The 2012 NFL Draft was considered a success for the Pittsburgh Steelers by experts and fans alike. However, that is all just meaningless speculation. The real winners of the draft will not be determined for at least three years.
However, as fans, we still want to analyze and predict what our draft picks will do. The Steelers had nine draft picks, one in the first five rounds, and four in the seventh. Obviously, as you get later and later into the draft, the expectations drop. If a seventh round pick makes the team, that can be considered a successful pick. However, a first round pick is supposed to become a Pro Bowl caliber player. So, what will this year's draft picks do? Here is what I think
David DeCastro, offensive guard
DeCastro came into the draft as the most highly touted guard since Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson. Faneca was drafted 26th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hutchinson was drafted 17th overall by the Seattle Seahawks. Of course, DeCastro was drafted 24th overall by the Steelers. Mike Tomlin and staff are hoping DeCastro becomes Alan Faneca. The question is, will he? In my opinion, he will. DeCastro has all the tools to become a dominant guard for a decade or more and could already be a top five guard in the NFL. I believe that as a rookie, he will start at left guard for 16 games and within three years, he will be an All Pro player. By the time he retires, I think he will have multiple All Pro selections and be an eventual Hall of Famer. Those are very high expectations but when you are compared to legends like Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson in the pre-draft proces, there is not much room for being average or even just being a good NFL player.
Mike Adams, offensive tackle
Mike Adams was drafted 56th overall for numerous reasons. Despite having first round talent, Adams was involved in the Ohio State scandal as well as failing numerous drug tests. He also was not coached well at Ohio State. Despite poor coaching and a tough year for Ohio State, Adams finished last year with a 91.2% blocking efficiency (higher then Kevin Zeitler at 90.6% but well below David DeCastro at 96%). Adams has all the tools to be a fantastic LT for years to come but don't expect him to win the job in his rookie year. As a rookie, I believe Adams will be the top backup at both LT and RT. By year three, I think Adams will be our starting LT. I expect Adams to become one of the better LTs in the NFL and make a few Pro Bowls.
Sean Spence, linebacker
Sean Spence is an incredibly talented player who was picked in the third round. He fell in the draft because of height concerns (he is barely 5'11"). However, at Miami, admist scandal and bad on field results, all Sean Spence did was produce. Spence is a great athlete with incredible instincts. However, don't expect him to start anywhere in the near future. Timmons is solidified as the starting Mack and either Sylvester or Foote will start at the Buck. However, that does not mean that Spence won't contribute. I expect Spence to step in and play immediately, being a nickel linebacker and playing in passing situations. I see him contributing on special teams as well. I don't think Spence will ever be a starter but I think he will fill a huge role in our defense, being a linebacker that can man up on any running back, tight end, and even some slot wide receivers.
Alameda Ta'amu, nose tackle
Ta'amu is a massive man (weighing anywhere between 330 and 400 pounds depending on the day) with incredible strength. However, he was wildly inconsistent at Washington and was dominated when playing David DeCastro and had trouble with Baylor's Phillip Blake. However, a lot of this was due to poor technique and being out of shape. He is now weighing below 340 pounds and John Mitchell will surely teach him the proper techinques of a 3-4 NT. So, what should we expect from Ta'amu? Long term, he should become the Steelers starter. Whether that is in 2013 or 2014, depends on how Steve McLendon continues to develop. This year, Ta'amu will be the third NT and might play sparingly or a lot depending on injuries. I expect Ta'amu to eventually be our starting NT and be a very good one. He has tons of potential and with a year or two of coaching from Dick Lebau and John Mitchell, he should become a star.
Chris Rainey, running back/wide receiver/kick returner
Chris Rainey is a jack of all trades. He can play running back and wide receiver on offense and is also a scary kick returner. However, his most under-appreciated talent is his ability to block punts. Last year at Florida, he blocked 6 punts. If he can get anywhere close to that number for the Steelers, he will already be a great pick. Rainey has limitations (height and weight) but because of his speed and pass catching abilities, he will contribute. As a rookie, I am expecting Rainey to be our starting punt returner and also get 10 to 15 touches a game on the offensive end. Whether that is through handoffs, screens, or deep routes will depend on the team we are playing but he should be a weapon that Todd Haley properly utilizes. Eventually, I can see Rainey become a 2000+ all purpose yards per season type of player.
Toney Clemons, wide receiver
Clemons was a guy who I did not know much about before we picked him but since then, I have done a lot of research and loved what I found. Clemons has a rare combination of size and speed and unlike Limas Sweed, he is actually able to catch a pass. As a rookie, I see Clemons being the 5th WR and also being a kick returner and special teams gunner. However, I eventually see him becoming a major contributor in the Steelers offense. If Mike Wallace is not signed long term, I could see Clemons being the man who picks up the slack. I think Clemons could eventually be a 750 yard and 7TD per year guy. The Steelers found themselves a keeper in Clemons.
David Paulson, tight end
Paulson is an undersized tight end who is also not a great athlete. However, what he does have is incredible hands. Anything in his area he will come down with. However, Paulson faces a major problem. The Steelers currently have veteran tight ends (Miller, Pope, Johnson) along with other young tight end prospects on the roster (Lyons, Saunders). If Paulson wants to make the roster, he will have to have an incredible pre-season. He should be a practice squad guy in his first one to two years but eventually he could be a decent #2 tight end for us. His ceiling is that of a #2 tight end but if he reaches his potential he could be a 500 yard and 5TD per season guy.
Terrence Frederick, cornerback
Frederick is an undresized corner from Texas A&M. He is a zone corner (perfect for the Steeler scheme) and is a great tackler. At first, I was very down on the pick because of his perceived lack of athleticism. However, SteelCage changed my mind on him and I now think he could be a nickel corner. As a rookie, I see him making the roster as our 5th and final corner if he can play special teams. If not, a place on the practice squad seems about right. Eventually, I see him as our starting nickel corner and a big contributor to our team
Kelvin Beachum, offensive tackle/offensive guard
Beachum is a do it all linemen with great experience. He started all 52 games of his career at SMU at left tackle but in the NFL, he seems like a backup at numerous positions. He reminds me of a younger and cheaper version of Trai Essex. As a rookie, I expect him to be on the practice squad to gain strength unless he can beat out Greg Warren for the long snapping job. Eventually, I see him being Trai Essex. A guy who you don't want starting but you have full confidence in coming in when injuries occur at any position on the offensive line.
As a whole, this is the Steelers best draft class in a long time. Every player has the ability to contribute in their own way and that is all you can ask for. Three of the first four picks could become starters at key positions for the Steelers and have All Pro Potential. They got weapons for the offense and added depth at linebacker and corner. This class is filled with character risks but it could become the best Steelers draft class since 1974.