Saturday, March 22, 2014

Weighing in ...

Lance Moore
Once again this year, Steeler Nation has watched NFL free agency come and go (mostly now) with bated breath only to be frustrated by lack of cap space and a series of mostly underwhelming additions and unsurprising subtractions.

Safety Mike Mitchell is the only roster addition we can say with confidence is an upgrade. Mitchell succeeds the inimitable but aging Ryan Clark, who became suddenly slow during a 2013 season in which the defense surrendered a gazillion plays of 20 yards or more.

Jessica Burciaga, who is supposedly
Lance Moore's girlfriend
At wide receiver, Lance Moore replaces Emmanuel Sanders -- not Jericho Cotchery, as most people seem to conclude from the timing of Moore's signing coinciding with Cotchery's lamentable departure. We're not sorry to see Sanders gone; we are sad to see Jericho no longer in Black 'n Gold.

Hampered by injuries last year, Lance Moore had only 37 catches for the Saints, but he tallied an average of 63 catches a year for the previous three seasons. The Steelers hope he regains that form to replace Sanders, who had 67 catches last year for the Steelers (740 yards; 11.0 ypc). Sanders also had more than few drops, and too many of those at crucial times. Sanders came up small in the biggest moments; clutch, not so much. The Steelers should have let Sanders go to New England last off-season, and we said so at the time.

As for the Moore-Sanders comparison: Similar body type; similar physical attributes; similar speed -- the main difference is Moore is three-and-a-half years older than Sanders, and on the north side of 30. Plus, reportedly, he has a stunning girlfriend (and maybe Sanders does, too, for all we know).

If Moore doesn't return to form, and even if he does, the Steelers are looking for 2013 third-rounder Markus Wheaton to step up his game in a big way. We have high hopes for Wheaton, who was injured much of last year and made next to no impact. If neither Moore nor Wheaton pan out this year, the Steelers will be in trouble. There is nobody else, unless 2013 fringe rookies Derek Moye or Justin Brown develop, or somebody out of the blue. Or a draft choice.

As for the other moves, they're underwhelming and appear to be for depth, which is not a bad thing, just not very exciting. Glaring holes remain on defense, especially on the defensive line and at cornerback. There's room for improvement at inside linebacker, too. (C.J. Moseley, anyone?)

Next Up at Running Back: "The Winnebago"?
Running back remains a big concern, and maybe LeGarrette Blount will sign; maybe not. Nicknamed "The Winnebago," Blount's size makes Steeler fans hope for the arrival of the next Jerome Bettis ("The Bus"). More realistically, Blount may be closer to Najeh Davenport ("The Dump Truck"). Like Davenport, Blount has some history he'd no doubt prefer people would forget.

The Draft
Wide receiver and cornerback remain the top two target areas for the draft. We're guessing corner, if either of the top two (Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard) are available.  Wide receiver, otherwise, probably, unless an absolutely can't-miss offensive tackle or impact defensive lineman is available. The needs are many, and they are great.

If North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron is available, we'd consider him in the first round. We don't think the Steelers will, but Joey Porter's Pit Bulls would. The Steelers have four tight ends on the roster and probably figure they're set for the time being. Heath Miller's still very good, but a player like Ebron could be a difference-maker, especially in the Red Zone. At 6'4, 250, Ebron would be a monster slot receiver.

In any case, the Steelers need immediate help at corner, wide receiver, the defensive front seven and running back.  Probably in that order.

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