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Re-drafting the Pittsburgh Steelers: The class of 2011

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Continuing our journey back in time, the next Pittsburgh Steelers draft class to be re-drafted is the class of 2011. Let's see how this draft could have looked if things only went slightly differently.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Once again, I've decided to go all Mart McFly on Steeler Nation and go back in time and change history.

As I've done the past couple of weeks, I will attempt to reasonably suggest an alternative to the draft selections turned in by Pittsburgh Steelers brass. With the benefit of hindsight, my second-guessings will only include players chosen 15 selections after the Pittsburgh pick was made. Great players that are not in that 15-pick window will not get selected. It's just my way to bring balance to the Force. (Oops, wrong movie). After completion of the fifth round it becomes a free-for-all, as free agents become accounted for, thus no 15-pick rule in rounds six and seven.

So put on your hazard gear and fire the Delorean up to 88, cause where we are going...there are no roads. Actually, there are. I just love to quote Doc Brown.

As we exit the frozen Delorean, we find ourselves arriving on the day of the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. (You know, I still can't believe people got up at 3 am to watch a wedding on tv).

Say cheers to 2011.

Note: The glaring emission in this re-draft is Richard Sherman. He was not in the 15-pick window. He would have been an epic Steeler, but rules are rules.

Round 1 (31)

Original Pick: DE Cameron Heyward - Ohio State

Re-draft Pick: DE Cameron Heyward - Ohio State

Analysis: Two years ago, a lot of people would be lobbying for me to change this pick. The reality is that most Steeler rookies on defense have needed time to develop. When Cameron Heyward was drafted, Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel were entrenched on the ends. Thus, Heyward was able to serve as an apprentice, learning the pro trade slowly.

These days, Cam Heyward is a leader on defense. The Steelers have exercised their option to keep the 6'5"/294 pounder and are working on a long-term deal.

In four years, Ironhead Heyward's son has totaled 15 sacks and 143 tackles. Most of them have occurred his last two years, after he became a starter.

A four-year standout at Ohio State, Heyward was praised by scouts as a powerful athlete with the ability to eat up blocks in the running game and relentlessly get to the quarterback in the passing game. The Steelers stock-piled Heyward for the future and now that the future is here, it's obvious that their plan worked.

Round 2 (63)

Original Pick: T Marcus Gilbert - Florida

Re-draft Pick: LB Justin Houston - Georgia

Analysis: Marcus Gilbert started in 46 of 47 games and was named as the Steelers top rookie in 2011. He earned a five-year extension worth $30 million dollars before the start of the 2014 season. Is there something that I'm missing here? I feel those resources could have been better spent.

Coming out of college, Gilbert was known for his size and pass-blocking ability. However, the Florida Gator was projected as a mid-rounder. Scouts knocked him for slow feet, a lack of explosiveness and limited quickness.

Tabbed as the left tackle of the future, Gilbert stepped in on the right side his rookie year when Willie Colon went down. Gilbert ably filled in for 13 games.

In 2012, Gilbert went on injured reserve when an ankle injury sidelined him in the sixth game. Kelvin Beachum came in and seized the left tackle position from him. Gilbert became the starting RT upon his 2013 return but has had steady competition from Mike Adams.

The line has been a strength of the team as of late and not re-drafting Gilbert may be controversial. But I find Gilbert to be the least sturdy link of the starting five. Therefore in the re-draft, I am going in a different direction entirely.

The team went outside linebacker in the fifth round, so picking the reigning sack leader in the second would be a steal. So close your eyes and picture Justin Houston in black and gold.

It's true. It's true. The best defensive player not named J.J. Watt was not picked until the third round. With the gift of hindsight and an imaginary time-traveling car, Justin Houston is now a 2011 number two pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The resume' of the former Georgia Bulldog includes three trips to the Pro Bowl, being named first-team All-Pro in 2014, 48.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles. 22 of his sacks came in 2014, as he led the league. In comparison, the Steelers had 33 as a team.

There were Pro-Bowl options eligible here like WR Randall Cobb and RB Demarco Murray, but Houston's tremendous burst off of the line of scrimmage and his ability to get by blockers would have been blockbuster for the Steelers, solidifying the position for a decade.

Round 3 (95)

Original Pick: CB Curtis Brown - Texas

Re-draft Pick: RB Roy Helu - Nebraska

Analysis: Curtis Brown was considered by some to be a first round talent that fell to the third round. Some drops can't be properly explained. But what Steeler brass originally deemed fortuitous, was a justified slide. Brown was unable to translate his Saturday glories to Sundays.

The second-teamer from the Big 12 was described by scouts as a "no-brainier top five corner" and as a "solid starter after minor adjustments". Blessed with size, speed and good hands, the 6' Brown struggled to get on and stay on the field in Pittsburgh. Brown suffered an ACL tear, but his release came after recording only seven tackles and appearing in only seven games in three years with the Steelers.

Brown gets another chance in 2015, after recently signing with the New York Jets.

Cornerback was so much of a need in 2011, the Steelers invested back to back picks in hopes of solidifying the position for years. The Seahawks picked two corners in 2011 and they hit with Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell. The Steelers weren't as lucky with their choice of a corner-combo in '11.

In 2011 the running back position was manned by Isaac Redman, Mewlde Moore and the injured Jonathan Dwyer. It was addressed later in this draft, however unsuccessfully. Roy Helu would have been a good investment here.

The scouting report on Helu presented a back with a perfect running back build. He was said to run well behind his blockers and possessed more speed than most straight-line backs. Helu has resembled those traits his four seasons in the league.
The 5'11"/215 pounder has played behind Alfred Morris the majority of his time in Washington, but still managed to run for 1,132 yards and seven scores. Helu was also an asset as a receiver, hauling in 129 balls for 3 touchdowns and 1,152 yards. His 14 catches on 11/6/2011 are a Washington franchise record.

The former Cornhusker was thought to be on Pittsburgh's wish list this spring, but the Raiders came calling and gave Helu a contract north of $4 million over 2 years.

In the mold of a prototypical Steeler back, Helu would have brought stability to a backfield that featured a myriad of starters, none who would seize the job until Le'Veon Bell's arrival.

Round 4 (128)

Original Pick: CB Cortez Allen - The Citadel

Re-draft Pick: TE Julius Thomas - Portland State

Analysis: Where Curtis Brown was the polished and more NFL-ready player, Cortez Allen was considered more as a project.

Coming from the Citadel, the 6'1" Allen was scouted as a big, physical corner with good tackling skills. The concern coming out of college was that his below-average speed caused him to struggle against the smaller, faster receivers. The concern turned into a glaring fact on the pro level, as Allen struggled with receivers that were both small and tall.

Cortez showed some signs of possibly being that shutdown corner the team coveted. But after receiving a lucrative deal right before the 2014 opener, his struggles led to his benching in mid-October in favor of Brice McCain.

Allen, who has six picks in four seasons, has a chance to win back his starting job in 2015. His positive attitude and willingness to recognize his poor play are endearing, but it is performance on the big stage that will be the ultimate measuring stick.

Despite the ongoing hope for a Cortez Allen rebound, there were better cornerback options later in this draft. Up for consideration here were DB's Davon House and Buster Skrine. They both would have been great options, but I contend that I can hit the daily-double later and fix the defensive backfield with a tandem better than where the Steelers went in 2011.

So here I decided to make the offense much more prolific.

In 2011, Heath Miller, still in his prime, was entering his seventh season as the Steelers top tight end. But picking Big Jules here would have added depth and a gifted, extra target in packages for Big Ben and a reliable replacement had Miller sustained an injury. Which, he did.

Out of Portland State, Thomas has caught 110 passes for 1282 yards and 24 scores in Denver. Scouts raved about his height, speed and hands. Julius' skills earned himself a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015.

Thomas isn't your prototypical blocking tight end, but the two-time Pro Bowler became the first tight end to have 12 touchdowns in consecutive seasons. He would have been an extra weapon for Big Ben. Scoring records may have even been shattered.

Round 5 (162)

Original Pick: LB Chris Carter - Fresno State

Re-draft Pick: CB Byron Maxwell - Clemson

Analysis: If you're like me, you kept waiting for Chris Carter to break-out and unload. It seemed like he had all of the tools, but it never happened for Chris on Sundays.

Coming out of college, Carter was in the top ten among linebacking prospects. His tackling, awareness to not get fooled on misdirection and pass-rushing ability helped get Carter drafted, but he couldn't carry that over to the NFL.

Carter played three seasons in Steel Town. He started four contests recording 11 tackles. He is now trying to earn a spot in Cincinnati, after a brief foray in Indianapolis.

Here's where the Steelers initially needed to go to secure their cornerback set of the future. Here, we go a little bigger with Byron Maxwell.

Maxwell just earned a lucrative free agent deal from Philadelphia due to his six picks as a part of Seattle's vaunted defensive backfield. At 6', the Clemson alum became a full-time starter in 2013 when Brandon Browner was suspended for substance abuse. The Legion of Boom member has a propensity to come up big in big games. He forced a fumble in Super Bowl XLVII and intercepted a pass in last year's NFC Championship victory.

DE Pernell McPhee was available in the window here. So was TE Charles Clay. But the adding of Maxwell here in the re-draft and another cover-corner stalwart later, would have fortified the corners and teams would have not thrown all over the defense as much.

Round 6 (196)

Original Pick: OL Keith Williams - Nebraska

Re-draft Pick: OL Byron Bell - New Mexico

Analysis: Scouts critiqued the 6'5"and 330 lb. guard from Nebraska as mentally strong and having the size and strength to become a solid backup in the pros. It didn't work out for Williams in the Burgh, where he was a training cap casualty.

Keith shuffled off to Buffalo, where he appeared in two games in two years. In 2013, Williams received an injury settlement from the Bills and now plays Arena Football for the Arizona Rattlers.

I struggled with the re-draft selection of Byron Bell. At 6'5" and 340 lbs., the behemoth Bell started 46 games in Carolina but was not known for his pass-blocking skills.

Coming out of New Mexico, Bell was deemed a player with a lot of upside, good footwork and solid movement skills.

After careful deliberation, I selected Bell as a need here for a line that sorely needed depth in a draft low on high-quality linemen. Bell, currently competing for a starting job at RT in Tennessee, would have been an able backup and spot starter for the Steelers.

Round 7 (232)

Original Pick: RB Baron Batch - Texas Tech

Re-draft Pick: CB Chris Harris - Kansas State

Analysis: Baron Batch's story is remarkable and I suggest that you go into the BTSC archives to June 24th and check out his story for yourself. I can't do it justice here.

There was excitement surrounding this value pick in the seventh round. Scouts saw Batch as a quick, elusive back and a terrific receiver out of the backfield. The Steelers saw him as an explosive third down back, due to his experience in the spread offense at Texas Tech. Unfortunately, an ACL tear derailed his rookie season in training camp.

With less speed after the injury, Batch returned in 2012 and played sparingly, rushing for 49 yards and a touchdown. After not making the 53-man roster in '13, Batch retired from the game, despite overtures from multiple teams.

Today, Baron Batch resides in Pittsburgh as an artist and an entrepreneur. There is still an excitement surrounding Batch in Pittsburgh, but this time, his impact reaches so much more than just football fans.

The second half of the cornerback daily-double comes in the last round of the redraft. Smaller than Allen, the 5'10 Harris already has had an accomplished career in his four years in the league. The former Kansas Jayhawk has ten interceptions, two touchdowns, 252 tackles and has had a lot less of a problem in coverage than Allen.

The Broncos recently rewarded the Pro-Bowler with a five-year extension worth $42 million dollars.

Coming out of college, Harris was praised for his recovery speed, his ability to close and his coachability/adaptability. But he was not drafted and was only signed as a free agent right before camp opened.

It is notable that the Steelers addressed the cornerback need in 2011, but it failed to produce. They had the right idea, just the wrong solution. Adding Harris instead of Brown and the taller Maxwell over Allen, would have upgraded the faction that was quickly becoming known as the West Penn Burn Unit.

The 2011 draft has now been rewritten in the latest issue of Grey's Sports Almanac, available at any Hill Valley retailer. Let the discussion begin.

Until next time, keep your feet on the ground and enjoy the musical stylings of Marvin Berry and the Starlighters.