Earl Thomas. Kyle Wilson. Mike Iupati. Maurkice Pouncey. We've heard a lot about these names as potential 1st round draft picks. Perhaps too much.
Consider the Steelers 1st round drafts the last two years. Ziggy Hood flew under the radar for most of draft season and wasn't seen as a possibility to many until the last week or so, when word spread that the Steelers like his athleticism and character. Up until then, he was regarded as a gap-penetrating DT who didn't fit our scheme.
Heck, Ziggy spent more time in college spinning than the prior year's #1 pick, Rashard Mendenhall. Unlike Ziggy, Mendenhall wasn't a schematic mismatch but a draft position mismatch. He was supposed to be off the board long before the Steelers drafted. After the draft, the Steelers admitted they didn't expect him to be there and that he wasn't a need, per se -- but that he was on their list of must-draft players if they were still on the board.
So what does this mean for the 2010 draft? What names aren't we spending enough time thinking about?
These names won't be on the board when the Steelers pick -- or will they?
:: Joe Haden
The consensus top CB's poor combine led to questions about his deep speed and forced scouts to go back to see if it was evident on tape. What they found could determine if he drops.
:: C.J. Spiller
If NFL front offices see the next Chris Johnson, he will be off the board. But if they see a complementary speed back, he could become the surprise lightning to Mendenhall's thunder for a team looking to run the ball more.
:: Rolando McClain
Does he have the sideline-to-sideline speed required of top 15 LBs? Those doubts -- and questions about whether he takes plays off -- could drop this tough, durable, heady defensive captain to 1.18.
These names will leave fans excited, confused, wringing their hands over a "reach," or convinced it's a sign we're going to a west-coast offense with a 4-3 D.
:: Devin McCourty
For the life of me, I don't understand why Kyle Wilson gets more attention than McCourty. The most well-rounded CB in the draft after Haden, McCourty has the hips to cover top WRs and hits like a brick in the run game. His 40 speed surprised at the combine -- and he reportedly wowed teams in interviews. Not only that, he's a special teams demon who plays all four phases and says he wants to play on teams even after he becomes a starter.
:: Brian Price
A junior out of UCLA, Price was a one-man wrecking crew behind the line of scrimmage piling up tackles for loss. He's strong and quick, but at 6'1" a bit shorter than the typical 4-3 DT. The Steelers could spy the same raw athleticism that they saw in Ziggy Hood and draft Casey Hampton's successor. Tomlin likes athletic D-lineman, and Price would just need to put on a few pounds if the Steelers think they can teach him to hold the point.
:: Golden Tate
Hines Ward junior? He plays with the same toughness, and he flashed at the combine with surprising speed while showing great quickness and good hands. If the Steelers fall in love, it's a classic case of ignoring need and picking the board.
:: Carlos Dunlap
Not Steelers character, but Mike Tomlin seemed too interested at the Florida pro-day. He's got all the physical characteristics you look for, but played terribly. Unlike McCourty, I hope we don't pick Dunlap... but I could see it happening.
Are any of these picks likely? If you look at mock drafts around the web, you'd probably say no. You may be right.
But before you rush to the comments section to declare "you idiot! so and so will never fall to 18! and so-and-so is a huuuuge reach!" consider this: Every year we see suprises, top picks falling, and "reaches" that go on to amazing careers. It just goes to show that as hard as journalists and bloggers try, we just don't evaluate talent and value the same as NFL teams.
So let's pause a second, forget everything we've read and been told about the draft, and consider what surprises might be in store for us. Who do you think could be a surprise 1.18 pick?