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AFC North Draft Grades
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4 ; 5-1)
Total Draft picks: 7 (one per round)
First Round Pick: Cameron Heyward
There's not a whole lot for me to add at this point about the Steelers first round selection of Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward. The young man is pure gold from a character standpoint, and as has been discussed ad nauseum, the fact that Heyward played five-technique in college had to have been attractive to Kevin Colbert, Dick LeBeau and defensive line coach John Mitchell. If Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel both stay healthy all season, Heyward may not make too much of an impact in '11, but he'll see the field in certain situations much like Ziggy Hood did during his rookie season in '09.
Best Need Pick: Curtis Brown, CB, Texas
Only time will tell if Brown will develop into a top-flight No. 1 or No. 2 type CB in the NFL, but he doesn't necessarily have to in order to make an impact for the Steelers. The importance of having a quality nickel corner is paramount these days in the pass-heavy NFL. No need to remind Steeler Nation about that. If you haven't already done so, I suggest you read an article written by my brother this weekend about 'why Steelers fans should be excited about Brown.'
Best 'Value' Pick:
Baron Batch, RB, Texas Tech
Nebraska G Keith Williams could get the nod here, but I'm not sure his game is all that differentiated than current LG Chris Kemoeatu. So I'm going with Batch, a guy I think could sneak on to the team and surprise us all with his contributions. It's really contingent on Mewelde Moore's future though. If Moore is brought back once free agency re-opens, then Batch will have a hard time making the squad. If Moore walks though, Batch becomes an intriguing possibility to contribute as the team's third-down back. I suppose that explanation qualifies him as a 'boom/bust' pick, but I'm saving that category for someone else.
Biggest 'Boom/Bust' Pick: Marcus Gilbert, OT, Florida
I'm still formulating my opinions and assessments of Gilbert, a multi-year starter at various positions along the offensive line at Florida. Jim Wexell and several of the folks at Pro Football Weekly aren't impressed by Gilbert -- the knock on him is he's soft in their eyes. Others are quite high on Gilbert's potential. So I'm not sure. But for a second rounder, Gilbert could either develop into a long-term starter or he could find himself trying to make a different team after a year or two in Pittsburgh. Too early to tell obviously, but seems like everything is in play when trying to assess his future with the Steelers.
Least Inspiring Pick: None
I honestly can't think of a single guy that isn't intriguing in one way or another.
Sleeper Selection: Cortez Allen, CB, The Citadel
It's just an opinion -- and a way too early one at that -- but I am cautiously optimistic that Allen is going to develop into a bigtime player in the NFL. The fact that Allen had limited time to devote to football and his training regiments has been discussed already, but it's worth repeating that the young man will join the Steelers with an incredible strong work ethic already instilled in him.
2011 Impact Index***: 4.0 (Heyward = 5 ; Gilbert = 3 ; Brown = 7 ; Allen = 4 ; Carter = 2; Williams = 2 ; Batch = 4)
Projected 53-man survivors: 5 (Heyward, Gilbert, Brown, Allen, Batch)
Practice Squad: C. Carter
Overall Grade: A-/B+
This truly is a draft that we won't be able to assess in any sort of meaningful way until two or three years have passed. We can easily label last year's draft an A+ because of how many rookies made important contributions in '10. But it's just not that likely that this year's crop of rooks will have that same type of opportunity to contribute in '11. That said, over time I think this draft might prove to be a gem.
*** My 2011 Impact Index is an entirely made up and subjective assessment of which guys are likely to have an immediate impact, and to what degree, during the 2011 NFL season. I assigned a score of 1-10 to each selection, then divided the total by the number of picks. I did this exercise fairly easily with the Ravens' draft picks on Monday. For the Steelers, it's quite a bit tougher because the '11 outlook for reach of our respective picks is highly contingent on unpredictable variables. For instance, Heyward's impact will be minimal in '11 if Aaron Smith stays health; Gilbert won't see the field unless Starks gets injured or Flozell Adams is released; either Brown or Allen might play an important role in '11, but likely not both. Anyway...
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