With the Pittsburgh Steelers continuing to host pre-draft visitors through Thursday, one thing has become very clear: they will be focusing on defense in the 2013 NFL Draft.
The age of their defense has come into question before, but now it is a front-and-center topic. There were eight starters last season, including both safeties Troy Polamalu and Will Allen, who have at least eight years experience, with the average age of the starters being 30.55 years old. What's worse is that one of the young starters, cornerback Keenan Lewis, left for New Orleans.
The players brought in for pre-draft visits, like the Pro Day visits the Steelers made, were defensive heavy and were:
OLB John Simon (3rd round prospect) - Ohio State;
RB Christine Michael (4th rd pros.) - Texas A&M;
ILB Vince Williams (7th rd pros.) - Florida State;
OLB Jarvis Jones (1st rd pros.) - Georgia;
OLB Jamie Collins (2-3 rd pros.) - Southern Mississippi;
OLB Khaseem Greene (2-3 rd pros.) - Rutgers;
SS Jonathan Meeks (7-FA rd pros.) - Clemson;
S Phillip Thomas (2-3 rd pros.) - Fresno State;
ILB Michael Mauti (5th rd pros.) - Penn State;
OLB Malliciah Goodman (4th rd pros.) - Clemson;
WR Josh Boyce (2-3 rd pros.) - Texas Christian;
RB Johnathan Franklin (2nd rd pros.) - UCLA;
SS Shamarko Thomas (3rd rd pros.) - Syracuse;
CB Will Davis (5th rd pros.) - Utah State;
G Nic Embernate (6-7 rd pros.) - San Diego State;
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson (3rd rd pros.) - Connecticut;
CB Xavier Rhodes (1st rd pros.) - FSU;
and LB Sio Moore (4th rd pros.) - Connecticut.
While the NFL of today undoubtedly favors the offense and is still a quarterback-driven league, it doesn’t mean that it will add up to a championship. With the New England Patriots’ 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 AFC Championship game, the team with the third-highest point total in NFL history (557) wasn’t in the Super Bowl. That means, per profootballguru.com, "seven times in league annals a team has scored at least 540 points and none of them have walked away with an NFL title."
Defense, even in commissioner Roger Goodell's vision of an Arena-league scoring NFL, still matters. Even if it's merely by forcing massive turnovers in a bend-but-don't-break defense, it still translates.
As far as any other possible pre-draft visits or potential defensive draft picks, keep an out for Brandon Williams of Missouri Southern State. The 6'1", 333-pound nose tackle/defensive tackle was a three-time NCAA Division II All-American who pressed an impressive 38 reps on the 225-pound bench with a 29 ½-inch vertical jump at the NFL Combine. His power notwithstanding, he is surprisingly quick for a big man and has good balance.
Per Scott Bischoff of Bleacher Report (I know, I know...), "Williams had an incredible senior season. He had 68 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, two pass breakups, eight quarterback hurries, five forced fumbles and a safety. Williams plays as a nose tackle, but is versatile enough to play any position from a 0-technique (lined up directly over the center), to a 5-technique (lined up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle)." - http://tinyurl.com/d9janen
Bischoff also mentioned his ability to one- and two-gap against the run, and to push the pocket up the middle on a consistent basis against the pass - something a good 3-4 nose tackle should do. But, as was mentioned, he can slide out to the end in the 3-4 alignment as well. Considering the age of Brett Keisel, the inconsistent play of Ziggy Hood and the unknown commodity in Alameda Ta'amu, drafting someone who can challenge and even potentially contribute on that defensive line would be advantageous.
Missouri Southern also held a pro day for Williams. The standout defensive tackle was looked at by scouts of the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Saints, Ravens, Seattle Seahawks and most importantly the Steelers.
His stock is on the rise and could be found in round three...right where the Steelers just may find themselves with an extra pick if they decide not to match the New England Patriots' offer sheet that was signed by wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Something his quarterback doesn't want to see happen. - http://tinyurl.com/d7mlnbe
Hopefully, the Steelers decide to retain Manny, but they should ONLY do so if they think they can get an extension done with him by preseason.
In summation of the pre-draft visits, NFL teams are allowed 30 and the Steelers have had 18 confirmed. There are two others unconfirmed and more to be determined - at least three of which are supposedly defensive players also.