Not that we really needed another draft recap, but here is my take on the incoming rookie class now that things have settled down a bit.
Round 1: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida
Here are some notes from various scouting reports on Pouncey:
- Can anchor vs. bigger NT’s
- Good pass protection, lateral agility
- Can pull/trap, gets to the second level
- Good drive blocker
- Plays with very good leverage
With centers, you usually have an either/or proposition: they can either be athletic, finesse types like Jeff Saturday that would last about as long as Sean Mahan in the AFC North, or you get big oafs like Justin Hartwig that can anchor against nose tackles but can barely lay a hand on quicker DT's in pass protection. Sometimes it's easy to see superlatives like "devastating run blocker" and miss things like "dumb as hell" or "absolute toolshed in pass protection", which is one reason I'm glad we drafted Pouncey instead of Iupati. There are very few NFL centers that can match Pouncey's combination of physical attributes, technique, and football intelligence, including last year's first rounders Wood and Mack. The two that come to my mind are Jason Brown and Nick Mangold.
Pouncey was a good value at 18, and I'm excited to see us draft an OL that can upgrade both pass protection and the running game. I would not have objected to picking Bulaga, but it would have been some time before he worked his way into the lineup, whereas Pouncey really addresses the least talented part of our roster and can step in immediately. Bulaga also has more physical limitations to his upside - many doubt he'll ever be an All-Pro LT, whereas the 20 year old Pouncey could turn into the best center in league. He could "anchor the line for the next 10 years", at which point he'd be 30.
I didn't feel the need to draft a "run-only" NT in the first round, and as it turned out, the Steelers didn't feel the need to draft one at all. Also, while a CB like Wilson would have been a good pickup, the McFadden trade late in the draft makes passing on one more justifiable.
Round 2: Jason Worilds, OLB, Virginia Tech
This was easily the most confusing pick in the draft, at least initially. On the surface we need better depth at OLB, which Worilds provides. However, polished DE's take time to learn the OLB position, and Worilds is more of an athlete than anything at this point. I would not be surprised if Worilds struggles if he's asked to contribute on defense in his rookie year.
Having said all that, Worilds is no Bruce Davis. He is an athlete. The coaches like his hips in pass coverage. He has a lightning fast first step. He ran a 40 at his pro day that puts safeties to shame. He can leverage his strength to stand up much larger linemen. His upside looks something 3 parts Joey Porter, 1 part James Harrison. In the interim, he's supposed to be a beast on special teams.
Other options included Golden Tate, Sean Lee, Charles Brown, and this guy. Sean Lee could have provided immediate depth and not a whole lot of upside at... the position we have great depth and limited upside at. Passing over Tate felt better after we drafted...
Round 3: Emmanuel Sanders, WR, SMU
To my eyes, Emmanuel Sanders' profile and highlight reel is uncannily similar to Holmes, right down to the ball security issues: 5-11, 186, good deep speed, solid hands, great acceleration/elusive in the open field, willing to go over the middle or block - although size may limit his effectiveness. One of the major differences is that Holmes
smokes pot was from a big school that ran a pro-ish style offense, while Sanders faced sub-par competition and played in June Jones' batshit crazy offense.
Like Worilds, Sanders is a very good athlete that may take some adjustment to NFL schemes and competition, although not to the same extent that Worilds will. Long term, there's nothing holding Sanders back from becoming a very similar player to Holmes, and I think he's built for the bubble screens and quick slants that won us Super Bowl 43.
Round 4: Thaddeus Gibson, OLB, OSU
Gibson is on the other end of the 3-4 OLB spectrum from Worilds. He actually played a lot of 3-4 OLB in college, and he's about as ready to come in and contribute as anyone you're going to find in the college ranks. Steelers LB coach Keith Butler said he struggled a bit at first in the 3-4, but showed a lot of improvement as the season progressed. He probably doesn't have quite as much upside as Worilds, but there's no reason to think that he couldn't be a solid backup in pretty short order and a starter in the long run. He should also be able contribute to special teams.
Round 5a: Chris Scott, OT/OG, Tennessee
Scott probably isn't quick enough to play LT, but he might be able to make it on the right side. One of the guard positions is probably his best fit, and he has a chance to develop into a pretty good mauler there. His footwork sounds like it's pretty bad, so he might be a guy that makes it on the practice squad for a year and has a better chance of contributing in his second season.
Round 5b: Crezdon Butler, CB, Clemson
Going into the draft, we needed impact talent to complement Polamalu, but we didn't necessarily have a big need for DB depth. Throwing McFadden in the mix, we have 5 reasonably decent CB's and 2-3 decent safeties (not including Troy). Butler is anything but a "safe" pick, but of the DB's left on the board, Butler is one of the best athletes. He's a big CB with long arms and great measurables (4.43 40, 39.5 vertical) but doesn't have great ball skills. Bascially Ike Taylor, only not quite as fast and not quite as raw. It will be up to Ray Horton and company to see if they can turn him into a good CB. If he shows enough in camp, he could be the 10th DB on the roster, probably not suiting up on Sundays.
Round 5c: Stevenson Sylvester, ILB, Utah
Sylvester appears to be another high upside athlete at a position where we need it. His 40 time isn't particularly impressive, but when I watch him in action (hat tip to SuperSix) I see an explosive athlete, not unlike Timmons (who also didn't run a great 40 time). Like Timmons, he has some work to do, particularly in coming up and thumping ball carriers instead of tackling like a safety, taking on blockers instead of running around them, and fully leveraging his athleticism into good pass defense. Still, this is no Clint Kriewaldt special teams only roster filler.
Round 6a: Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Georgia Tech
I have no idea why Dwyer fell this far. He "failed" a drug test at the combine, but all signs point to him having a legitimate perscription for ADD that got overlooked in the paperwork somewhere and the whole thing being a non-issue. When I watch highlights of him, I see a guy who can either run you over or run past you. Scouting reports are glowing, saying he is deceptively shifty and incredibly powerful. The knocks on him are he'll have to make significant adjustments to run in a more traditional offense and line up at RB instead of FB, and he doesn't have a lot of experience blocking or receiving (although there's no reason to think he can't be good at either). Someone in another thread compared him to Barry Foster. I thought he reminded me of Jonathan Stewart a couple years ago.
I do think the concerns that he'll take some time to transition to a traditional offense are legitimate, but I see a guy who could end up being better than Mendenhall in just about every facet of the game. Maybe NFL scouts all saw something we didn't, but maybe they all blew it and he's going to be a workhorse. This was a great pick and it gives us toughness at RB we haven't had since... wait for it... Jerome Bettis.
Round 6b: Antonio Brown, WR, Central Michigan
I'm not sure what they were going for with this pick. Brown was productive at a small school, but he's not an elite athlete and he's going to struggle to get off the line against press coverage. As a returner, I don't see him being an improvement over Logan. Maybe he could hang on the practice squad for a few years and be able to contribute in a pinch.
Round 7: Doug Worthington, DE, Ohio State
Worthington is the protypical size for one of our DE's, and he's a legitimate run stuffer. Unlike a lot of DT's coming out of college, he actually played some DE in OSU's new 3-4ish defense, so he may have less of a learning curve than most. I don't know if he's a good enough athlete to be a starter for us, but I wouldn't mind our run defense not going to pot if we have some injuries up front.
Dorian Brooks, OG: Might have the best chance of making the roster among this UDFA class. He's a pretty good athlete and pass protector, but is more of a finesse blocker in the running game.
Cordarrow Thompson, DT: Fits the mold as a run stuffing NT, although he's not huge. Seems like a better fit on the practice squad than Paxson would be.
Kyle Jolly, OT: Ranked higher than a lot of UDFA's, but still sounds like roster filler to me. Not particularly athletic or dominant in the running game. Probably a RT only, if that.
Justin Thornton, Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, S: Mediocre athletes for the position, can't see any reason to think they'll make the team. Thornton played some CB as well as S. Cromartie-Smith is related to great athletes who aren't great at football.
A.J. Trump, G/C: Don't have much info on him, not sure if he even started in 2009.
Demetrius Taylor, FB?: Listed as a NT around the internet. At 273 lbs, he's either a huge FB or a tiny NT. Probably the next Jerome Bettis.
1. We've got nothing if we don't have athletes. All the players the Steelers selected, with the possible exceptions of Brown and Worthington, are a good enough athletes to start somewhere on this team at some point, and most of the early picks have enough athletic potential to be stars in this league. A lot of how these players turn out will depend on their mental makeup, the position coaches, and how patient the team is with them.
2. While the running game was a point of emphasis on offense for this draft, the Steelers continue to emphasize the passing game on defense. No NT, and the only guy who seems equiped to plug up some holes is our 7th rounder Worthington. Instead we drafted a CB, pass rushers, and an undersized ILB.
I think this is the right direction to go. If you don't believe the statistical evidence that shows the correlation between the passing game and winning, then just look at where our defense needs the most work. These are our rankings in pass defense, starting in 2002: 20, 11, 3, 16, 20, 3, 1, 16. Here are our rankings in run defense: 1, 12, 1, 3, 3, 3, 2, 3. Where would you spend your money?