Last week, we posted a roundup of what some of the early mock drafts have the Pittsburgh Steelers doing with the 18th pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. Yes, there was some variability in what the 'draft gurus' believed the Steelers would and should do with their 1st Round pick this year. For instance, one site had the Steelers taking Clemson running back C.J. Spiller. Most though believed Pittsburgh would bolster their defense in round one, and amongst those who did, most identified the secondary as the area Pittsburgh would likely target. More specifically, the Steelers ought to draft a cornerback in the 1st Round if you go by the early consensus of draft niks.
I totally disagree. Here's several reasons why.
1) Last time I checked, the Steelers drafted two cornerbacks last year - Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett. Granted, Lewis was a 3rd rounder and Burnett a 5th, but Lewis in particular has the physical tools to one day be a starter in this league. He just needs some time to learn the game at this level, much like the Steelers incumbent #1 CB Ike Taylor did earlier in his career. By drafting a cornerback in 2010 to play immediately, the Steelers would essentially be giving up on one of those two picks. How so? Well, Taylor's not going anywhere anytime soon. He'll turn 30 in May, but regardless of your opinion of him as an instinctive natural at the position, it's impossible to deny that Taylor is one of the most freakishly fit and durable specimens on the roster. So if it were Taylor and a 2010 1st rounder locking down the CB positions for the foreseeable future, that makes it difficult to work in Lewis and Burnett...not too mention....
2) William Gay. There was no tougher critic of William Gay than me all year. I definitely was disappointed to be 'right' about this one, but I worried 'on the record' here during last year's offseason that I thought the defense would suffer fairly dramatically by inserting him in to the slot once manned by Bryant McFadden. Nevertheless, Gay's struggles this year will pay dividends for the team next year. I'm positive he'll work harder than he has before in his life this offseason to improve his body and game for next year. Even though 'we're the Steelers' and have enjoyed frequent success for quite some time now, it's impossible to stay at the top year in and year out in this league due to the salary cap, and the demands it places on teams to continually work in less expensive, young talent. That means some down years from time to time, even for the best franchises. It would be foolish, I believe, to give up on Gay and not reap some dividends in future years for the losses the team incurred while working him in to the fold in 2010.
3) It's impossible to really say just how much of a difference Troy Polamalu makes when he's out there and healthy. On the one hand, it's easy to argue that there are 11 guys out there and that no single player can or should be that much of a difference maker. On the other hand, the proof may just be in the pudding. When #43 plays, the Steelers win and make life awfully tough on opposing offenses. With Polamalu doing his thing, our cornerbacks have looked significantly better in years past than they have when he's shelved with an injury.
Now, it might be argued that the Steelers should consider finding another top shelf safety to play alongside Polamalu given his propensity for getting injured. I'd be amenable to that for sure, though I haven't yet scoured the draft boards closely enough to know who might be a good fit.
Getting a cornerback this year though in the 1st Round doesn't make sense to me. I'd instead look for a homerun pick at ILB or at nose tackle. James Farrior's replacement needs to be secured sooner rather than later. So does Casey Hampton's. I don't see that same immediate need at the cornerback position, particularly when you consider the fact that Pittsburgh plays in the AFC North where a high premium is placed on winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and fielding a physical team in the trenches. We know Baltimore's offensive line and running game is in good shape for the future; same with Cincinnati, and to a lesser degree, even Cleveland.
So, I'd like to hear your thoughts and I'm sure I'll be expounding on some of these thoughts in the future weeks and months, but for now, this is my story and I'm sticking to it - let's see what the Steelers can do next year defensively if Polamalu's back healthy and our young DBs have had that much more time to develop. If we see the same problems rear their ugly head next year - namely, if #43 can't stay healthy again, and if guys like Gay, Lewis and Burnett struggle - then maybe it'd be time to invest heavily in getting a lockdown corner early on in the Draft. For now though, I believe Pittsburgh would be better served packaging a number of their mid round picks to move up in Round 1 and get a slam dunk pick like Rolando McClain, Gerald McCoy or even one of the prized offensive tackles of this year's Draft.