...anybody's guess at this point.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' April draft board is set up to hopefully help a team that has more holes than a Louis Sachar novel. Holes on both sides of the ball. Holes for starters. Holes for depth. Holes amongst core players. Holes amongst playmakers. The interwoven tapestry of the names of those they've brought in for personal meetings do little to disentangle the conundrum, either.
That doesn't mean, however, that we're completely bereft of room for speculation. Since the needs are ubiquitous, we can at least glean clues from those whom they have brought in.
Keep in mind that teams are allowed to meet with 60 prospects during the combine for 15 minutes each. Per nflcombine.net, they "are able to accommodate and process up to 335 total athletes each year." That's simple math, and therefore about 5.5% of the total players.
That being said, now that the Combine is in the books, below is a list of prospects the Steelers met with at the or who they are linked to by a source:
Met with -
QB Geno Smith WVU;
OG Jonathan Cooper NC;
RB Montee Ball Wisconsin;
WR Robert Woods USC;
DE/OLB Ezekial Ansah BYU; and
FS Kenny Vaccaro Texas (Jim Wexell has reported that the Steelers were to meet with him.)
Supposed interest -
DT Jordan Hill PSU (According to him in an interview with reporters);
LB Michael Mauti PSU (Jim Wexell says Steelers are interested in him);
OLB Jarvis Jones Georgia (Gerry Dulac has speculated on the Steelers' interest); and
WR Keenan Allen California (Per Dulac, the Steelers are interested. And if we missed any, please let us know.)
Seemingly, looking at those brought in so far and bringing their needs into view, we could be hearing the individual names of an offensive lineman, a linebacker, or a safety, with the outside chance of that of a wide receiver, being called out by the commissioner and vice commissioner on days one and two of the draft.
To focus on just the first three of those four positions mentioned above, offensive guard Jonathan Cooper may be higher on the Steelers draft board than the highly touted Chance Warmack, as was evidenced by this tweet last week by Steel City Insider's Jim Wexell:
As CBSSports.com said of Cooper, "he graded out at 90 percent for the season and had double digits in knockdown blocks in nine of the Tar Heels' 12 games. He was a key part of Carolina's offensive success. The Tar Heels set single-season records in scoring, total offense and passing yards. Running behind Cooper and left tackle James Hurst, UNC tailback Giovani Bernard ran for 1,228 yards."
Though the annual NFL Beefcake contest that is the Combine can be overrated, Cooper showed the strength to back up those accolades also:
While, as Steelers beat writer Gerry Dulac pointed out, "Colbert conceded that the draft is thin in numbers in three areas, one of which is interior offensive." So, could the Steelers look to the interior line three straight years?
"Certainly can," Colbert said. "At No. 17, we're going to have a lot of options available to us and we won't close the door on any position in any round because that would be shortsighted." - http://tinyurl.com/cd4lqon
One of those options is a position not yet mentioned, that being the tight end. Per Kevin Colbert via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, with tight end Heath Miller still not having a timetable, he will miss training camp and will most likely be on the Reserve PUP list to start the season. "In my mind, when you have an ACL late in the year," Colbert said, "I still don't believe a player is 100% until a year is up." Those options include one position that is becoming of greater concern: tight end.
Since Miller, the Steelers leading receiver last season, ended 2012 with a torn ACL and MCL and a damaged PCL, which will be required to heal on its own and elongating the overall timetable, this means the tight end position will have to be addressed earlier than originally planned. In fact, Steel City Blitz went so far as to ask whether or not tight end is becoming a first round possibility. - http://tinyurl.com/bwtlgew
In a future article If It Ain't Steel will cover Heath Miller and how the Steelers could go about handling his absence. Now as for the other positions and players whom we could be hearing on the first (or second) day, outside linebacker is certainly a consideration, as is either safety position. We've written plenty about Ansah, Vaccaro and several others, and Dulac gave a rundown of Georgia's Jones, though he was most likely removed from their draft board due to a spinal issue.
So, then, who else could possibly be in the Steelers crosshairs at the top pick?
First of all, if it's the linebacker position it's outside linebacker. In truth, a quality inside linebacker can be gotten in the later rounds, names such as the aforementioned Michael Mauti or Alabama's Nico Johnson whom we've highlighted before. But, of the OLBs, one who might fall right in line with a long list Steelers linebackers with nasty streaks would be Khaseem Greene from Rutgers.
In the 2012 season, Greene recorded 136 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, six sacks, two interceptions and a partridge in a pear tree. His combine numbers weren't too shabby, either. - http://tinyurl.com/cu98nsd
However, the Steelers starting safeties are going to be 32 years old, Troy Polamalu, and 34 years old, Ryan Clark, next season. Getting younger at both positions is vital. One player who may fit well would be LSU's Eric Reid. A top prospect, the 6'2" 208-pound safety put up very good numbers by posting a 4.53/40, performing 17 reps on the 225-pound bench press and tied for the best marks in the vertical(40.5") and broad jump(134.0").
Reid should be a first-round selection in April's NFL draft. The speed and athleticism he showed at the Scouting Combine went a long way toward proving he can be a potential star on Sundays.
Will that future be in Black and Gold? It's anybody's guess.
TIDBITS: Steelers Antonio Brown took money upfront, er uh, restructured his contract to make Salary Cap room. Also, per Adam Schefter: "Not only did Steelers restructure Antonio Brown’s contract, as PFT reported, but they will restructure LB LaMarr Woodley’s contract as well.”
If the report of a $3 million cap savings is accurate, that means the Steelers took $3.75 million of the $4.5 million that he was going to earn and turned it into a signing bonus, which adds an additional $750,000 to each of the four years remaining on his contract. Four times $750k is the $3 million against the 2013 Cap.
That makes two restructures that have saved $8 million total in Salary Cap space. Couple that with the Cap itself being adjusted to approximately $123 million, that puts the magic number at about $4 million ($6 million if we still assume the Cap stays at $121.1 million). If Woodley and Ben Roethlisberger "restructure" as well, that's another approximate $13 million saved putting them $9 (or $7) million under the cap. We discussed the Timmons restructure and the possible ramifications of the Big Ben restructure in our last post: http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2013/02/steelers-restructure-timmons-to-get.html
Then the roster cuts start coming...
UPDATE: Big Ben turned $9 million of his $11.6 million base salary into signing bonus. So, it's $6 million in Cap savings, per Albert Breer.