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Pittsburgh Steelers 2009 NFL Draft Grades

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I'd like to devote some attention to each one of the draft picks singularly today and throughout the rest of this week, but for now, let's take a look at the draft class a whole.  As we get to know a little bit more about each of the Steelers nine draft selections this past weekend in the 2009 NFL Draft, perhaps we'll be more equipped to delve into what each one brings to the table in a bit more detail Here they are, once more.

Round Player Position College Height Weight
1 (32) Evander "Ziggy" Hood DE/DT Missouri 6'3 300
3 (79) Kraig Urbik OG Wisconsin 6'5 328
3 (84) Mike Wallace WR Mississippi 6'0 199
3 (96) Keenen Lewis CB Oregon State 6'0 208
5 (168) Joe Burnett CB Central Florida 5'9 192
5 (169) Frank Summers RB/FB UNLV 5'9 241
6 (205) Ra'Shon Harris DE  Oregon 6'4 298
7 (226) A.Q. Shipley Penn State 6'1 304
7 (241) David Johnson TE Arkansas State 6'2 260


For now, here's my initial take and reaction to the selections and what they might mean for the roster and practice squad. For the hell of it, I'll hand out a grade for each selection:

  1. Evander "Ziggy" Hood - Durable (28 straight games his junior and senior year), coachable, vocal team leader, plays to the whistle, and has one extra gear in pursuit. More on Hood later, but my initial impression is Hood will be a nice combination of Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel's best attributes. I'm not putting him there yet, don't get me wrong, but I think he has potential to be similarly strong and stout at the point of attack as Smith while as energetic and speedy as Keisel. Finally, there's next to no bust potential at all with this selection. The front 3 in Dick LeBeau's defense is not asked to get the glory. Just to put their head down and work. It helps if you're strong and fast off the ball and are durable as hell  - because there's lots of contact and gap clogging involved. I think Hood has all those attributes in spades. More on him later, but Coach John Mitchell knows a thing or two about his job. He'll get the most out of Hood and Hood will put in the time. I really like this value and the need addressed here for 2010 and beyond in particular. It really didn't take me long at all to warm up to this pick quite a bit.  GRADE: A

  1. Kraig Urbik - Urbik's a damn big kid at 6'5" tall and 320+ pounds. You'll hear the word 'positional flexibility' with him. That's because he started many games at both G and T for the Wisconsin Badgers. Like Hood, Urbik has proven himself to be very, very durable and reliable. He started 45 straight games for Wisconsin in fact before a knee injury caused him to sit out a few. No, no. Don't worry. It wasn't a serious knee injury. Urbik returned later in 2008 to help lead his Badgers to a 3-1 close to his senior season. We'll see what shakes out in Latrobe and during the preseason when Urbik, Stapleton, and Chris Kemoeatu battle it out for just two starting spots. GRADE: A-

  2. Mike Wallace - A speed freak!  Mike Maycock clocked him at 4.28 in the 40, then later claimed him to be the fastest WR he had ever clocked. Too early to say if he'll be able to translate that ridiculous raw talent into anything that resembles productivity on the football field. As a WR, I mean. Starting on September 10th 2009 at Heinz Field, against the hated Tennessee Titans on prime time television, Mike Wallace will be back on his own goal line, hopping around, awaiting the opening kick off of the 2009 NFL season. Consider our return game improved ten fold if Wallace can prove capable of not coughing it up and not getting injured after getting walloped a few times by NFL caliber special teams aces. GRADE: A-

  3. Keenen Lewis - Intelligent on and off the field, a bit undisciplined though at this point in certain situations. He's big though, probably one of the bigger CBs in the entire draft. There are folks who think Lewis is a poor tackler and not eager to seek out contact. I'd say hold the phone on that assessment just yet. First of all, the Pac 10 is not exactly known for its lockdown defenses. It's a pass-happy conference with often times lesser athletes up front. That gives QBs more time to throw the ball, which compromises even the best DBs in the game. Anyway, Lewis has something the Steelers covet. And it's more than just the ability to make good grades in the classroom. He can get his feet wet on special teams learning about what contact means at this level. Then I'd imagine he'll get a chance to work with a guy like Ike Taylor, who's famous for his offseason workout routines. All in all, we're not talking about an undersized CB who may just be overmatched physically at the NFL level. We're talking about a guy who ran a 4.49, posted a vertical leap of 38.5 inches, and threw up 220 pounds a very respectable 20 times. He's got lots of those measurables that scouts love - and he's smart. Sounds like decent enough ingredients to me.  It won't happen overnight, but we could be looking down the road at a similar type trajectory career wise as Ike Taylor, and perhaps even better. GRADE: B

  4. Joe Burnett - An interesting contrast to Butler a pick before him. Burnett stands at just 5'9" and 180+ pounds. But man does he have a nose for the football. 16 career INTs, 35 pass breakups. He's also a very accomplished return man, taking it to the house three times on punts and twice on kickoffs. Burnett must be a little bit like William Gay. Smart, instinctual and a great competitor to help make up for his less than pristine 'numbers'. GRADE: B

  5. Frank Summers - Did you watch that video I linked to with head coach Mike Tomlin? You need to, and pay close attention to the segment devoted to Frank 'The Tank' Summers. A guy who can play five units on special teams says Coach Tomlin. He's scary fast for a dude that big and stocky. He's going to just wreck some people on coverage units, as well as be a formidable blocker on return units. That's just on special teams. Who knows considering Bruce Arians is calling the plays, but Frank Summers could very well be an offensive weapon for the Steelers. Blocking, running, and catching the ball. He has naturally smooth and reliable hands catching the ball, he might improve our short yardage running situation, or serve as a LeRon McClain type change of pace bruiser in certain drives/situations this year. I'm ecstatic, and I know lots of y'all are too. We've been hoping for this pick - in this exact round - for quite a while now. GRADE: A+

  6. Ra'Shon Harris - If there's an area on the team where a specific coach has a just remarkable track record building up unpolished late round talent it's John Mitchell working with his defensive lines. Has he batted 1.000. No he has not. Ryan McBean comes to mind most recently as a project that couldn't get over the hump so to speak. But then there's guys like Kiesel, Aaron Smith drafted in later rounds. Or guys like Nick Eason who's gotten substantially better since playing feebly in the early part of his career. We'll see with Harris, but to me, this could be a classic case of late bloomer going unnoticed compared to his more physically mature peers. Just remember, not all 18-21 year olds are at the exact same point in their physical development process. Not even close in fact. Look for Harris to be a practice squad player this year. More on him later. GRADE: B

  7. A.Q. Shipley - Can't say I'm too big a fan of Big 10 football so I can't comment on whether or not Shipley is so adored for his local product status, his ability on the field, or some combination of the two. Probably headed for the practice squad as well, but there's an interesting discussion to be had about the future of our offensive line - especially for those who have an opinion one way or another as to whether or not Shipley legitimately could be a better than average starting center for team that should have good opportunities for deep playoff runs most years for the next half decade. GRADE: B

  8. David Johnson - Was anybody overwhelmed by Sean McHugh last year? Anybody out there? Not to bang on Sean, but let's face it, there seems to be a spot for a guy like McHugh or David Johnson. If he's more capable of filling at H-Back/3rd TE niche than McHugh, particularly in regards to blocking ability, than maybe he finds himself on this roster and not the practice squad this year. Johnson's actually a fairly gifted athlete. He's fas enough, he has big long arms and reliable hands, he runs good routes up the seam which is something that can't really be said for Matt Spaeth, he's fairly strong for now. I like this pick actually because it comes at a position where it's not just guaranteed to be a long term project, practice squad pick that disappears to obscurity, etc. Far too early to tell, but there's just no reason why he can't win that single roster spot that is available for a third TE/H-Back type player. We'll see, but I suppose the short term development and promise (if there is any) of this unknown 7th round selection could help determine the future of not just Sean McHugh...not just Matt Spaeth...but perhaps even Heath Miller and his soon to be high priced services. That's many big ifs, but I like to have 7th round selections occasionally have the potential to impact the roster. I think this one has a chance, albeit still a small one. GRADE: B+

OVERALL: It's hard to just slap grades on individual picks for a myriad reasons. It's probably more constructive to try to come up with some sort of 'odds' that certain picks will pan out based on team needs, roster and contract forecasting, etc. But anyway, the bottom line to me is this draft contained three slam dunk picks for long-term solid, Pittsburgh Steelers quality, consistent football - Evander Ziggy Hood, Kraig Urbik, and Frank The Tank Summers. Those guys may never be household names and stars, either because of the position they play, or how they're used in our systems on offense and defense, or simply because they're just going to be very good, and not game changing type super stars. That's fine. That's what Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Jamess Harrison, LaMarr Woodley are for. Behind them need to be very, very sound and durable and reliable performers. I see all three of them as 100% safe bets to be just that barring no injurys of course.

As for the two DBs, it's just always a gamble projecting who's going to make it and who's not. Our same scouting team we revere identified Ricardo Colclough as a 2nd round guy not too long ago. They also found William Gay, Ike Taylor, DeShea Townsend, and others. So the track records there in plenty of instances, but not across the baord. It's just such an amazingly difficult position to play. Lots can do it decently. Not as many really stick as long term consistent performers. I do think though that the upgrade in the return department could be tremendous. It's really hard to quantify just how substantially it would improve our entire team - on offense and defense included - if we were a top 5 team returning punts and kicks. Wallace and Burnett give us that possibility perhaps. Let's hope they like the bright lights and don't give the coaching staff any reason to not trust them to protect the football.

Then there's Ra'Shon Harris and Shipley as what I might categorize as very realistic projects. I have a few more things to say about them, but will save that for individual posts on them.  When you add it all up though, you have to like what you see. One might be disappointed that a tackle wasn't taken. It's a legitimate gripe that I'm sure will be discussed by us. Overall though, I give this draft a very high grade. An A- if we're going to stick with those grades.

Wow, I am really loving this organization and its future right now. From the Rooneys retaining ownership to Mike Tomlin to our anonymous but tirelessly hard-working scouting team, to Kevin Colbert (who apparently does a remarkable job working within a team framework with his scouts and other personnel executives rather than being heavy handed in any situation or decision at all), to the countless other players who are either really talented, really good team players or both - you just have to love where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand at the moment, and where they're headed in the future.