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The Short and the Long of it: Down the first round, Cortez's reclamation and all things Archer

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Pay attention to the second round and beyond of the Steelers draft and don't sleep yet on Cortez Allen. Dri Archer may be another story, though.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
To the Follower Goes the Awards

Tens of thousands of words filled with speculation, hype and plain old guesses will be written between now and April 30, when Roger Goodell calls the 2015 NFL draft to order in Chicago's Auditorium Theater. And you can bet your favorite Terrible Towel that a whole lot of those words will be about what direction the Steelers will take with their first round draft pick.

But maybe the more important question for Steelers' fans is who they take after him.

Not since Maurkice Pouncey in 2010 have the Steelers gotten much of anything out of their first round selection the year in which he was drafted. Defensive end Cameron Heyward is a freak now, but was far from that as a rookie in 2011. David DeCastro's second career start saw him getting taken to school by Cincinnati's Geno Atkins in Week 15 of 2012 - his first game back after a knee injury held him out from August to December. Jarvis Jones got on the field but failed to make much of an impact last year, and Ryan Shazier missed nearly half the team's games this season.

It's not as if the other rookies of those classes failed to make an impact. Since 2011, a player taken after the first round won the team's Mean Joe Greene Rookie of the Year award. Marcus Gilbert started for the injured Willie Colon in 2011 and performed reasonably well, capturing the top rookie prize. Mike Adams (somehow) won the award in 2012. Le'Veon Bell took the award without challenge in 2013, and Martavis Bryant won it this season.

Bottom line, in four of the last five years the best Steelers rookie was still sitting in his chair when Roger Goodell called the 32nd pick of the first round of the draft. Three second-round picks and a fourth round pick - remove Pouncey, and sub-first rounders took home the rookie trophy all the way back to 2007, when punter Dan Sepulveda won it in a weak draft class. Patrick Bailey won it in 2008 and it was Mike Wallace's in 2009.

When you find yourself being dazzled by the hope and promise of what lays ahead for the Steelers in the first round, just remember, the Steelers won consecutive division championships in ‘07 and ‘08, and the top rookie for those seasons was a punter and a guy they didn't even draft.

All-Recovery Team

An unfortunate but frequent story line in Pittsburgh over the past few years has been injuries to key players that made them miss games. Look at this list from the last three years: Maurkice Pouncey (knee), Marcus Gilbert (ankle), David DeCastro (knee), Markus Wheaton (finger), Heath Miller (knee), Cortez Allen (hand), Steve McLendon (assorted), Ryan Shazier (knee, ankle), Jarvis Jones (wrist), Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) and Sean Spence (knee). These are just the players currently under contract for 2015, and it doesn't include Matt Spaeth (foot), Brett Keisel (assorted), James Harrison (knee), LaMarr Woodley (hamstring), Ike Taylor (forearm), Troy Polamalu (knee) or Fernando Velasco (knee).

Even Le'Veon Bell (knee) and Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) missed three games each during that time.

There has been some speculation that the mandated decrease in contact in training camp has led to more injuries in the regular season, but since the change is so recent, it's still too early to tell.

Cortez Allen: Feast or Famine?

The four conference championship teams all have cornerbacks working on large contract extensions - Seattle's Richard Sherman, New England's Darrelle Revis, Indianapolis's Vontae Davis and Green Bay's Sam Shields.

The Steelers have one, too. The only problem is he ended up on the bottom of their depth chart and finished the year on injured reserve.

No Steelers player has a bigger offseason in front of him than Cortez Allen. He represents the difference between a solid, if not strong, group of players at the position and a salary-bloated and non-productive one.

Many analysts said that Allen's 2014 coverage problems were mental. Whatever the reason,  there's one thing for sure: In a league where offenses immediately exploit any apparent weak spot in a defense once it is identified, Allen became a target, and as his struggles continued, he was picked on so frequently and successfully that the coaches really had no choice but to bench him.

After such a dismal season, it's easy to forget that Allen played very well down the stretch in 2013 to justify a contract extension before the start of the 2014. And the Steelers did not want to repeat the mistake they made with Keenan Lewis - letting a young corner whose "arrow is pointing" up walk away in his prime.

But young players struggle. Bill Cowher benched Ike Taylor when he struggled soon after the Steelers gave him a big contract extension. Taylor turned it around. If Allen can do the same, the Steelers can add the starter they didn't have at the end of the 2014 season, and provide immediate depth at a position of need.

It's up to Allen, though, because coaching can only take a player so far. Maintaining a balance between protecting against the deep ball and not playing in fear is the tightrope walk of an NFL corner. If Allen can regain his equilibrium, it will make a world of difference to the 2015 Steelers.

Gone Gordon

Multiple outlets reported Sunday afternoon Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon failed a drug test, giving him three in three seasons, two of them coming in the last 15 months. Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013 after missing the first two games of the season, and missed the first 10 games of the 2014 season. He will almost certainly be suspended for the 2015 season.

Cleveland will now head into the draft with questions at quarterback and a complete lack of wide receiver depth to go along with a defense that's been up and down more than the Incline.

Or, in other words, they are essentially the same team they were this time last year. Welcome to Cleveland, where coaches are fired after a year, draft picks are spent to select the worst quarterback in the game and their front office runs the wrong direction on the moving sidewalk that is the evolution of the NFL.

Skinny Post

Your Take: honestly theres just no room (Dri Archer) on the team. We have too many good players on offence for him to fit anywhere. I almost feel like the Steelers are hoping he becomes our version of Darren Sproles or something... but those types of players come around only once a generation, not twice

- p.m. "Friday Night Open Thread

My Take: Just a few seasons ago Steelers fans were talking themselves into the overall ability of Baron Batch, and how he complimented the obvious skills of Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. Not to suggest Archer would have any easier of a time getting touches in an offense with those three players than he does now (all three may all be out of the league in 2015), but the fact this argument can be made speaks volumes toward the depth on this offense.

But are we really saying the team should cut ties with Archer now? Getting him 20 carries a game behind David DeCastro seems like a bad idea, but perhaps a full offseason of film study along with Archer's own development can produce something of a tangible use for his speed and athleticism.

If he fails again, we'll have a different conversation.