could go in a number of different directions because they could use help at receiver and in the secondary, too.

West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin, Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert, Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro and LSU safety Eric Reid are possibilities for the first round, and another Georgia linebacker, Alec Ogletree, could also be on the Steelers’ short list.

Tonight’s first pick will help determine how the rest of the Steelers’ draft will unfold over the next three days. If they take Jones, they’ll be ready to gobble up a running back and receiver on Friday in rounds two and three, and they’ll spend Saturday adding depth at positions such as defensive back, defensive line, possibly offensive line and even quarterback. And don’t be surprised if they take two running backs and/or two receivers among their eight total selections.

The Steelers could eventually upgrade their pass rush and running game with some free agents – they’ve met with ex-New York Giant Ahmad Bradshaw and ex-Arizona Cardinal Beanie Wells – but that historically hasn’t been the Steeler way.

The Steeler way is building up their team through the draft. That’s why they can’t afford to have a repeat of 2008 when Roger Goodell gets the 2013 NFL draft under way tonight.

Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or