Thusly, we pronounce: The Steelers Need To Trade Down.
Never fails. Go back and look it up.
But for once let's assume there are some pretty good players currently ranked as high second-rounders, and that the Steelers would not be "reaching" if they were to grab one at pick 31 in the first round. Here are my preferences:
* Curtis Brown (CB, Texas) – This guy's emerging as my favorite potential Steelers draft pick. I watched him early last season and noted his explosiveness as a punt returner. I watched him on Thanksgiving as he lined up opposite his more highly acclaimed teammate, Aaron Williams, and saw Brown outperform his bigger cornermate in coverage. I then watched him at the Senior Bowl as he recklessly threw his 185-pound frame around the field in both the passing and running games. And I watched Brown at the combine draw raves for his ball skills after leaping for a high pass, falling backwards and slamming the turf, and still holding on to the interception. The Steelers will host him next week and I expect his stock to rise accordingly amongst the locals.
* Lance Kendricks (TE, Wisconsin) – Yes, I believe Notre Dame's 6-6 tight end Kyle Rudolph deserves to be ranked ahead of Kendricks. But I also believe Kendricks is a better fit for the Steelers, who need more of a move tight end to supplant Matt Spaeth in Bruce Arians' two-TE offensive system. Wisconsin uses the Arians offense and therefore used Kendricks the same way Arians uses Heath Miller, Spaeth and David Johnson. The problem in Pittsburgh is that only Miller provides the combination of pass-catcher, in-line blocker, and lead fullback that gives the scheme its appeal in the first place. Kendricks does all of that, and he did it all quite well at Wisconsin. He'll also become a far greater playmaker than either Spaeth or Johnson.
* Leonard Hankerson (WR, Miami) – I've been of the opinion the Steelers should look long and hard at Pitt WR Jon Baldwin. His physical attributes certainly deserve first-round consideration. I also hear good (and surprising) things about Baldwin's work ethic. There's also the edge he'll bring as a product of a tough Aliquippa upbringing. Mike Tomlin has let it be known that he admires, as a personnel analyst, those with difficult backgrounds. But Baldwin isn't really a fit for the Steelers, who need an intermediary tough guy to eventually replace Hines Ward and play opposite Mike Wallace.
Is Hankerson that guy? At 6-1½, 209, he's 1½ inches taller and four pounds heavier than Ward. And with a 4.43 40 at the combine, Hankerson matched the time of Torrey Smith, who wasn't nearly as productive in college but who's being ranked as a first-rounder because of his deep speed. Hankerson has that deep speed, and he proved at the Senior Bowl (again) that he understands the intermediate game. Hankerson would be a great sleeper at 31.
* Rodney Hudson (G, Florida State) – Right, he's too short and will need to move to center if he wants true success (i.e. championships) in the NFL. That's the general assessment of the 6-2½, 299-pound Hudson. But I just love the player. At FSU he was a fireplug with great strength who could get to the second level without a problem. As a captain and competitor he showed terrific intensity and enthusiasm, and as a left guard he repeatedly displayed an ability to think on his feet during interior blitzes. If you've watched that aspect of the Steelers the last few years you'd certainly appreciate Hudson as a Steelers' surprise at 31.
* Ryan Mallet (QB, Arkansas), Brooks Reed (DE, Arizona), Ryan Williams (RB, Virginia Tech) – I've listed these three just in case. Obviously the Steelers don't need a quarterback, but I can't fathom anyone drafting Jake Locker or even Christian Ponder before Mallet. He could turn out to be a bargaining chip for the Steelers at 31.
And Reed is a Clay Matthews clone but not just because of his long blond hair. Reed too has a relentless pass-rushing motor and would be an ideal fit for the Steelers as a 3-4 OLB. But they don't need one, nor can they afford another premium pick for that positional grouping.
As for Williams, he has the combination of power and speed the Steelers need competing against Jonathan Dwyer for a roster spot next camp. And Williams won't turn 21 until April 9, which would make him the fourth Tomlin first-rounder (of five) to finish his rookie NFL season as a 21-year-old.