Monday, April 28, 2008

Steelers Draft Review

Steelers First Round:

After the Steelers took Rashard Mendenhall, I got a text message that said, "What do you think?" Well, at that point, I really wasn't sure. At this point? Still not 100% sure.

For all the lip service Kevin Colbert and company have paid to the fact that Mendenhall was one of the top guys on their board and that he was one of the few prospects that would keep them in the first round if he was available, I still can't shake the feeling that something is wrong with Fast Willie. Maybe it's that they don't trust the injury. Maybe it's that they feel he's not the guy to carry the load with 300+ carries a year.

Maybe it's just that, like the Vikings last year when they drafted Adrian Peterson even though they already had Chester Taylor, Colbert, Rooney, and Tomlin said, "Holy shit! He's still there! We gotta take him."

Whatever the reasons, I think he works much better as a complimentary guy right off the bat. He's not really an accomplished receiver and he didn't need to block at all at Illinois, so he definitely can't step in and play every down right away. Which is why he doesn't make any sense for the Bears (in addition to the fact that there were still plenty of good tackles available when they picked and Angelo didn't want to admit he was wrong for drafting Benson). But, given the fact that he was the 13th-rated player on the Steelers' board, all the good offensive tackles (and even some of the crappy ones) were taken, all the good defensive ends were taken, and there weren't any receivers worth taking in the first round, it was a good choice.

And, at that point, everyone that wanted to get back into the first round had done so and gotten the guy they wanted. I doubt we would've gotten enough in return to trade out.

One final note: Dunderwood, Weidman, and I watched the game at Buffalo Wild Wings in Monroeville. As the first round started to unfold, Weidman and I decided that the only guys we wanted the Steelers to take in the first round were "Fat Otah" (no idea where nickname came from, but I think it's fairly funny even if you don't know the source) or Aqib Talib. He has character issues, but he's a hell of a player. I figured the Steelers would take him if he fell in their laps (like Mendenhall), but that they wouldn't trade up for him. Weidman and I determined that "Aqib" sounds like a male queef. So, we just took to calling him "Penis Fart" from about 12th overall until about 22nd overall. Once Fat Otah and Penis Fart were gone, we wanted no part of the first round.

Bears First Round:

I said they should take either Otah or Chris Williams and they took Chris Williams. The one knock on the big man from Vanderbilt is that he may not have enough of a mean streak and he's too much of a technician, which means he'll be a better left tackle than a right tackle. So, move Tait over, put Williams in there, and move on with your life.

Steelers Second Round:

One of the reasons I didn't mention Limas Sweed in my preview is that I didn't think he'd be available. I thought that at least some of the teams in the NFL would disagree with me and think that there was a wide receiver worth taking in the first round. None were chosen for the first time since 1990 and the run on receivers started in the second round.

Both the Steelers and the Bears wisely avoided receivers in the first (and the Bears also in the second), but got good dudes later on that ordinarily would've had higher grades. Most of the mock drafts I saw had Sweed going in the first round. I think I even saw one that had him going to the Steelers. Colbert had a first round grade on him. When he was still sitting there, they were overjoyed. Kinda like when Mendenhall was still available.

Here's the thing: I'm glad the Steelers are happy, but we really needed to get an offensive lineman in the first two picks. Tomlin had a good counterpoint to that: There are two ways to fix your offensive line: draft more linemen, or get more weapons. That's an oversimplification of what he said, of course, which is why I didn't use quotation marks. But, the point remains that teams will blitz us less and Ben will need less time to throw now that we have better skill position guys. I don't necessarily buy it, but I do believe that, with us being four guys deep at receiver and three guys deep at running back, we'll have much fresher legs come December than most other offenses. That bodes well for us, provided that Ben doesn't get carried off on a stretcher come October.

Bears Second Round:

I heard some draft analysts saying this was a bad pick and a reach. However, since I mentioned Matt Forte as a guy that the Bears could take in the second round, I think it's a great pick. Besides, the wheels kind of came off on my picks after this one, so I'm going to revel in it.

Chicago will be happy with Forte. He has good hands, he's a capable blocker (two things Benson isn't), and he runs with authority and conviction, especially after contact. Kind of reminds me of Edgerrin James in the way he runs. He's not going to bust a big run, but he'll get 8 when you think he's going to get 2, he'll get 15 when you think he's going to get 6. Stuff like that.

Steelers Third Round:

I have to say that I'm confused by this pick. I've read nothing but good things about this kid, but I can't say for sure that he's a 3-4 rush linebacker and I can't say for sure that he's a 4-3 end.

If he turns out to be a good player, then we might be able to use him in both situations. If he doesn't, he's the next Alonzo Jackson. I just have a bad feeling he's Option B.

Bears Third Round:

I like Earl Bennett (another guy from Vandy) and I really do think he's going to be a good replacement for Berrian in a couple of years. While I think the passing game is boned this year because Chicago has simply lost too many receivers, I think Bennett and seventh round pick (almost Mr. Irrelevant) Marcus Monk are going to make the Bears a lot better in a couple of years.

I don't trust Marcus Harrison. At all. In 2007 he dodged not one, but two bullets. He was supposed to be suspended indefinitely for marijuana and meth possession, but the Razorbacks realized they needed him, so he was only suspended for the opener. He tore his MCL in April of last year, but he was perfectly fine to start by the second game of the season. Sure, he's talented, but he's already used up all his luck and he hasn't used up all his "I'm gonna do dumb shit because I'm young" energy. He's Tank Johnson and a half.

Steelers Fourth Round:

After waiting the better part of four rounds to draft an offensive lineman, they take this guy.

Tony Hills started out as a tight end. He screwed up his knees so badly in high school that he got something called "drop foot" though he apparently recovered from it somehow. Even if he is recovered (and, reading that article I linked to, you have to wonder how many times his girlfriend had to blow the doctor to get him to pass Hills for the physical), the assumption has to be that putting your 330 pound body on your drop foot every day and running around on it and having other huge guys roll up on it and cut block you... that can't be good for your drop foot.

I guess my point is that, if he starts, he'll play with more pain than Jeff Hartings from 2002-2004. Then again, Hartings didn't retire until after the 2006 season. I just think it's a mistake to draft someone that already has legs as bad as a 34 year-old center. Moving on.

Fourth Round Bears:

I'm really not familiar with this Craig Steltz kid, but he played for LSU, so he's been involved in big games and they've had some great defenses. He played around some really talented players (Russell, Buster Davis, Dwayne Bowe, LaRon Landry last year, Glenn Dorsey, Early Doucet, Jacob Hester, Matt Flynn this year).

And, from what I've read about him today, he seems like he'd be a really good fit playing that free safety/center field position in the Cover 2.

Fifth Round Steelers:

My buddy Laszlo asked me what I thought about Dennis Dixon yesterday (the Steelers drafted him as Laszlo and I were sitting at the bar watching the Penguins game). I said that he was a taller Kordell Stewart with a stronger arm.

And I stand by that. One of the things that doomed Kordell was that he had 15 coordinators in five years and no one ever taught him to throw the ball away. I think he just didn't know that rule existed. And he didn't know that you could throw the ball more than six yards down the field. Maybe Kevin Gilbride (or maybe it was Ray Sherman, too many coordinators to keep track of) didn't understand that. He was actually effective when the coordinator let him go out there and play -- Mularky actually had some success when he let Kordell run the Statue of Liberty play and quarterback draws.

Here's what I know: If Kordell didn't have at least some success, the Falcons never would've drafted Michael Vick first overall and the Titans never would've taken Vince Young third overall. They both would have been drafted, just not as high.

My point is this: Dixon has WAY more upside than any of the jokers the Steelers have drafted in the fifth round the last ten years -- which includes Tee Martin, the incomparable Brian St. Pierre, and Omar Jacobs. And, there's one added bonus. In my mind, the biggest key to Steve McNair's development from athlete that could throw and game-changing quarterback came when he had all those injuries in 2003. He had to watch Billy Volek take the snaps and drop back and really just sat there and was able to watch the play develop. He never had to think about where his feet were supposed to go throughout the course of his career, so that let him focus on making something happen by throwing the ball. And it was the most important thing he learned in his career.

If Dixon can rest his knee, watch Ben work from the pocket the same way, and watch the progression of the play, he'll be ready by the time Batch retires. Remember, we do have a couple of years, after all.

If not, I say we draw up a bunch of gadget plays and have Dixon go all Kordell/Randel-El on the other team.

Bears Fifth Round:

Zack Bowman, cornerback, Nebraska. Fast as hell, dumb as a sack of hammers, went to Nebraska, can't stay healthy. Gunner!

This dude's going to help the Bears a lot on special teams. And that's about it.

Tight end Kellen Davis is really tall (6'6") and fast (4.6 in the 40), but I keep thinking this... if he's so awesome, why didn't he start many games at Michigan State and why did he only tally up 60 receptions in four years in East Lansing? He was also suspended for four games in 2006 for assault. So there's that.

But hey, he's tall and fast!

Steelers Sixth Round:

I must say that I'm very pleased that they traded back in the fourth and got the extra pick in the sixth.

You know what I love about the late round guys the Steelers draft? Every other team goes for Marcus Harrison's more sadistic cousin -- a guy that is always in trouble, gets hurt a lot, but is a really good athlete and could be a great player if he could just stop beating up his girlfriend/smoking crack/throwing sharp objects at his coaches.

The Steelers take guys like Mike Humpal and Ryan Mundy. Humpal is a try-hard guy that is probably too small to play linebacker in the NFL. And he's too slow to play in the Cover 2. But, he'll do well on special teams, he'll be a good teammate, and he may even pull a Larry Foote and end up being a decent player.

Mundy went to WVU, but I'm sure he's okay.

Bears Seventh Round:

Lightning round...

Earvin Baldwin: Bigger than your average Bears lineman. Hopefully, Lovie Smith doesn't put him on Atkins and just trusts him to play football.

Chester Adams: Probably would've gotten drafted earlier if he didn't switch to right tackle in 2007 after playing guard for his first three seasons at Georgia. I think he's going to be a good back-up for them and could be a starter in a couple of years. At least the Bears drafted an offensive lineman that doesn't have drop foot.

Joey LaRocque: He's got a cool name, but he's too small and not fast enough for how small he is. Special teams!

Kirk Barton: Good enough to get by at Ohio State with his athletic ability, but probably can't get by in the NFL... which is why they took him in the seventh round. At least the Bears drafted an offensive lineman that doesn't have drop foot.

Marcus Monk: I think this is a really great pick. Monk is going to, if nothing else, get a roster spot and give the Bears some depth at wide receiver. That's worst case. Best case is that he turns into the next Marques Colston.

Thoughts on the Bears:

I think the Bears had the best draft of anyone outside of the Chiefs and Dolphins -- and the Chiefs and Dolphins both had a shitload of picks in the first 90 selections overall. The first 90 picks were where the really great players were, but there were some good guys to be had after that. The Bears found a lot of them and they grabbed Matt Forte and Chris Williams -- two guys who I think are going to be great NFL players -- in the first two rounds.

Marcus Harrison should not be trusted. Under any circumstances. I don't trust his knees and I don't trust his arrest record.

Grade: A

Thoughts on the Steelers:

On Monday, I was agreeing with all of the draft gurus that said the Steelers got great value in the first round. I believed in what Tomlin had to say about helping out your offensive line by adding playmakers. I thought they did a good job. Then I talked to Keith.

He called me last night (everything fifth round and beyond was written on Tuesday, everything before the fifth round was written on Monday, but I didn't change anything tonight -- after I changed my mind -- because I wanted it to be a living record of how my opinion shifted. And, ya know, because I was too lazy). Here's the conversation we had.

Keith: So... are you pissed?
Me: About what?
Keith: The Steelers had a terrible draft. I figured you'd be pissed.

So, I tried to tell him about the fact that we got two guys with first round grades, one of which we had rated 13th overall, at 23 and 55. I talked about upside and getting the best athlete available. I quoted Tomlin. And I didn't realize, until I was quoting him, how dumb what he said sounded when spoken out loud. You don't get better on the offensive line by drafting more skill position guys. You get better by drafting offensive linemen that don't have drop foot. And it's that simple.

I think Keith said it best: "The Steelers didn't draft any defensive or offensive linemen worth mentioning. Those were their two biggest weaknesses last year. You can have all the greatest skill position guys you want, but if you don't have anyone to control the line of scrimmage, you're screwed. Just look at Arizona and Detroit -- a bunch of great skill position guys and no linemen. And look how they've done the last few years."

So... crap. Here's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna agree with the draft gurus and commend the Steelers for drafting for value, for not reaching, and for getting a bunch of great skill position guys for now and for the future. And, I'm gonna say that they've reached in the past two or three drafts -- not always in the first round, but they have -- but they definitely didn't this time. They trusted their board, they took the best guy that was sitting there, and they're happy.

And, since Kevin Colbert and company get paid a lot of money to do what they do and I write a free blog that eight people read, I'm gonna say that they know better.

But, I'm not pleased and, I really feel that the coaching staff is going to have to make chicken salad (a cohesive, decent offensive line) out of chicken shit (a bunch of sub-talented or oft-injured dudes, which includes, but is not limited to, the seven million dollar man Max Starks).

Official stance, weighing all perspectives and with an eye towards the future, also completely ignoring drop foot: In three years, this is going to be looked at as a great draft. This season and next? Not so much. Right now? Definitely not.

Grade: C-

1 comment:

  1. First of all, you probably shouldn't let my largely uninformed opinions about the draft sway you too much.

    That being writ, I don't buy into the "Player X went to LSU and LSU has a good program, therefore player X is good" theorem. That is the kind of reasoning that led the Pirates to give Luis Sojo one million dollars ten years ago.

    Also, I think the Chiefs' draft looks a lot worse when you consider that they had to spend Jared Allen to make it happen.