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|04-26-2011, 08:10 AM||#1|
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NFL Draft: Steelers juggling talent versus need
NFL Draft: Steelers juggling talent versus need
Free agents not included when weighing draft options for positions
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor is an unrestricted free agent.
If it appears the Steelers' most pressing need in the NFL draft is at cornerback, even with Ike Taylor, imagine the urgency at that position without their best corner?
But that's the way Kevin Colbert, the team's director of football operations, said the Steelers are approaching the college player draft that begins Thursday: That Taylor, an unrestricted free agent, and anyone else without a contract are not part of the team.
Colbert said that's the stance he and coach Mike Tomlin have to assume because of the lockout by NFL owners and the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. A judge in St. Paul, Minn., Monday granted the NFL players request for a preliminary injunction to lift the lockout.
"We're going to draft for our team as we know it today," Colbert said Monday at a predraft news conference with Tomlin at the team's South Side facility. "We do know what our team is today, and that's how we're going to approach this draft. Anything else is unrealistic."
Colbert did not specify Taylor by name, nor did he mention any of the other players who became unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2010 season, including tackle Willie Colon and running back Mewelde Moore, among others.
The Post-Gazette's coverage:
But his message was clear: The Steelers cannot afford to assume players who are without a contract will be on the team in 2011, even though they had preliminary discussions with Taylor about a new contract before the lockout.
"When the lockout began, this is our team as we know it and we're going to draft accordingly," Colbert said. "I can't comment on any potential free agents. I got seven picks and I need 'em all. We're going to draft based on the team that we know we have at this point."
The Steelers led the NFL in scoring defense (232), had the second-best opposing passer rating in the league (73.1) and the second-most interceptions (21) in the AFC.
But when they played teams such as the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers who used multiple-receiver formations to spread their defense, the Steelers had difficulty stopping the pass. It was especially evident in Super Bowl XLV when quarterback Aaron Rodgers repeatedly picked on cornerback Bryant McFadden and nickel back William Gay while throwing for 304 yards and three touchdowns.
What's more, cornerbacks have combined for just seven interceptions in the past two seasons -- an indication the team could use a playmaker on the outside.
"It's definitely more of a passing league and teams do a good job of finding guys that can't cover," Colbert said.
His answer was in response to a question about the cover skills of safeties, but he just as well could have been referring to cornerbacks, as well.
If Taylor elects to leave in free agency, the only reasonable replacements behind McFadden and Gay are Keenan Lewis, a third-round pick in 2009 who has been unproductive and unimpressive in two seasons; and Crezdon Butler, a fifth-round pick in '10.
That would seem to indicate a dire need to draft a cornerback in the first round, something the Steelers haven't done since they selected Chad Scott with the 24th overall pick in 1997.
But Colbert said he isn't going to draft a cornerback just to draft a cornerback.
"We always balance the talent vs. the need, and, if it's close, if two or more players are close, we will always take the player of need," Colbert said. "But what we won't do is to reach for a specific position. That's where the biggest mistakes have been made and will continue to be made."
The two best corners in the draft -- LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara -- are projected to be among the top 10 picks in the draft by most scouting experts. After that, there is a big gap to corners such as Miami's Brandon Harris, Colorado's Jimmy Smith and Aaron Williams of Texas.
Colbert, though, said the Steelers are willing to trade up to get a player they like, such as they did in 2006 when they moved up seven spots to No. 25 to draft Santonio Holmes. Colbert said there are 20 "special" players in the draft who can be "unusual players in this league."
But he did not rule out the possibility of trading out of the first round, either -- a move that would allow them to garner an additional pick or two. Colbert said that could be significant because, if the lockout continues, teams are not allowed to sign college free agents when the draft is over.
"We always tell [other teams] we'll go either way, and we will, depending on who's still available in the top of that first round that we might want to go up and get," Colbert said. "We'll pick someone at 31 if we have to. But, if there are offers for our picks, we'll certainly look at that and entertain the possibility of going down."
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11116...#ixzz1Kd9GyWGx
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