AZ Draft Primer: What Would Pittsburgh Do?

While Arizona's draft results have been mixed, GM Rod Graves has assembled an outstanding nucleus of young talent. With coach Ken Whisenhunt now heavily involved in the process, look for tactics he learned in Pittsburgh to be utilized. Brad Wilbricht analyzes the Steelers' draft strategy and dissects how it could influence the Cardinals.

The most obvious need on the Cardinals roster is cornerback. Incumbent starters Eric Green and Roderick Hood are capable players, but depth is a major concern. If Arizona follows the Steelers' draft tendencies from Whisenhunt's days in Pittsburgh, we'll likely see at least one cornerback selected in rounds one through three. From 2001-2006, the Steelers selected five defensive backs within the first three rounds.

Pittsburgh tends to value more physical defensive backs. That may be bad news for Tennessee State CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie if he's still available at No. 16. Troy CB Leodis McKelvin and South Florida CB Mike Jenkins are more prototypical Pittsburgh cornerbacks due to their physical nature and tackling ability.

Safety Troy Polamalu was arguably Pittsburgh's finest draft pick while Whisenhunt was in the Steel City. Polamalu has wreaked havoc on opposing offenses since being drafted with the 16th overall pick in 2003. The Cardinals will be looking for a prospect who can make a similar impact.

Historically, the Steelers' draft strategy has been a combination of selecting the best player available and filling team needs. Pittsburgh drafted QB Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, following that with Health Miller in 2005 and Santonio Holmes in 2006. All three were considered among of the best players available and filled immediate needs.

While it's widely expected the Cardinals will select a running back early in the draft, it could be a long-shot given Whisenhunt's history. During his tenure in Pittsburgh, the Steelers failed to invest higher than a fifth-round pick on a running back. Pittsburgh looked to the later rounds and undrafted free agents to spell future Hall of Fame RB Jerome Bettis. The Steelers obtained Bettis' backfield partner, RB Willie Parker, as an undrafted free agent in 2004.

Nonetheless, the Cardinals have showed considerable interest in East Carolina RB Chris Johnson and recently hosted him for a private visit. Johnson would provide the Cardinals and RB Edgerrin James with a combination similar to the one the Steelers featured with Bettis and Parker.

Acquiring a pass-rusher is another pressing need for the Cardinals. Among the best prospects available are Florida DE Derrick Harvey and Clemson DE Phillip Merling, both of whom could be options in the first round. However, Pittsburgh preferred to draft defensive ends in the later rounds. From 2001-2006, the Steelers selected five defensive ends in round five or later.

Because the Steelers run a 3-4 defense, they are able to target undersized defensive ends in the middle rounds and mold them into outside linebackers on the next level. Cliff Avril (Purdue) and Chris Ellis (Virginia Tech) could be candidates to make that move with the Cardinals.


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