Friday, April 27, 2012

Inside the Steelers War Room: Rounds 2 and 3

In my draft primer, I broke down what positions I think the Steelers should be targeting in this year's draft, the strengths and weaknesses of this year's class, and the importance of a great haul of prospects to the Steelers.

Thus far, I think they're off to a fantastic start.  The reason that I didn't have David DeCastro in my first round preview is that I didn't think there was any way he'd be available at 24.  Strangely enough, I did think that Dontari Poe would be there and the Chiefs screwed up that prediction by taking him 11th overall.

At any rate, the Steelers needed an offensive lineman, preferably an interior lineman, and they got a great one in DeCastro.  He's physical, plays with a mean streak, pulls and traps very well, and is a strong kid that holds his own in pass protection.  With him, Pouncey, and probably Legursky or Foster on the inside, it makes for a pretty talented threesome, provided they all stay healthy.

DeCastro reminds me a lot of Alan Faneca and I'm very excited about the prospect of him starting at right guard from day one, but I'm trying to manage expectations and not get too excited.  I have not succeeded thus far.  Still very excited.

A number of people were very confused by the fact that the Steelers passed on Dont'a Hightower when he was available.  A number of people -- myself included -- got very nervous when the Patriots traded up to 25th overall to grab Hightower when he became available.  But, the fact that the Steelers were on the clock for less than a minute tells me that they didn't think DeCastro would fall to them.  It also tells me what I suspected in my round one preview: That they don't think Hightower will be a huge contributor in their system and they think they have a suitable replacement for James Farrior on the roster.  If the fact that the defense didn't miss a beat last season with Farrior playing only part-time, plus the fact that they cut Farrior, didn't prove that out, the fact that they passed on Hightower should be the last bit of evidence everyone needs.  Looks like Stevenson Sylvester will be starting at Farrior's old position in 2012.

What about rounds two and three, which start tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPN?

The Steelers still need to pick up some quality guys at nose tackle, running back, and cornerback, which are the three positions I think (and hope) they focus on in the next three rounds.  For the two rounds on tap tonight, here are their options.

Round 2:

I still haven't given up on Wisconsin center/guard Peter Konz.  If he's still there, he'll be another one that kind of fell into their laps.  I don't think he will be there, but, after DeCastro fell to them, I want to leave that option open.

Only two offensive tackles came off the board in the first round, which means there's still a bunch of talent available.  Guys like Cordy Glenn, Jonathan Martin, and Bobby Massie should come off the board pretty quickly pretty early, but enough teams should have filled their OT needs that Ohio State's Mike Adams or California's Mitchel Schwartz should still be available.  Either of those guys would be a great value pick in round two, even if that means they didn't take a defensive tackle, a cornerback, or a running back.

Lamichael James is still out there, too, and three running backs have already been taken, but he's a little on the small side (5'8", 194 pounds) and his injury history is definitely a concern.  With Mendenhall already banged up and the Steelers thin at the position, I think they'll stay away from anyone that is more likely to get hurt.  I also think they can wait on a running back until the third round and still get a good one.

Only three defensive tackles were taken, which is a low number for the first round.  That means Penn State's Devon Still or Washington's Alameda Ta'amu could be available.  Still has a higher ranking, but Ta'amu is 6'2" and 348, so he's more likely to be available and more likely to be able to fill Big Snacks shoes (and pants).

There were also only three cornerbacks picked in the first round, another low number.  I think there will be a run on cornerbacks and offensive tackles early in first round, which means that defensive tackle is probably their best bet.  On top of that, there's Janoris Jenkins.  He has serious talent on the field and serious issues off the field.  Drafting a guy with character concerns is a risky proposition with Kaiser Goodell on the throne, but Jenkins might have too much upside to pass on.  If he's still available at the end of the second round, he might keep sliding.  He's worth a shot in the third round if he's still sitting there.  Stranger things have happened (see: McCoy, Colt).

They'll have a lot of options, but I think they'll pull the trigger on...

With the 56th Pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers Select:
Alameda Ta'amu, Defensive Tackle, University of Washington

Round 3:

If they wait until after this round to get a running back or offensive tackle, then the pickings will be pretty slim.  There's actually a bunch of guys that could at least contribute at cornerback in the fourth round and beyond.  After the top two guys (Morris Claiborne and Stephon Gilmore) there isn't a shutdown corner and someone is probably going to take a chance on Jenkins.  After Jenkins, there isn't a huge difference between the fifth-rated guy and the tenth-rated guy.

If they took Ta'amu -- or some other defensive tackle like Still -- in the second round, then offensive tackle or running back are their two best options.

At offensive tackle in this range, I like Zebrie Sanders (partly just for his name, partly because the Steelers have had luck with Seminoles) and Auburn's Brandon Mosley.  Both are athletic and strong enough and both are in the 6'5", 315 pound range.  They don't have the tools and skills needed to step right in and start, but they have enough raw materials to work with that they could definitely help the Steelers in the next two seasons.

At running back, I really like Temple's Bernard Pierce.  He's got good size (6', 218), good speed (4.49 in the 40), and he was fairly productive for a pretty crappy Temple team.  He's not an all star, but you don't usually get all stars in the third round.  He has enough going for him that, with an improved offensive line and a commitment to the run game, he could be a productive option in the Steeler offense.

With the 89th Pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers Select:
Bernard Pierce, Running Back, Temple

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