As the tension mounted during the interminably long wait to see who the Steelers would select with their second round pick, there was a building excitement over the prospect of getting a highly rated inside linebacker such as Arthur Brown. When LeVeon Bell was picked, and after the cries of Who and Why died down, speculation began to grow that maybe the reason the Steelers let its arch-nemesis the Baltimore Ravens draft Brown with the 56th pick was because 2012's ILB selection Sean Spence was recovering better than reported and may even play in 2013.
Shortly after the Steelers selection of Bell came word via Twitter that Keith Butler had been quoted as saying:
LB coach Butler on Sean Spence: "Will be miraculous if he comes back." But said "going to ride another year with him" in hope he recovers.
- James C Wexell (@jimwexell) April 27, 2013
So much for reading tea leaves.
After the fourth round where the Steelers selected Safety Shamarko Thomas the score was tied 2-2 between defensive players and offensive skill players selected. Given the fact that the Steelers had released G Willie Colon earlier this year and have made no public overtures to LT Max Starks, the man who franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has often and publicly advocated for the past several years, and given the fact that the team has no one but second year player Kelvin Beachum and John Macklin as offensive line backups, and that 2012 was the second season in a row that the Steelers employed more than nine different configurations in the O line due to injuries, it seemed plausible that they would pick an offensive lineman at some point in the draft.
There were 21 offensive linemen picked after the Steelers selection at 4.115, and none of them were selected by the Steelers. It wasn't until the seemingly endless draft was finally completed that the Steelers, in a burst of frenzied activity, signed not one, not three, but six offensive linemen as undrafted free agents.
So much for applying logic.
On the defensive line side, Steve McLendon was signed to a three year contract but Ziggy Hood has yet to justify his first round selection, Cameron Heyward has yet to supplant Brent Keisel as a starter, and Casey Hampton has yet to be signed and all they have as backup is Al Woods, a fourth round pick from 2010. So, one might go out on a limb and think okay, maybe in the fifth or sixth round the Steelers will select an athletic player who maybe could be coached up in a year. Instead, in the seventh round they draft Nick Williams who only played one year of high school football and essentially came into the draft as a three year player. Granted he was invited to the Senior Bowl, so at least the kid has talent and appears to be a quick study, but given the angst Steeler Nation has expressed the past two year over how long it takes draftees to see the field, this pick is a long term project at best.
So much for educated guesses.
After the euphoria following last year's draft, when Steeler Nation celebrated getting a pony for Christmas and expected exciting things from Chris Rainey only to find its fifth round pick no longer on the team, Sean Spence, its third round pick heading into his second year of IR, and the man the Steelers traded a pick to move up to get, Alameda Ta'amu is just an after-practice beer away from serious jail time, there was much skepticism coming into this year's draft over whether GM Kevin Colbert had lost his touch.
Character issues as described above, and including Mike Adams' brush with draft death last year when, after testing positive for marijuana use found himself having to drive to Pittsburgh to plead for the Steelers not to take him off their draft board, further cast doubt on what direction the Steelers were going. An 8-8 season certainly didn't help.
But this year feels different. Jarvis Jones, Le'Veon Bell, Justin Brown, Shamarko Thomas and Landry Jones all received high accolades from scouts and draft watchers for their demonstrated leadership qualities and mature demeanor. Markus Wheaton is by all accounts a more skilled and accomplished football player than that other guy he was drafted to replace.
So what is the prognosis for how this year's picks pan out? Weren't you paying attention; there's just no telling. The Steelers received fairly high grades from various analysts in their post-draft summaries, but they've done so in the recent past and it hasn't translated into improved performance on the field. The days of the "keep the core" philosophy are coming to an end and at least three of these seven men should see substantial playing time this year. That is based on looking at the quite apparent need for the Steelers to be different from last year's 8-8 team; to get not just younger but more talented in many positions, but more importantly for many of its former backups to step up and fill the shoes of the veterans behind whom they have waited so long.
That is the logical assumption one can make from the past two years, and from the many obvious needs on the team. Of course, as this draft just taught us, nothing seems to be really what it appears to be with the Steelers. Personally, I'm quietly excited with the players the Steelers picked; many of them though, I just don't understand why them, and why at the slot they picked them. Colbert and Tomlin obviously went into this draft with a plan, and have a solid understanding of what the team's needs are, or so it appears they should.
Given many of the players they had the opportunity to draft but didn't, and given the many apparent needs in terms of depth in many positions, it may be that even our assumption of the Steelers merely transitioning and not re-building as Colbert stated earlier this year is up for questioning. From being in the Super Bowl in 2010, to a first round exit from the playoffs in 2011, to not making the playoffs in 2012, nothing is what it appears to be with the Steelers. Any assumptions we have now are just about as valid as the assumptions we carried into this draft.