Overview: Troy Polamalu’s magnificent 12-season run with the Steelers is over. His next stop is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which only adds to the daunting task of succeeding the eight-time Pro Bowler. Shamarko Thomas is in line to take over for Polamalu at strong safety – or at least get the first crack at the starting job. Thomas played as a third safety in the Steelers' quarters package early in his rookie season but lost the job to veteran Will Allen after he sustained a high ankle sprain. Thomas has since played mostly on special teams as separate hamstring cost him five games last season. It is time for the Steelers to see if Thomas can be more than just a core special-teams player. Mike Mitchell also could get a look at strong safety, depending on what the Steelers do in the draft, though he started every game last season at free safety. Allen has been re-signed and gives the safety group a veteran presence. Robert Golden, a former undrafted free agent, has a chance to make a move after playing almost exclusively on special teams in his first three seasons.
Draft priority: Medium to high. The Steelers need a safety who can play deep in coverage but also support the run. Maybe Mitchell is that player, but he struggled in his first season with the Steelers. Mitchell broke up just three passes in his first season with the Steelers and did not record an interception.
Last player drafted at position: Thomas in the fourth round of 2013. The Steelers traded a third-round pick in 2014 so they could draft Thomas. Now it is time to see what they have in the Syracuse product.
Dream pick: Damarious Randall, Arizona State. The 5-11, 196-pounder is Landon Collins' closest challenger for the designation at best safety in the class. It is not a strong class for safeties, which could drive up the value of Randall, who recorded 106 tackles last season for the Sun Devils and also made three interceptions. Randall has good cover skills and can play the run. He could sneak into the first round and will likely be an early- or mid-round pick in the second round. If Randall is available when the Steelers pick late in the second round they could give him strong consideration.
Practical pick: Adrian Amos, Penn State. Amos started every game his final three seasons at Penn State and played both cornerback and safety. His ability to cover and play in space makes the 6-foot, 218-pounder the kind of safety the Steelers should covet. There are question about Amos’ play against the run. He could be an option in the fourth round and might be a steal if the Steelers are able to get Amos in the fifth round.
He said it: “There are more corners than there are safety types just because of the spread offenses. You need more guys to cover wide receivers because there are more wide receivers that are playing. It’s probably a trend.” – Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert on why the draft is stronger at cornerback than safety.