AFC North: ESPN Season Wrap-up
January, 2, 2014
By Scott Brown | ESPN.com
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.
Final Power Ranking: 14
Preseason Power Ranking: 16
Biggest surprise: Kelvin Beachum, the 248th pick of the 2012 NFL draft, solidified the all-important position of left tackle after Mike Adams flopped there. Beachum started 11 of the Steelers' final 12 games at left tackle -- he missed one contest because of a knee injury -- and was a big reason why quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked just seven times in the Steelers' final seven games. The 6-3, 306-pounder is not a prototypical left tackle, but the position is probably his to lose going into the offseason. Beachum's emergence allows the Steelers to use their 2014 first-round pick on defense instead of a left tackle.
Biggest disappointment: LaMarr Woodley played well enough when healthy, but the highest-paid defensive player in franchise history hasn't been able to stay on the field. Woodley has missed 13 games since signing a six-year, $61.5 million contract in 2011, including four games this season. Jason Worilds played so well at left outside linebacker in place of Woodley that the Steelers moved the latter to the right side after he returned, albeit briefly, from a nagging calf injury. If the Steelers have to make a choice between Woodley or Worilds, who will be an unrestricted free agent, it is a no-brainer to keep Worilds.
Biggest need: Outside linebacker and safety top the list, and I will go with the former since edge pass-rushers are so critical in the Steelers' 3-4 defense. Jarvis Jones will be fine, and I expect him to be a different player in 2014 after experiencing the requisite rookie growing pains. But even if he develops as the coaches expect and Worilds returns, the Steelers could use another pass-rusher since I think they will cut ties with Woodley. The one caveat: If a safety with star potential such as Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is available when the Steelers pick in the first round of the draft, they should seriously consider taking him.
Team MVP: Flip a coin between quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Each was that good this season. Brown authored the best season ever by a Steelers wide receiver and made the Pro Bowl as a position player as well as a punt returner. However, my nod goes to Roethlisberger because of how important his position is in a quarterback-driven league. Roethlisberger played every snap and had one of the best statistical seasons of his career. He also deserves credit for not allowing an 0-4 start devolve into 5-11 or 4-12 and for his command of the no-huddle attack that took the offense to another level.