Miron / USA TODAY Sports Images

Matt Steel hopes a blah March turns into Front Four draft madness for the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have boxed themselves into a corner this draft season, says Matt Steel in his Sunday morning notebook.

The thoughts of a Steel-ed observer who always seems to be left wanting in the month of March:

* I can't say I disagree much with what the Pittsburgh Steelers did during the primary free agency period. Re-signing Robert Golden, William Gay and Darrius Heyward-Bey had me nodding in agreement, and signing my top outside free-agent target, Ladarius Green, had me feeling all right. But, after that, things went downhill.

* Not that I disagree much with the free-agent losses. Hopefully, the $10 million-per-year option rather than the one-year, $4 million salary for Kelvin Beachum was the breaking point. But if the idea was to bring Beachum back to compete with Alejandro Villanueva, then they likely didn't make a serious effort to bring him back. Chemistry-wise, Ryan Harris makes a lot of sense as a security blanket should Villianueva not improve to the organization's liking.

* I wouldn't have paid Steve McLendon $4 million per season either. I thought $3 million per year made sense. Though, considering the cheap deals the Steelers were getting away with, it's likely they offered McLendon half of what he got from the New York Jets.

* I was more of a take-it-or-leave-it guy when it came to Ramon Foster. Love the man, like his play, hate his body. But maybe the stretch zone-blocking scheme might be rendered moot anyway at this point, now that the league has eliminated the chop block. Still, I would love for Foster to get in good enough shape to be able to pull more often and more effectively. Maybe this offseason he should get together with Marcus Gilbert and get on a diet that can make him a stud on the left side. That said, I thought getting Foster at $3 million per season was a surprise, considering the $5 million per year Richie Incognito received.

* There probably wasn't much of a roster fit for Will Johnson with Roosevelt Nix on the team. It was still a disappointment, but not nearly as great a disappointment to me as the loss of Sean Spence. Not that I believe the Steelers should have come close to matching the $2.5 million Spence received from the Tennessee Titans. I will miss the character he brings, his special-teams play and knowledge of the system should Ryan Shazier continue to struggle with injuries.

* Any disappointment I may have felt with the loss of some of their own players would have been alleviated had the Steelers made a push to sign Eric Weddle. In my last piece, I wrote that I didn't think signing Weddle would be that good of an idea. That opinion changed when I read a Weddle quote about how good he feels physically, how meticulous he is when it comes to taking care of his body, how he doesn't drink. As someone whose expertise is on athletic physical preparation, that sold me. I now believe Weddle likely will play another three, maybe four good years. And what a great addition to the locker room he would have been. Not much helps a team more than a well respected veteran who's chasing his first Super Bowl. And by making that move, the Steelers could have set themselves up for doing just about anything early in the draft. They could have added an offensive lineman or even a running back by Round 3, considering Le'Veon Bell might be a free agent and DeAngelo Williams is likely in his final year. And if Connor Cook slips into Round 2, perhaps even quarterback would've been in play early. But now it looks like the Steelers are relegated to cornerback, safety and defensive line with their first three selections.

* Yes the Steelers have salary cap restrictions. But I then question how Cortez Allen and Shaun Suisham are still on the roster when their releases could have gone a long way toward signing Weddle, as would a Lawrence Timmons restructure/extension from the ridiculous salary he's currently scheduled to make. And if not Weddle, then a release and a restructure might have allowed the Steelers to sign Jason Jones instead of Ricardo Mathews.

* In 2014, I wanted to Steelers to draft either Darqueze Dennard or Kyle Fuller in the first round. In 2015, my top target was Marcus Peters. With the number one corner position yet to be addressed by the team, many fans are hopeful that Eli Apple or William Jackson will be the Steelers' first selection.

* The safety position seems to be in play in Round 1. But I'm getting the feeling that all these Steelers are taking inventory on is having options should some of them slide to Round 2. Perhaps Round 1 is still in play based on the way their board falls, but I think taking a safety is a reach that high in the draft. The one player worthy, Karl Joseph, is coming off an ACL injury. Keanu Neal may be able to hit, but he plays a little stiff and doesn't play with a burst. Vonn Bell has average size and athleticism (30-inch vertical jump and a lack of combine participation is alarming) and isn't known to be a very good tackler. I expect at least one of these flawed players to be available in Round 2. And if not, there are still some good options. I'm not so sure someone such as Justin Simmons, who has great height, the athleticism to cover and solid tackling ability wouldn't just be the best option for the Steelers anyway. Like Senquez Golson and the cornerback position last year in Round 2, I think it becomes the "We have to come away with a safety" round this year.

* It would appear that leaves the selection of a defensive lineman in Round 3. It's the deepest position in the draft, so getting quality talent to help provide rotational depth wouldn't seem to be an issue.

* But I'm still not sold on the cornerback position in Round 1. Mackensie Alexander's lack of height and turnover production doesn't fit what the Steelers need at the position. I'm OK with the Steelers taking Apple or Jackson, but both players' flaws will prevent any over-excitement on my part should one of them be selected by the Steelers. GM-turned-analyst Charlie Casserly has Artie Burns rated higher than both Apple and Jackson, and Burns also comes with his share of football concerns. So since I don't see Shaq Lawson slipping to pick 25, that leaves me with only one player who'll get me fired up over a selection.

* Some Pittsburgh media members believe Andrew Billings isn't in play in the first round because the nose tackle position only sees the field about a third of the game. But Billings is the perfect fit because he's stout enough to play the nose and athletic and quick enough to be a one-gap penetrator in the nickel. I would love to see the Steelers finally sprinkle in some jumbo four-man fronts with either Stephon Tuitt or Cameron Heyward playing defensive end. Though they don't play the 4-3, they might be a Jatavis Brown-in-Round-4 away from being capable, should they draft Billings. It would go a long way toward providing the Steelers with plenty of flexibility and the possibility of utilizing three studs along the defensive line to stuff the run and also provide necessary and quick interior pressure against today's quick passing offenses. An eventual three-man rotation between Billings, Tuitt and Heyward would help reduce the snapcounts of the current Steelers ends by 15-20 a game and allow for an endless onslaught of fresh talent. The game is still won at the line of scrimmage, particularly along the defensive line as both the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos have proven in two of the last three Super Bowls.

* Should the Steelers select either Apple or Jackson over Billings, I'd be OK with it but a little surprised because I believe Billings is the better player. The nervous energy will be there when the Redskins pick at 21 if Billings is still on the board. Several mock drafts have Billings' ceiling as being right there. Most have Billings getting to the Steelers and beyond if the Redskins pass on him. It will be interesting. Watching picks 21-24 could be intense.


Steel City Insider Top Stories