Alright guys so I've thought about this year's draft for the Steelers in about a dozen different ways, and throughout my travels on the internet I have seen much of the same for us when it comes to mock drafts. So in an attempt to mix things up a bit, this time I'm going to try and give you somewhat of a unique look at what I think could happen late next week during the 2011 NFL Draft. It'll still be relatively conventional in the sense that it will address the bigger needs of the team --OL and CB -- but a couple of the picks may be a little off the beaten path. Let's get to it. Feedback welcomed and appreciated.
Round 1, Pick 31: Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
Ht: 6'1" Wt: 198 lbs DOB: 5/9/1988 POS: #2 Corner with #1 Potential
I consider myself a member of the growing group of Steeler fans who wouldn't mind seeing Dowling selected by the Steelers with the 31st overall selection come April. Here's my post about that idea from last month. Simply put, Dowling is a baller, a hard worker, and a just a stand up character guy. Logic normally dictates that a man with Ras's size, speed, and potential should have no business being selected and likely considered a reach at the end of day 1 in this year's draft, but this is not your typical cornerback crop-big athletic freaks are numerous; see Peterson, Amukamara, and Smith for other tall and fast corners to understand what I mean. The only rational explanation that allows Dowling to slip this far is because of an injury-riddled senior year and another injury at the combine, which has subsequently kept him from working out at his initially scheduled pro day a few weeks back. Dowling did end up working out on April 5th, and work out he did, clocking a 4.36 40 yard dash time and reportedly looking very good in drills.
Mike Mayock (as pointed out by Dracula_in_Cleats) has moved him up into his top 5 corners, and from the link in the previous sentence NFL "grandfather" Gil Brandt was also impressed with his showing, citing that he may have sneaked into the bottom of the first round. If selected Dowling lining up at #2 cornerback spot would not be insane to believe as he has the size, speed, and skill set to matchup with outside receivers and plays the run well from what I've seen. If not he could act as a nickel/dime corner who could potentially double as a backup safety if need be. His character, competitiveness and locker room presence fit what the Steelers look for in all their potential players, and his addition could be an immediate upgrade to a secondary in serious need of an overhaul.
Round 2, Pick 63: Sam Acho, OLB, Texas
Ht: 6'2" Wt: 262 lbs DOB: 9/6/1988 Pos: Initially a Backup/ST LB with the Chance to Replace Harrison
Let me preface this pick by saying that the idea of drafting Acho, like the one of drafting Dowling is gaining some momentum in Steelers nation, as I've seen it pop up in several of the most recent mocks here at BTSC and in other places around SBnation and the internet. Anyway, I know drafting an OLB in the second round back-to-back years seems counter-productive, but hear me out. We all know that Kevin Colbert and Co seem to have a thing for linebackers, especially ones that can make QB's soil themselves upon reviewing game film in the days leading up to a game against the vaunted Steelers defense. Sam Acho fits this mold. A tough and relentless pass rusher who doubles as a very good sound run defender, Acho is seen as a good technician who has great character and competitive drive.
If I were to give a player comparison I'd probably have to go with Tamba Hali of the Kansas City Chiefs. Some will think LaMarr Woodley when they see the near identical-measurables between the two (in terms of height and weight) but two of Woodley's strongest assests coming into the NFL were his strength and ability to anchor the run, which are the two biggest areas in need of improvement in Acho's game. Back to Hali and Acho-both were defensive linemen coming out of college, and their respective heights and weights come within an inch and 10 pounds of each other. Both have and had questions about their playing strength, and tendency to over-pursue while both were praised on their pass-rushing and character.
It is important to note that with this pick the Steelers would not be giving up on 2010 2nd rounder Jason Worilds. On the contrary, adding competition at the position will only make Worilds better as he tries to battle for the next starting spot at the OLB whenever and wherever it become available, which leads nicely into my next point-the future. James Harrison will be 33 in 3 weeks and has had two back surgeries this offseason while LaMarr Woodley is only signed through next year, assuming that the Franchise Tag is still valid following the new CBA agreement. Doomsday scenario is that Harrison's aging process has been sped up by the surgeries and Woodley and the Steelers never come to a long term contract agreement.
Now, being an optimist when it comes to football, I'm not agreeing with either of those views-I believe Harrison has a good 2-3 years left of all-world production, and that Woodley and the FO will get a 6-year extension done before football resumes again-but even if things work out for the best, we need to have depth at the position. If Thaddeus Gibson were still on the team I don't consider Acho at all at this pick and neither do the Steelers. Seeing as how he's not, the only viable back up OLBs on the roster are Worilds and Timmons, and moving Timmons out of the ILB spot where he's become a force to be reckoned with is a last-resort.
You want to have the security and the luxury of having 2 quality players who can come off the bench and "maintain the standard," and while nothing is certain yet about Acho and Worilds on whether or not they're capable of this (I like how Worilds filled in last year), they are in the best place possible for young, talented linebackers. Working under the direction of LeBeau, Butler, and Tomlin, three men with the supreme wisdom to rival that of Charlie Sheen's, I have to believe that at least one of either Acho or Worilds becomes an eventual "quality player" if not both, and that at least one if not both will be seen as Harrison's eventual replacement. Admittedly I think getting Acho as late as 63 may be a bit of a stretch but not out of the question, and getting him there would be a strong value pick.
Round 3, Pick 95: Jah Reid, OT, University of Central Florida
Ht: 6'7" Wt: 321 lbs DOB: POS: Right Tackle
big_jay made this same pick in his latest mock draft and I tried to differentiate in my own, but couldn't find a tackle I thought was a better fit at this selection. Reid presents exactly what the Steelers look for in a tackle: size, strength, and a mean streak. With a lot of questions remaining about who will line up at tackle for the Steelers when football finally does return, adding one in the draft will be of chief of importance. Flozell Adams is ancient but still effective. It remains to be seen if he'll retire or not, but his status is up in the air. Willie Colon is likely to be a free agent, and it may be difficult to resign him when he hits the open market.
So again viewing the world through "the end is nigh" glasses we could potentially have Tony Hills or Chris or Johnathan Scott starting at right tackle next football season. Scary, scary thought. Again, being somewhat of an optimist when it comes to football, I think we retain at least one-I think it'll be Flozell-but there will still be a need for depth and a tackle for the future. Even if Colon and Adams are both retained it's imperative we get a young guy in there to develop, as neither Starks nor Colon are young anymore, and Starks is coming off a pretty serious neck injury.
Jah Reid, in a lot of ways reminds me of Colon. Both went to smaller schools and both are those big mauling types, and Reid looks to be further along than Colon was when he entered the draft. I like this glowing scouting report done by Mocking The Draft. It may be a little more positive than most evaluations of Reid currently out there, and suggests that he could be taken as high as the end of the second round. In all honesty I wouldn't mind seeing us take him that high, but that may be a bit of a reach. It may not be out of the question though as Reid wowed at his pro-day, in which all teams were present for. Ultimately his combination of size and quickness are hard to find, and would be valued in the Steelers blocking scheme. There are some questions as to how he'll adapt to the NFL level of competition as UCF does not face top-end college football teams all that often. Most of his drawbacks are concerning technique-hand and arm extension, redirecting, scout's talk that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, etc.-but with a coach the caliber of Sean Kugler in charge of his development, I like Reid's chances.
Round 4, Pick 128: Stephen Burton, WR, West Texas A&M
Ht: 6'1" Wt: 224 lbs DOB: POS: #5 WR-Potential #1?
And here I was thinking I was only the only one who read the Walter Football blurb on Stephen Burton's amazing pro-day (he ran in the 4.3's and had an awesome first 10 yards indicating great burst off the line). In any case I'm going to agree with big_jay again, and say that we take a shot at Burton here, as a man with his size and speed would be a bargain in the middle rounds. The selection of Burton would be an attempt at finding that "big receiver" Big Ben has asked for in the past, and while I know 6'1" isn't towering height it'd still be good for the tallest WR on the roster assuming Burton could beat out Limas Sweed for a roster spot.
That's another thing, I'm not entirely convinced Sweed is a "bust" yet. Whenever football resumes the Steelers will give him one last shot at making the team-Mike Tomlin says he is still in the teams plans, but competition is getting "stiff". Drafting Burton would make that competition even more stiff (yuk it up TWSS'ers) but there's no denying the physical gifts (dammit) Burton possesses. As mentioned earlier he clocked a blazing 4.38 at his pro day and has great jump ball ability, to go along with a willingness to block and toughness after the catch. Remind you of anyone? I can't think of anybody either.
It's not often receivers weighing in at over 220 can run that fast and also be a willing blocker. Then there's the fact that aside Ward, the Steelers don't have a true #1 WR on the roster (and that's not really the case with Ward anymore this far along in his career). Mike Wallace is the closest thing to it that we have, as he commands a lot of attention from opposing defenses because of his lethal speed, but he needs to continue to prove he's not that "one-trick pony" as Tomlin put it or in other words "just a deep threat."
The likes of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, while promising project as slot wideouts and #2 receivers only. The need for a physical receiver who can haul in 70+ passes a year without second thought is needed, and Burton shows some of those qualities. While it remains to be seen how he'll adjust from the II level of competition to the NFL, I could see the Steelers grooming him as a #5 WR early on, and then increasing his role as he gained experience. He could also see some red-zone targets early in his career due to his ability to go up and get the jump ball.
Makes a few Appearences in this video. Not the best quality. He's #11.
Round 5, Pick 162: Chris Neild, NT, West Virginia
Ht: 6'2" Wt: 319 lbs DOB: 12/1/Unknown POS: Backup Nosetackle
A fierce leader, hard-working, lunch pail blue-collar football player who fits right into the classic mold of a Steelers player. He's also a local and Colbert tends to take under-the-radar players from Penn State, Ohio State, and West Virgina in the later rounds (see Ryan Mundy, Doug Worthington, Rodney Bailey, AQ Shipley, and Matt Kranchick) and try and give them shots at making the team.
Neild projects inot a role at backup NT similar to that of Chris Hoke's. He won't do anything other than really play the run and eat space, but that's all you can ask of a nosetackle, especially one that is a backup. He has the optimal size for the position, and doesn't need to add too much more weight room strength. He's said to have the ability to occupy double teams and disrupt the run game. I think this is the type of player John Mitchell loves to have to work with. WVU's coaches rave about Neild's work ethic and presented him with award given to the player who conditions and works out the most in the offseason (see video below). With Chris Hoke's status as a free agent up in the air, Neild, if drafted, could be put into an active NT role relatively early on if Hoke is not a member of the roster next year. Having played in the Mountaineers wacky 3-3-5, Neild already has experience at the Nose, and would improve with coaching.
Round 6, Pick 196: Willie Smith, OT, ECU
Ht: 6'5" Wt: 311 lbs DOB: 11/13/1986 POS: Back up Left Tackle
Sure he'll be a 25 year-old rookie, but he flashes potential. At this point in the draft I think it's pointless to take a tackle unless the front office thinks he can play left tackle. As it is we'd have about 5 right tackles if you counted Reid Colon and Adams, and the left side is left pretty vacant after Starks and Scott. Smith is a converted tight end who is said to possess good athleticism, the foundations of very solid fundamentals in pass protection, and decent but far from dominant run-blocking ability. He'd be another project for Kugler to attempt to turn into a respectable player, and could push Tony Hills for whatever the hell it is that Hills does for the Steelers. My guess would be Big Snack's personal hot dog attendant, other than that your guess is as good as mine. In any case it'd be an interesting camp battle to watch if Hills returns to the Steelers when football resumes.
Round 7, Pick 234: Mana Silva, Safety, Hawaii
Ht: 6'1"Wt: 206 lbs DOB: POS: #2 Safety Eventual Starter?
I'll attribute this one solely to SteelCage who brought Silva to my attention in this excellent fanpost the other day. Silva is a little known safety who transferred from Oregon State to Hawaii in 2008. The man has tremendous ball skills, racking up 14 interceptions in his career at Hawaii, and while I can't find a scouting report anywhere on him, his 4.44 40 yard dash time at his pro-day would suggest that he's pretty darn quick too.
Add that and the 6'1" 200+ frame and you got yourself a football player. If he were drafted his initial role on the team would be a reserve safety and special teams player if he were to get a hat on Sundays. Who knows, maybe if Carnell Lake can get to him we could see Silva and Polamalu side-by-side one day, which for Silva, seeing as how he's Samoan and wears the #43 could be a dream come true.
What's Missing and Why:
Defensive End-Mainly kept out because I know very little about the 5-techniques in the middle-to-late rounds, I don't doubt that the Steelers will try and add a Defensive end on draft day, it's just that I wanted to present information on players that I had an inkling about. Also, isn't there a man named Sunny Harris still floating around the organization? I know he's been inactive for nearly his entire career, but correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to recall it taking Brett Kiesel some time to crack the lineup, back when he was young and beardless.
Kicker/Punter-I would like adding Alex Henery as much as the next guy, but somehow I just don't see the Steelers doing it. In today's NFL you can find a good kicker just about anywhere-rookie free agency, MLS, the park, you name it. That and the Steelers are seemingly pretty confident with what they have in Shaun Shuisham, especially since the Kickoffs were moved 5 yards forward. Punter is a different matter, but seeing as how Sepulveda's latest knee injury was his non-kicking leg, I think he'll be back and in form before too long.
Tight End-I tried but just couldn't bring myself to do it. There's some speculation that the Steelers may draft a TE as high as round 2-a Lance Kendricks or a Luke Stocker-but I don't see it. Heath Miller is still in his prime, Matt Spaeth, although mediocre, will likely sign the tender he was offered and David Johnson will most likely be retained.
A Second Corner-Not having the Steelers draft a 2nd corner in this draft is the thing I hope the most that I'm wrong about. While I would love the Dowling pick, he'll probably strictly be an outside corner, not quite fluid or quick enough to play the nickel. They need a speedy guy to plug into nickel and dime packages. I think free agency may hold the answer with Baltimore having multiple potential candidates, the most appealing being a Josh Wilson or Chris Carr.
An ILB-It's not a Steelers draft without an LB in it. I gave that distinction to Sam Acho, so I decided to forgo grabbing another one to line up inside. Besides I've become a fan of Stevenson Sylvester; I really think he could be an above average starter a year or two down the road.