It’s always fun trying to predict your team’s depth chart before the start of a season. But as they’ve said recently about Pittsburgh, everything we do, we do it big. So let’s take a peek into the future and see who might be suiting up for the Steelers three years from now.
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Dennis Dixon, some UFA
RB: Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, a 2012 3rd round pick, Baron Batch
WR: Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, a 2013 1st round pick, two warm bodies
TE: Heath Miller, a 2012 2nd round pick, a 2014 4th round pick
LT: Max Starks
LG: 2012 3rd round pick
C: Maurkice Pouncey
RG: Some UFA
RT: Marcus Gilbert
Not too much turnover on the offense. Ben Roethlisberger is getting a little older and isn’t as physical as he used to be, but he’s the team’s field general and still plays at a high level. Dennis Dixon is an unspectacular but reliable backup, and some other guy is here for insurance.
Rashard Mendenhall has blossomed into a certifiable stud at RB and Jon Dwyer regularly steps in to lighten his workload. The Steeler backs are tough to bring down, but their rough-and-tumble style carries a lot of injury risk, and the Steelers invested a 3rd round pick in an insurance back. Baron Batch has become a third down back with reliable hands but not much to offer between the tackles.
Hines Ward has retired and Emmanuel Sanders has taken his place as a great possession receiver, especially on 3rd downs. Wallace and Brown are playmakers that give opposing CBs nightmares when they’re both on the field, and the Steelers’ regular 3-receiver package keep safeties back off the line to give Ben more time in the pocket.
Heath Miller is one of the team’s captains at the tight end position, but the departure of the underachieving Matt Spaeth and unmemorable David Johnson led the Steelers to bring in two young guys to have in case Heath Miller (and his concussion history, getting one in 2011 and another in 2013) to pick up the slack if anything goes wrong.
The offensive line in anchored by all-pro center Maurkice Pouncey. Max Starks is still hanging around and overall line depth is still a concern, but the starting five have paved the way for a very dependable running game when healthy.
DE: Cam Heyward
NT: 2012 1st round pick
DE: Ziggy Hood
LOLB: LaMarr Woodley
MLB: Lawrence Timmons
MLB: Stevenson Sylvester
ROLB: Jason Worilds
CB: 2014 1st round pick
SS: Troy Polamalu, 2013 2rd round pick
FS: Ryan Mundy
CB: A middle-tier UFA
Casey Hampton’s body eventually rendered him unable to play football, but the Steelers invested another high draft pick in their defensive line, bookended by Heyward and Hood. The line swallows opponents’ blockers allowing the linebackers to make most of the plays. The high draft picks resulted in a slightly weaker OL, but the defensive front is so good they get away with it. Speaking of linebackers, the Steelers cut ties with James Harrison in 2013 after his on-field incidents never got cleared up and his off-the-field demeanor began to become a distraction. James Farrior fianally hit his wall and retired, but Sylvester learned the defense well from him and while Worilds won’t be confused with Harrison, he’s a responsible and talented pass-rusher.
The DBs are still a bit suspect, with Troy Polamalu seemingly unable to stay healthy and Ryan Clark’s free agent defection to Denver (LOL JUST KIDDING) but Ryan Mundy has been well-groomed as the successor to the position, plus a 3rd round pick considered at the draft to be a diamond in the rough. The Steelers are forced to gamble on starting a rookie, but the lack of talented depth at the position necessitated the move.
K: 2013 6th round pick
P: 2012 5th round pick
LS: A third dude
PR: Emmanuel Sanders
KR: Antonio Brown
Greg Warren retired, leaving the LS job to whoever happened to be around at the time. The Steelers also invested draft picks in a kicker and punter after Shaun Suisham began to decline and Daniel Sepulveda was let go in free agency, promping a season with some rent-a-punter. Emmanuel Sanders’ good hands and occasional shiftiness make him an ideal punt returner, while Antonio Brown’s speed and big-play ability make him a threat to score on kick returns.