Long time Steelers owner and Chairman Dan Rooney passed away at the age of 84 on Thursday April 13. Rooney, the son of team founder Art Sr, built the Steelers dynasty after taking over day-to-day control of the franchise in '69. The Steelers had participated in only a single playoff game without a win in 40 years before Rooney hired HC Chuck Noll. Rooney was a fan of stability. Only Noll, HC Bill Cowher and HC Mike Tomlin have coached the Steelers in the last 47 years. Rooney was a conciliatory voice among the owners both among themselves and with the players in labor negotiations. The "Rooney Rule" created opportunities for minorities and even benefited the Steelers with the unexpected hiring of Tomlin. Dan had passed the day-to-day operation of the franchise before the '09 season to his son Art II when he became US Ambassador to Ireland. The impact of Rooney on the country, the Steelers and the league was in evidence at his funeral mass on Tuesday morning. The service was attended by President Barack Obama, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Secretary of State John Kerry with wife Teresa Heinz, US Senator from Pennsylvania Bob Casey, former Homeland Security Director and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, long time sportswriter Peter King, Pittsburgh native and Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin, Noll's son Chris and his widow Marianne. His relationship with his players like his Dad Art's was different than most current (or former) owners. Rooney had an especially close bond with Louisiana native CB Ike Taylor, he served as a pall bearer along with Rooney's grandchildren. Other current and former players in attendance included QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown, LB James Harrison, LB Ryan Shazier, RB Franco Harris, DT Joe Greene, CB Mel Blount, WR Plaxico Burress, LB Jason Gildon and long time coach and RB Dick Hoak among others.
RIP Dan Rooney
Life of course goes on. The draft is a week away. Expect the Steelers to again focus on defense. Below is a seven round mock draft followed by a list of team needs, most desperate first. Players the Steelers talked to at a post season all star game, the combine, their pro day and/or took an official visit to Pittsburgh are listed roughly in order of their perceived value. When there is overlap a prospect is listed only once, official visits and then the combine/pro day taking precedence in that order. These are not necessarily exhaustive lists, someone could have been missed. The Steelers also have several of their 30 official visits still available with local visits from Pitt, West Virginia, Indiana PA and St Francis PA not counting against the total. Some of the visits were likely just the Steelers doing their due diligence on players that have some question-mark, on and/or off the field. Just because someone was not specifically talked to or asked to visit is far from a reason to think they will not be strongly considered in the draft. The Steelers currently have eight total picks including all of their original seven picks. They were awarded a third round compensatory pick for the loss of free agent OT Kelvin Beachum before last season.
1) 30 OLB Takkarist McKinley - UCLA
2) 62 S Josh Jones - North Carolina St
3) 94 TE Jake Butt - Michigan
3) 105 CB Rasul Douglas - West Virginia
4) 135 DE Tanoh Kpassagnon - Villanova
5) 173 RB James Conner - Pitt
6) 213 ILB Harvey Langi - BYU
7) 248 WR Greg Ward - Houston
OLB: The return of 38 year old Harrison on a two year extension provides a workable stopgap. He can't play forever. LB Arthur Moats is a journeyman edge setter against the run. Former first round bust LB Jarvis Jones was allowed to walk. That leaves only '15 first round LB Bud Dupree as a possible future difference maker. Dupree has shown flashes despite injuries in each of the last two seasons. Should he regress or get injured again the Steelers are in big trouble. Smart money is on this position being addressed in the first round. There should be good choices at pick 30 or even through the mid-second round if a deal to move up or down can be made. A pick has to be used on an edge rusher at least by the end of the second day.
- Official Visit - LB Takkarist McKinley - UCLA, LB Derek Rivers - Youngstown St, LB Tim Williams - Alabama, LB Carroll Phillips - Illinois, LB Pita Taumoepenu - Utah, LB Keion Adams - Western Michigan, LB Sam Ebukam - Eastern Washington
- Combine - LB TJ Watt - Wisconsin, LB Carl Lawson - Auburn, LB Ryan Williams - Alabama, LB JoJo Mathis - Washington, LB Devonte Fields - Louisville, LB Ejuan Price - Pitt, LB Tashawn Bower - LSU
- Pro Day - LB Vince Biegel - Wisconsin
- East/West Shrine - LB Austin Calitro - Villanova
S: Second round S Sean Davis was added last year to partner with S Mike Mitchell. Davis can also play the slot in nickel. Depth is beyond suspect. S Robert Golden and S Jordan Dangerfield needed to play way too much last season on defense. Both are best suited to special teams roles being on the field on defense only in emergencies. Versatile S Jabrill Peppers could be an intriguing possibility in the first round if he drops as some now think possible. Besides playing strong safety in base sets in sub-packages he can play the slot, blitz off the edge or even drop into coverage as an inside linebacker. A pick by the end of the second day is not a given due to other needs, but expect someone to be added to the depth chart by the end of the day on Saturday.
- Official Visit - S Obi Melifonwu - UConn, S Budda Baker - Washington, S Josh Jones - North Carolina St, S Montae Nicholson - Michigan St
- Combine - S Marcus Williams - Utah, S Lorenzo Jerome - St Francis PA
- Pro Day - S Marcus Maye - Florida
- East/West Shrine - S Damarius Travis - Minnesota
CB: Last year's first round CB Artie Burns remains the hope for the future. CB Ross Cockrell signed his restricted free agent tender. He got no offers despite requiring only a fourth rounder as compensation. Cockrell is a good scheme fit in Pittsburgh that seemingly has less value to other franchises. CB Coty Sensabaugh was signed to provide depth. He was released after only four games by the Rams last season despite having signed a moderately expensive free agent deal. Aged CB William Gay is on his last legs. A second round selection in '15 was basically wasted on CB Senquez Golson. He hasn't played a snap yet due to injuries. While the depth chart seems anemic, this is the best group of corners in Pittsburgh in five or more years. The Steelers' hierarchy simply doesn't seem to value corners the same way as other franchises. Last year a first rounder was used at corner for the first time since CB Chad Scott was selected in '97. Incredible depth in this draft does mean using a second day pick on the position has to be seriously considered.
- Official Visit - CB Marlon Humphrey - Alabama, CB Jalen Myrick - Minnesota, CB Jourdan Lewis - Michigan, CB Rasul Douglas - West Virginia, CB Ryan Lewis - Pitt
- Combine - CB Cameron Sutton - Tennessee, CB Shaquill Griffin - South Florida, CB Marquez White - Florida St, CB Nate Hairston - Temple
ILB: Goodbye and good luck LB Lawrence Timmons. He left for Miami in free agency signing a 2 year, $12M contract after a bounce back season. He always gave everything on the field in Black and Gold. Run stuffer LB Vince Williams is expected to step in next to the athletic Shazier in base sets. LB Tyler Matakevich, LB LJ Fort and LB Steven Johnson provide depth. Adding athleticism seems a prudent course. Should Shazier miss time this is not an awe inspiring group. Only top end talent seemed to interest the front office and coaching staff in the pre-draft process.
- Official Visit - LB Zach Cunningham - Vanderbilt, LB Jarrad Davis - Florida
- Combine - LB Haason Reddick - Temple, LB Duke Riley - LSU
- Pro Day - LB Raekwon McMillan - Ohio St
WR: Brown is the only sure thing. WR Markus Wheaton was allowed to leave via free agency to the Bears, he will quite frankly not be missed. The status of suspended WR Martavis Bryant remains unknown. The rest of the depth chart provides quantity over quality. Former second round bust WR Justin Hunter signed as a free agent can't be counted on to start opposite Brown. WR Darius Heyward-Bey is a veteran stopgap, his real value is as a gunner of special teams. WR Eli Rodgers proved adequate in his first season manning the slot. He lacks big play ability. Former practice squad player WR Cobi Hamilton is basically replacement level. Last year's late third day pick WR Demarcus Ayers lacks the physical skills to be a difference maker. That leaves WR Sammie Coates. Despite his attempts to play through a broken thumb and fingers, the injuries derailed his season. He remains a question-mark. GM Kevin Colbert has done a solid job of finding receiver talent in the third round or later before things fell apart last season.
- Official Visit - WR Chris Godwin - Penn St, WR Shelton Gibson - West Virginia, WR Josh Reynolds - Texas A&M, WR Kenny Golladay - Northern Illinois, WR Mack Hollins - North Carolina
- Combine - WR Amba Etta-Tawo - Syracuse, WR Greg Ward - Houston
- Senior Bowl - WR Ryan Switzer - North Carolina
RB: The Steelers used the franchise tag on RB LeVeon Bell. The hope remains to sign him to a long term deal. He has developed into if not the best every down back in the league then the second best behind David Johnson. Multiple suspensions due to marijuana use and season ending injuries in '14 and '15 make his backup all the more important. DeAngelo Williams is not expected to be resigned despite still being available. Free agent signing Knile Davis lacks instincts and is best off competing with Fitzgerald Toussaint for the job as third back. Davis does add value as a kick returner. This is another position with excellent depth available in the draft. The compensatory third or fourth round pick seem to be where a back will be most strongly considered.
- Official Visit - RB James Conner - Pitt
- Combine - RB DOnta Foreman - Texas, RB Wayne Gallman - Clemson, RB Marlon Mack - South Florida, FB Sam Rogers - Virginia Tech, RB Jahad Thomas - Temple
- Pro Day - RB Joe Mixon - Oklahoma
TE: Hard to know what to make of TE Ladarius Green going forward. He flashed glimpses of his big play ability last season. Unfortunately he was only on the field for six games due to an ankle injury and more alarmingly repeated concussions. He reportedly as of late March had still not been medically cleared from the concussion protocol. Green is on record as planning to attend offseason workouts. The outlaw TE Jesse James flashed the ability to create major mismatches in the passing game thanks to his size and surprising athleticism. He remains a work in progress as a blocker despite his size. TE Xavier Grimble also proved useful. Tweener TE David Johnson was resigned as a blocker. In-line every down prospect TE Jake Butt coming back from ACL surgery after an injury in the Orange Bowl is an interesting late day two target if he falls that far.
- Official Visit - TE Scott Orndoff - Pitt, TE Jason Croom - Tennessee
- Combine- TE Evan Engram - Mississippi, TE Adam Shaheen - Ashland, TE Gerald Everett - South Alabama, TE Jeremy Sprinkle - Arkansas, TE Mike Roberts - Toledo, TE Pharaoh Brown - Oregon
- Pro Day - Butt - Michigan
QB: Roethlisberger is 35 years old and briefly talked retirement this off season. QB Landry Jones was resigned, at least the front office and coaching staff seem to realize he is a backup at best. A quarterback to groom for the future is quickly becoming more of a priority. Quite a bit of interest has been shown toward borderline day one and day two prospects.
- Official Visit - QB Patrick Mahomes - Texas Tech, QB Nate Peterman - Pitt, QB Josh Dobbs - Tennessee
- Combine - QB DeShone Kizer - Notre Dame, QB Brad Kaaya - Miami FLA, QB CJ Beathard - Iowa, QB Cooper Rush - Central Michigan
- Pro Day - QB Davis Webb - Cal, QB Jerrod Evans - Virginia Tech
DE: Starters DE Cam Heyward and DE Stephon Tuitt are both Pro Bowl caliber. DE Tyson Alualu was signed as short term depth. DE Laterrius Walton is nothing special, but proven adequate in base sets when needed. Only four defensive ends are traditionally kept on the active roster. The Steelers have shown a bit more interest in sub-package edge rushers that would not fit into the traditional outside linebacker role because of an inability to drop into coverage. They perhaps paid more attention to DE Tanoh Kpassagnon than any other player at any position in the pre-draft process for whatever that is worth.
- Official Visit - Kpassagnon - Villanova, DE Patrick Gamble - Georgia Tech, DE Francis Kallon - Georgia Tech
- Combine - DE Chris Wormley, DE DeMarcus Walker - Florida St, DE Fadol Brown - Mississippi St
- Pro Day - DE Keionta Davis - UT Chattanooga
- Senior Bowl - DE Isaac Rochell - Notre Dame
OT: On the right side OT Marcus Gilbert is a fixture. OT Alejandro Villanueva has developed into an asset on the left side, kudos to exceptional line coach Mike Munchak. OT Chris Hubbard right now is the top backup, not particularly good. OT Ryan Harris retired after ending up on injured reserve early last season due to a leg injury. Last year's fourth round OT Jerald Hawkins is a wildcard after spending the season on injured reserve after shoulder surgery.
- Combine - OT Rodrick Johnson - Florida St
G/C: The interior line of C Maurkice Pouncey, OG David DeCastro and OG Ramon Foster all return. C Cody Wallace ended up on injured reserve last season due to knee problems. He was allowed to walk. Backup OG BJ Finney held up OK when on the field. Since Hawkins and Hubbard can both slide inside the obligatory third day offensive line pick seems more likely to be used on a tackle.
- Combine - OG Dion Dawkins - Temple, OG Jordan Morgan - Kutztown St, OG Ethan Cooper - Indiana PA
NT/DT: Third round NT Javon Hargrave won the starting job as a rookie and provided defensive coordinator Keith Butler with an active, athletic interior presence. Backup NT Daniel McCullers is a big body that at least takes up space when on the field. Finding a more dynamic backup that could share time with Hargrave and provide even more pressure in the middle in sub-packages isn't the worst idea. It's also far from a priority.
- Official Visit - NT Treyvon Hester - Toledo