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Old 02-20-2011, 07:38 PM   #2
A Son of Martha

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Default Re: Pre-Combine Analysis on Steelers’ Draft Needs, Strategy

It is likely that the Steelers’ first pick will be a cornerback or offensive lineman. However, if Pittsburgh really does take the BPA in the first round, then a defensive end may be the selection. As many as 10 different defensive ends have a shot to be first-round draft picks, with half of those projecting best as 3-4 ends. Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt would be an ideal fit for Dick LeBeau’s 3-4, but he is likely to be off the board before the Steelers’ pick.

One intriguing prospect for the Steelers is Cameron Heyward, particularly since Pittsburgh loves taking defensive players from Ohio State, which runs the college scheme most similar to the Steelers’ defensive philosophy.

Heyward was a consensus top-10 pick before the season, saw his draft stock plummet to the second round on some boards during an inconsistent season, and then saw it rise again after a dominating performance in the Buckeyes’ win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. Mel Kiper currently projects Heyward as the Steelers’ first-round pick.

At 6-foot-5, 288 pounds, Heyward has the frame to add another 15 pounds and be a solid 3-4 end, although many scouts think he would be best off as a strongside end in a 4-3 due to a lean lower body and great range.

However, if the Steelers want to take a future starter at defensive end in this draft, they may need to do so in the first two rounds. After that, all the defensive ends projected to go in the third and fourth rounds are smaller 4-3 rush ends. If he continues to slide down draft boards, Allen Bailey, a physical specimen but big-game underachiever from Miami, might be worth the Steelers’ second-round pick.

A player more likely to be available at that spot is Mississippi State’s Pernell McPhee. However, at 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, there are questions about how effective McPhee would be if he bulked up further, so he may not be a good fit for the 3-4.

But Aaron Smith, who is injury-prone at this point in career but still the best 3-4 end in the game when healthy, is saying he would like play two more years. 2009 first-round pick Ziggy Hood emerged as a solid starter at the end of the 2010 season, and veteran Brett Keisel is coming off his best season. In other words, defensive end is not a major need for the next year or two, although Keisel is 32 and Smith 34, with Smith’s current contract running out after 2011.

If the Steelers do take a defensive lineman in the middle rounds, that player probably should be a developmental nose tackle who could theoretically be a deep reserve as a rookie, a second-team player in 2012 after Chris Hoke likely retires, and hopefully replace Casey Hampton in 2013.

It is not a great crop of nose tackles, but Stanford’s Sione Fua and Notre Dame’s Ian Williams are two to watch in the middle rounds, with Fua having great upside. He would be a steal if he lasted until the end of the fourth round.

Draft followers need to quit listing Baylor’s Phil Taylor, Hampton’s Kenrick Ellis, or Ole Miss’ Jerrell Powe as Steelers nose tackle prospects. All three could already be off the Steelers’ big board. Taylor and Ellis both have character concerns, and there is no chance the Steelers would use their 2011 first-round pick on a nose tackle (which would be needed to get Taylor) with Hampton still under contract through 2012. Powe under-achieved badly last season due to a lack of heart and hustle; the complete opposite of Fua or Williams.

The only other spots where the Steelers could theoretically use their first-round pick are at safety and wide receiver, although both are highly unlikely. UCLA’s Rahim Moore is the only free safety worth considering in the first round and that would still be a reach. Plus, Ryan Clark is signed for three more years. Clark was inconsistent last season, but he did play his best game against the Jets in the AFC Championship and – like fellow safety Troy Polamalu – his performance would be greatly aided if the Steelers upgraded their talent at corner.

A better option would be to steal North Carolina’s Deunta Williams if he fell to the end of the third round. Williams, who has first-round athleticism, broke his leg in the Tar Heels’ overtime bowl win over Tennessee and may need to spend his rookie season on injured reserve. That would not be a problem with Pittsburgh, which has serviceable veteran depth at safety in Ryan Mundy and Will Allen. Williams could then compete for playing time in 2012 and replace Clark as starter by 2013 at the latest.

Unless Alabama’s Julio Jones unexpectedly fell to the end of the first round, which would almost assuredly not happen unless something publicly emerges that would also then likely knock him off the Steelers’ board as well, there are no receivers on the board worthy of Pittsburgh’s first-round pick.

In fact, the Steelers should not select a receiver at all in this draft unless they get great value at that spot in the later rounds. Some pundits ridiculously argued that Mike Wallace was not a legitimate No. 1 receiver after he was mostly shut down by the Packers’ excellent secondary, which prudently double-teamed him for most of the Super Bowl. Wallace, however, proved he was a legit No. 1 receiver in 2010, tallying 1,257 yards and 10 TDs in his first regular-season as a starter.

2010 rookie Emmanuel Sanders should emerge as a quality No. 2 receiver next season and the Steelers will have dependable Hines Ward back for at least one more year in the slot. Antonio Brown and Antwaan Randle El are excellent No. 4 and No. 5 receivers, respectively. Although he did not catch a pass in 2010, special-teams ace Arnaz Battle is a capable receiver, with 178 career NFL receptions.

Add Limas Sweed and Tyler Grisham battling for roster spots with Battle and Randle El, and the Steelers do not need a wideout in this draft, especially since none of their top six receivers are slated to become unrestricted free agents until after the 2012 season.

I know I said no mock drafts until after March 4th. However, if no CBA is reached, I would do cartwheels if everything fell into place and possibly a trade or two was made to move up or down, allowing Pittsburgh to draft:

1. Mike Pouncey, G, Florida
2. Brandon Burton, CB, Utah
3. Deunta Williams, FS, North Carolina
4. Sione Fua, NT, Stanford

Pouncey would start at right guard as a rookie with Burton providing an upgrade at the No. 3 corner. Williams and possibly Fua would project as future starters. And the Steelers would have the deepest team in the NFL next year if they are able to return any of their 14 potential free agents they desire. Another Super Bowl run would be in order for 2011 and some future needs would have been addressed.
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