(KDKA)- The Pittsburgh Steelers are, like every team in the NFL, wading through the uncertainty that is a virtual offseason amidst the coronavirus pandemic. With the league set to hold its annual draft in just about two weeks, Steelers fans are beginning to take a closer look at who they team may select when they are on the clock for the first time with the 49th pick.
As with any team, the Steelers have a few needs and holes to fill after going through free agency. KDKA sports director Bob Pompeani points out that they did take care of a big one by snagging tight end Eric Ebron on a reasonable two-year $12 million contract. The 26-year-old Ebron offers an upgrade to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s arsenal of weapons, though he did take a step back last year due to injury.READ MORE: COVID-19 Vaccinations In Pittsburgh: Allegheny County Health Department To Begin Using Pfizer Vaccine
As Pompeani notes, some fans, feeling unsatisfied with the play of backups Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges last year, would like to see the team draft a quarterback with their first pick.
“On the offensive side of it, they have an aging offensive line, and some would argue they need a quarterback. I would not be one of those people,” said Pompeani. “I totally believe that they’re going to believe in Roethlisberger’s health. They have Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges. Some people want Jameis Winston here, I think that would be too expensive. Some people want to draft a quarterback. I think at 49 that’s just too high to be productive this year and next.”
While relying on a 38-year-old Roethlisberger isn’t ideal, there don’t appear to be any quarterbacks in this class who can make an immediate impact, outside of the guys expected to be taken in Round 1. Where does that leave the Steelers? Well, offensive line, as Pompeani mentioned, is a concern.
Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Stefen Wisniewski and Alejandro Villanueva are all 30 or older. While all are still highly productive, the time to take potential future starters could be now. The Steelers could have a couple of options at 49 overall. Boise State junior Ezra Cleveland, Georgia sophomore Isaiah Wilson, Auburn senior Prince Tega Wanogho, LSU junior Lloyd Cushenberry III and Fresno State junior Netane Muti are all ranked in and around the 49 range among CBSSports.com’s prospect rankings.
But if the team doesn’t go offensive line, Pompeani sees a couple of needs on the defensive side of the football.READ MORE: Suspected Drug Dealer From Hazelwood Facing Up To 40 Years In Prison
“Inside linebacker depth, they lost three guys in free agency,” said Pompeani. “Bud Dupree signed the franchise tag but there is no guarantee that he is going to go long-term, which means you might have to draft an outside edge rusher, just in case he leaves after next year.”
Inside linebacker would likely need to wait until the team’s second selection at No. 102, as outside of the top three guys, the depth is likely to be found later in the draft. From an edge rusher perspective, things could be interesting.
Notre Dame’s Julien Okwara, Alabama’s Terrell Lewis, Boise State’s Curtis Weaver and Michigan’s Josh Uche are all rated between 44-50 on CBSSports.com’s rankings.
We’ll find out what direction the team goes when the weekend of April 23rd-25th rolls around. But there’s perhaps a bigger question right now. Will we have a normal NFL season?
President Trump told the various sports league commissioner’s on a call last weekend that he believes the league should start on time and that he hopes to have fans in the stands by August or September. To Pompeani, that seems ambitious with the way the coronavirus continues to spread. But he does believe the season will start on time.MORE NEWS: Car Flips Onto Its Roof On 40th Street Bridge
“I’m of the belief they’re not going to have much of a preseason or many preseason games. It could well be no crowds to start. Are they willing to do that? This is a TV business more than anything else,” said Pompeani. “They want the television money that comes with it. Yes it’s nice to have fans in the stands and get the money that comes with it. But if that’s the alternative, I think they would be willing to make that choice.”