After twenty-two picks, we've finally arrived at the Steelers. Who better to make a hypothetical selection for the team than steeler lifer, who most of you know hasn't been able to access the site much since our mock kicked off a few weeks ago. That's unfortunate, but hopefully all will be resolved by the time the real draft has passed so that we may all again enjoy his insights, historical acumen, and sense of humor. Next up? The Tennessee Titans and cgolden.
With the 23rd pick of the NFL Draft, the Steelers select North Carolina defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer. This was an exceptionally difficult decision made easier by the words of Mike Tomlin in his post-season analysis: The Steelers have to get younger, bigger and stronger in the trenches. At 6-4 1/2, 308 pounds, Balmer has the ability to be an instant contributor at least on a rotational basis for starting DEs Aaron Smith and Brett Kiesel, and there is some potential for him usurping Kiesel as the starting DE fairly quickly. With a 3-4 front, quality depth is absolutely essential, not only throughout games but as the season progresses. That lack of depth was a major contributing factor to the team's mediocre second half. The Steelers did not address D-line in the off-season so improvement must come through the draft. Drafting Balmer in the first round provides enough of an upgrade so that the Steelers can use their remaining five draft picks at other positions, without needing to make a significant reach for a D-lineman in subsequent rounds.
Although there has been some discussion about team needs my own assessment is that the Steelers primary need is Offensive Tackle. I am not a Max Starks fan and Marvel Smith is approaching the end of his Steeler career, if not because of injury then because he is probably going to cost too much to be retained after becoming a free agent. Willie Colon has limited upside at tackle and Trai Essex is in my mind strictly a bag-holder. The immediate need at center has been allayed by the signing of Justin Hartwig. If Darnell Stapleton does not make progress this year at camp or during the season, then the Steelers can draft a center next year. At guard there is limited talent but enough bodies, especially if Colon is moved, to come up with a serviceable unit.
After Offensive Tackle the most important needs were: Defensive End; Outside Linebacker; Inside Linebacker; Wide Receiver; Special Teams.
There were three other athletes I considered for the No. 23 pick: OLB Quentin Groves, WR Devin Thomas and OT Gosder Cherilus.
Cherilus is too much of a reach to fill my top perceived need. He had an inconsistent senior season in which he moved from right tackle to left tackle, gave up a few sacks and did not do enough to dismiss the collective assessment that he is strictly a right tackle. I like his athleticism and size and I'm actually pretty optimistic that he will be a good pro. I just thought there wasn't enough of a difference between him and other guys who might be available in the second round (Baker, Brown or Nicks).
WR Devin Thomas would be a terrific addition to the Steelers. He has perhaps the draft's best combination of size, speed and athleticism at the WR position. He is an excellent KO return guy and would be dangerous any time and any way you can get the ball to him. With the departure of Cedric Wilson there is a need for WR depth and Hines Ward will also eventually need to be replaced. Thomas could provide some immediate help in a depth capacity while being groomed as Ward's replacement. My reservation however is that Thomas' meteoric rise in the draft rankings is strictly a product of his ability to test well. He's a great athlete, but from what I have seen is a very raw wide receiver who does not run great routes or possess top-notch hands. In my mind, those are the two most important attributes of a wide receiver, not how good his body looks or how fast he runs. He has great potential and if the Steelers had extra draft picks this year, it might be worth taking a shot at him. But not with just six draft picks.
My decision finally came down to Balmer or OLB Quentin Groves. I think Groves will be a very good pro and there is an excellent chance he will be the Steelers' real selection in the draft. I would have no problem with that. He is big for the position, fast, strong against the run, a great attacker at the line of scrimmage. He has had some injury problems but he has had a more consistent college career than Balmer and would be a bigger play-maker than Balmer because of the nature of that position in the Steelers' defense. I am not worried about his recent heart surgery. However, unlike DE, the OLB position is already occupied by one Pro Bowl starter (Harrison) and another who will likely someday play in a Pro Bowl (Woodley). Harrison's age is a minor concern only. Right now the position requires depth, which can be addressed in the third or fourth round.
Balmer is not a sure-fire bet. He is regarded by many draft analysts as a "boom or bust" prospect, based primarily on the fact he played so much better as a Senior than in his previous three years at North Carolina. However, I think it's just as logical to think that he is learning and improving. Balmer showed up for his Pro Day in outstanding condition and tested well in drills and the 40. He has a great combination of strength (33 reps of 225 pounds at the Combine) and speed (5.11). He is tall enough (6-4 1/2) and has a long wingspan and good hands to fight through blocks. He can play 3-4 DE or DT in a 4-3 set. As a defensive tackle at North Carolina he was a major disruptor of the line of scrimmage while also contributing 3.5 QB sacks. My only reluctance in picking Balmer is that the nature of the 3-4 DE position does not really require you to draft a guy in the first round to play it. The 3-4 DE is not so much a play-maker as a guy who allows others to make plays. You can often find that kind of guy later in the draft, just as the Steelers did with Aaron Smith and Kiesel. However, I decided to make the choice of picking a guy who can contribute quickly, plays a position of need and has the physical attributes that can make a good defense even better on the line of scrimmage.
#1 - Miami Dolphins, Darren Mcfadden
#2 - St. Louis Rams, Chris Long
#3 - Atlanta Falcons, Sedrick Ellis
#4 - Oakland Raiders, Vernon Gholston
#5 - Kansas City Chiefs, Jake Long
#6 - New York Jets, Glen Dorsey
#7 - New England Patriots, Dominique Rodger-Cromartie
#8 - Baltimore Ravens, Jerod Mayo
#9 - Cincinnati Bengals, Keith Rivers
#10 - New Orleans Saints, Aqib Talib
#11 - Buffalo Bills, Malcom Kelly
#12 - Denver Broncos, Ryan Clady
#13 - Carolina Panthers, Chris Williams
#14 - Chicago Bears, Brandon Albert
#15 - Detroit Lions, Leodis McKelvin
#16 - Arizona Cardinals, Jeff Otah
#17 - Minnesota Vikings, Derrick Harvey
#18 - Houston Texans, Rashard Mendenhall
#19 - Philadelphia Eagles, Jonathan Stewart
#20 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Limas Sweed
#21 - Washington Redskins, Mike Jenkins
#22 - Dallas Cowboys, Felix Jones