The Pittsburgh Steelers are by far one of the most successful football franchises in the NFL. Between their six Super Bowl victories and their prestigious legacy of well-versed head coaches, the Steelers are an organization that prides itself on not only winning but also dominating the competition year in and year out. However, after a underwhelming 2012 season where the Steelers finished 8-8 along with losing immense veteran talent to free agency, the Steelers appear to be slowly losing their luster. Although the Steelers still have Ben Roethlisberger as their battle hardened quarterback, his durability and once unwavering consistency have come into question. Despite the fact that Roethlisberger only threw eight interceptions last season, his average passing distance decreased from 8.23 yards in 2010 to 7.27 yards in 2012. His overall yardage also decreased fairly dramatically from 4,077 yards in 2011 to 3,265 yards in 2012. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that Roethlisberger is no longer a proficient quarterback, his lingering ailments are ultimately keeping him from being the elite passer he has been in the past.
Although Roethlisberger may be going through his share of frustrations, the Steelers as a whole lack several offensive and defensive superstars that made them an intimidating juggernaut in the first place. From losing linebacker James Harrison to the Cincinnati Bengals to relinquishing their star running back Rashard Mendenhall to the Arizona Cardinals, the Steelers lack the veteran identity that has made them supremely competitive in the past. Even though the Steelers have a decent running back in Isaac Redman, his overall production and abilities pale in comparison to what Mendenhall was capable of doing on a regular basis. Aside from those glaring vacancies, the Steelers are still relatively deep at both the linebacker and cornerback positions. Assuming this defensive roster can emulate the sensational stopping power they exhibited last year (1st at preventing the pass, 2nd at preventing the rush), the Steelers offense will be provided with some much needed relief that should help them stay afloat in their division.
While their free agency losses hindered their chances at potential future success, the Steelers were tenacious and intuitive in how they utilized their draft picks. With their first round pick the Steelers selected Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones to fill the void that was left by Harrison after his departure. With Jones, the Steelers acquired a hard-nosed pass rusher who garnered over 28 sacks in his last two seasons with Georgia. His explosiveness and immense size are coveted attributes that should help the Steelers retain their defensive prowess over the next few seasons.
The Steelers also branched out to acquire some much-needed offensive talent, particularly at the running back position (finished 26th in rushing the ball during the 2012 regular season). In the second round, the Steelers selected Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell. A sizeable power back, Bell rushed for over 1,700 yards in 2012 while scoring 33 times throughout his career with the Spartans. While it’s hard to determine if Bell has the gusto and overall power that Mendenhall brought to the table, his individual accolades during his tenure with the Spartans make him an intriguing candidate as a relentless rusher.
Obviously, with the loss of their once highly touted wide receiver Mike Wallace to the Miami Dolphins, the Steelers went into the 2013 draft knowing they needed a dynamic wide out who could make the same miraculous plays that Wallace did. With the selection Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton in the 3rd round, the Steelers made it abundantly clear that they could replace Wallace with a young, proven receiver. In his last year at Oregon State, Wheaton caught 91 passes for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns. While Wheaton is a reliable receiver over the middle like Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, his overall speed and quickness are compelling skills that Wallace was also known for. If Wheaton can prove to be as dynamic and consistent as he was when he attended Oregon State, it seems highly probable that he could turn out to be a welcome addition to the Steelers receiving corps.
In the end, while the Steelers lack the intimidation and overall team unity that has made them immensely successful, their innovative and varied draft picks should allow them to bolster their prestigious defense while replenishing their depleted offense. While the Steelers are by no means an abysmal franchise, over the last couple of years they’ve lacked the merciless mindset that has allowed them to valiantly take down the best of the best. If Ben Roethlisberger can stay healthy and the Steelers young prospects turn out to be as proficiently gifted as they are on paper, the Steelers have a chance to redeem themselves to become competitive in their division once again.