Although the Pittsburgh Steelers have spent two first round picks in recent years on defensive linemen in Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward, there is a ton of uncertainty going forward on the defensive line. I have suggested that the team could draft another defensive lineman early in the 2013 NFL Draft and have mostly gotten criticism for that opinion. When you think about it though right now, the Steelers have seven defensive linemen on the roster and four of those seven are entering the final years of their contracts.
Players whose contracts are up after the 2013 season are Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Al Woods, and Alameda Ta’amu. Keisel and Hood are projected to be starters in the 2013, Woods is one of the top rotation guys on the team and Ta’amu was thought to be the possible future at NT at one point. The Steelers may have just resigned Steve McLendon to a three year contract this offseason however, that still does not guarantee that the team sees him as the future.
That would leave the team with McLendon, Cameron Heyward and Hebron Fangupo as the only defensive linemen on the roster. McLendon will be given his shot to prove he can be the starter at NT this upcoming season and he also has the versatility to be a DE as well. If the Steelers do in fact take a NT, like Missouri Southern’s Brandon Williams, Alabama’s Jesse Williams or Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins, that would tell me that they plan to move McLendon to that DE spot. If they do not take a NT early and instead take a developmental 3-4 DE late in the draft then that says to me they are comfortable with McLendon at least for the upcoming season on the inside.
Most of us believe this is going to be Brett Keisel’s last season with the Steelers and it is Ziggy Hood’s final opportunity to prove to the team that he is deserving of a second contract. The Steelers’ defensive line could then have Hood and Heyward as the future defensive ends and McLendon at NT. The team would then only need to find some quality backups to rotate in with the starters to keep them fresh.
Personally I am hoping that Hood steps up his game this season and proves to the fans that he wasn’t a waste of a first round pick. Since drafting Casey Hampton in the first round of the 2001 draft, the Steelers have seemed reluctant to draft any defensive linemen early. Before Heyward and Hood in the 2011 and 2009 seasons respectively, it was Hampton in 2001 and before that it was Kendrick Clancy in the third round in 2000. It will be telling what the front office really feels about the players on the roster because of the talent at the top of this particular draft.
Contract information from Spotrac.com