Steelers: Nine picks could fix foundation

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The Steelers have nine draft choices, more than enough to fix their deficiencies that have turned them mediocre after consecutive 8-8 seasons.

Enough, that is, if they draft like it's 1974. They could use another Jack Lambert at inside linebacker, another Lynn Swann or John Stallworth at wide receiver, even another Jimmy Allen at cornerback. If they could find four future Hall of Famers in this draft the way they did 40 years ago, they just might complete this transition they've been going through.

In other words, they could use another once-in-a-lifetime draft starting Thursday. If not, they at least need to hit it out of the park.

Their needs are obvious to anyone who ever logged onto the World Wide Web. At the top of their wish list are the positions of cornerback and wide receiver, layered slightly over the shaky footprint that has become their defensive line and linebackers. That trend you just noticed is they need help virtually everywhere on defense.

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How did it come to this from a team that reached the Super Bowl three years ago and still had the No. 1 defense in the NFL just two years ago?

The answer: Too much talent, too much money for that talent, age and too little room to develop young players because of all that talent.

The Steelers kept their good players for good reason, because they kept winning with them. They kept pushing the salary cap into future years in order to keep those players. Now, most of those players are gone and they struggled through the last few seasons either watching them grow old, good young players flee and seeing others of lesser talents replace them.

Perhaps the Steelers' top need is cornerback, because Ike Taylor turns 34 tomorrow and Cortez Allen, 25, is the only young draft pick in the mix. They have missed on several reasonably high draft picks at the position the past few years.

Wide receiver is needy because they lost two of their top three in free agency after losing Mike Wallace last year. Signing free agents Lance Moore and Darius Heyward-Bey are stopgap measures.

It could be argued that they need linebackers more than anything because those are what breathe life into their 3-4 defense. They have little depth behind two starters who have little starting experience. Jason Worilds finally proved himself over the course of his fourth season, but showed little consistency before that. He's also operating under a one-year contract. Jarvis Jones, their first-round draft pick last season, has a long way to go to prove himself. Arthur Moats, a lower-tier free agent from Buffalo, joined them.

Their inside linebackers feature Lawrence Timmons and Vince Williams, a rookie forced into the role last season with mixed results.

Cameron Heyward showed he can be a force at defensive end, but who knows whom the other defensive end might be. They lost both of their 2013 season-opening starters, Ziggy Hood as a free agent and Brett Keisel to indifference, plus backup Al Woods as a free agent. Cam Thomas, who lost his job as a starting nose tackle in San Diego, joined the group that also returns nose tackle Steve McLendon.

Safety looked like a crying need before they signed Mike Mitchell as their top free agent this year, kept Troy Polamalu and re-signed Will Allen. They also maintain high hopes for Shamarko Thomas, a rookie last season.

Besides wide receiver, the Steelers may be relatively set on offense. They certainly are at quarterback. They have their top two halfbacks in LeVeon Bell and free agent LeGarrette Blount. They have their starting offensive line in place except for the expected competition between two former second-round picks at right tackle, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams. There is room for one or two good young backups.

With a healthy Heath Miller, they certainly are not desperate at tight end, although they could draft his successor or a No. 2 or No. 3 right now.

The Steelers long have said they do not draft for need and their actions have not quite backed up those words. So, if they address those needs this week, it will be defense, defense, defense with a dash of wide receiver tossed in.

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