While I, along with a lot of other people, were surprised at the selection of Rashard Mendenhall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2008 National Football League (NFL) draft, I understand the thought process behind the selection. The top two prospects at the guard position were already taken, and therefore, the Steelers selected the best player that could fit in the Steelers' system that still happened to be on the board.
With all of that said, I'm hopeful that Mendenhall will have a breakout rookie season (once his hamstring gets "un-tweaked"), but I'm also realistic. For the second straight season, the Steelers' top pick in the draft has been plagued by injury early on in the season. This is another issue entirely which I'll address later on. I like Mendenhall and I think that he could fit well in the Steelers' system. I also think the Steelers were wise in taking him, projecting to the fans that they will be making the shift to a two back system. This kind of system has been successful in New Orleans (prior to Deuce McCallister's injury), and I really think that the Steelers could do great things with Mendenhall and Willie Parker sharing time. Overall, and this is just my opinion, I think that Mendenhall has better vision than Parker, and I like Mendenhall's size. While Mendenhall is no Jerome Bettis, I think he has the footwork to make nice cuts on the field, as well as the size to be able to absorb one or two hits before being taken down.
I also really like what the Steelers did with their second round pick, drafting wideout Limas Sweed out of Texas (one of my favorite college programs). Sweed will provide a solid "deep threat" option by lining up in the slot. This will free up Santonio Holmes to take up the vacancy left by the departure of former Steelers Wide Receiver Cedrick Wilson.
Here's the problem. The Steelers needed an offensive guard. In a report from steelers.com, it appears that the team will be "shuffling the same cards," (their words, not mine), when it comes to the offensive line. It means that, while the Steelers could be inserting fourth rounder guard Tony Hills into the mix, the Steelers are going to be using the same level of talent to fulfill a need that they very much needed new and better talent to fill.
I love the Steelers. I loved it when they won the Super Bowl in '06, but as I said before, I'm also a realist. The apparent gaping whole in the Steelers' O-line will be their downfall in '08. And with the increasing level of talent that the Browns, Ravens, and Bengals have acquired, I predict the Steelers will go 7-9, finishing third in the AFC North and missing the playoffs. The only team that they will outdo in their division will be the Cincinnati Bengals, who've got a whole slew of problems on both sides of the ball.