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Old 04-19-2009, 10:51 AM   #1
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Post The Class of 2009 & The Steelers: A Good Fit

The Class of 2009 & The Steelers: A Good Fit

Sunday, April 19, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The lack of stars and potential stars takes some of the luster off this draft, but there's a silver lining for the Steelers because the most well-stocked positions are the ones where they need the most help this offseason.

Tom Marino worked for five NFL teams and three pro leagues in a scouting career that spanned nearly four decades, and he has not seen many drafts quite like this one.

"I think it's one of the worst drafts I've seen in a long time,'' said this Boston native who works for Scout.com. "I don't see strengths anywhere."

His opinion may differ slightly from others, and it won't be proven one way or the other until the players drafted next weekend have played in -- or washed out of -- the NFL after several years. Certainly, though, it's not a draft that has personnel directors drooling, and those at the top of the first round may be fretting more than anything.

It's one thing to pay the millions in guaranteed money to Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger when they were drafted in the top half of the round. It's quite another to pay the same kind of money to those drafted at the top of the round this year.

"It's a very average draft," said Tom Modrak, the Buffalo Bills' assistant general manager who usually is an optimist. "I wouldn't want to be a quarterback chaser now at the top, though.''

It's a draft that just does not stir the kind of enthusiasm of more recent ones. Not just at quarterback, either. There are no dynamic running backs or interior defensive linemen. And while the group of offensive tackles is not bad, there are no Jonathan Ogdens among them.

If you're drafting in the top five, even 10, the quality in return for the money paid won't be there.

But then, Dermontti Dawson was drafted in the second round, Hines Ward was drafted in the third round and James Harrison and Willie Parker not at all. So, while talent scouts can issue their honest opinions, no one can determine how prospects drafted next weekend will fair over the next few years.

It might be a good year, though, to pay attention to the middle rounds of the draft. The second day -- rounds three through seven -- may be more important than most.

"I think this draft has depth," said Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome, who has done one of the best jobs of assembling talent in the NFL over the past decade. "What I mean is, you can go in rounds three, four and five and find some quality players that will be able to come in and contribute to your football team. What it offers is good depth."

That is good news for the Steelers because they need to add to their depth, and they have nine draft picks in the seven rounds to do so.

The other good news for them is they do not need to overspend for one of those high draft picks because as Super Bowl champs they draft at the end of each round, not counting the compensatory picks the NFL issued starting in the third round.

More good news for the Steelers is that their obvious needs come at some of the better positions in this draft, positions like offensive tackle, defensive end, wide receiver and center.

"There are a lot of wide receivers in this draft, a tremendous amount of wide receivers,'' said longtime Dallas personnel man Gil Brandt, now a senior analyst and columnist for NFL.com. "I think the offensive linemen are pretty good in this draft. I'm not sure there's ever enough defensive linemen, it's just a hard position to fill. That's why people over-draft them, draft them before they should."

The Steelers, of course, could be one of them because they have ignored their defensive line in the draft for much too long, and their players are showing their age because of it. That also goes for their offensive line -- they last drafted an offensive lineman in the first round in 2002 and they have drafted no offensive linemen in the first three rounds in the past three drafts.

That could change this season. They have looked long and hard at centers, and two are considered possible late first-round draft choices, Alex Mack of California and Eric Wood of Louisville.

They also seem to be paying more attention to defensive linemen, cornerbacks and wide receivers this year.

And while many pooh-pooh the class of cornerbacks this year, Brandt believes good ones will be available on the second day of the draft.

"There always are a lot of corners,'' Brandt said. "We haven't had a corner drafted in the last five years in the top 10. But so many guys play corner who have skills that you're able to get them in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds and as free agents.

"The kid the Steelers have from Louisville, for example. He's not a bad player."

The Steelers drafted William Gay on the fifth round in 2007, and he will replace Bryant McFadden as their starter this year. That's considered a good return on a fifth-round pick. The Steelers do not need immediate return on their draft choices, but they do need to pick at least a handful who will fill some needs over the next few years.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

"We're not going to turn our backs on him," Ward said. "We're going to treat him like our brother. We're going to accept him back and be very supportive of him and help him get through this. In this locker room, he's still our quarterback."
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