Of course, there may not be a future for the people picking the players if the team doesn’t improve before this year’s rookies become some future year’s leaders. So here are the areas where the Steelers need to focus in order to buy time for this year’s incoming players to eventually become leaders.
Running back: The Steelers keep saying they want to return the focus of the offense to the running game. That’s hard to do without a chain-moving, old-school running back. Rashard Mendenhall is gone, and none of the other in-house options conjure memories of Franco Harris or Jerome Bettis. In 2004, the Steelers were overdue to get a franchise quarterback. In 2013, they’re overdue to get a franchise tailback.
Receiver: Even with Emmanuel Sanders still in the fold for one more year, the Steelers need to think about 2014, when Sanders likely will join Mike Wallace as third-round picks who picked up and left after four seasons in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have done a great job finding quality receivers in later rounds of the draft; they need to do it again.
Linebacker: To vindicate the decision to cut James Harrison and later to rebuff his interest in coming back for less money, the Steelers need a solid replacement. Especially with Harrison likely landing in Cincinnati. Jarvis Jones presents an intriguing option with the team’s first-round pick. With other needs, however, using their first-round pick on a rush linebacker may be a luxury they can’t really afford. Unless Jarvis Jones is there at 17.
Quarterback: Apparently, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich won’t be back, replaced by Bruce Gradkowski as the understudy to Ben Roethlisberger. It would make sense to spend a late-round pick on a guy who could be developed to serve as the backup over the next few years — especially with Roethlisberger’s injury history. He has appeared in all 16 regular-season games only once in his career.
Tight end: A torn ACL suffered late in the 2012 season by Heath Miller makes the position a question mark for 2012. It could be time to think about finding a long-term replacement.
Offensive line: For the first time in years, the line isn’t as big of a need — in part because other needs trump it. Late-round depth would be helpful a year after David DeCastro and Mike Adams arrived via rounds one and two, respectively.