Odds On The Draft

You can't bet 'em – unless you make a real convincing case in a super-secret e-mail. But with the NFL Combine getting underway on Thursday it's time for Jim Wexell to post his initial first-round odds for the Steelers' draft board.

It's an annual rite of passage and one that will be updated just like any other tote board. But to start, these are the two theories guiding me in the process:

1.) Since Mike Tomlin became coach, the Steelers alternate between offense and defense when drafting in the first round, and this year it's the offense's turn.

2.) I doubt the Steelers would talk publicly about Ben Roethlisberger not taking so many sacks, force out their offensive coordinator, and not fix their offensive line. They're close, and it's time to finish the transition from the Alan Faneca-Jeff Hartings-Marvel Smith glory years.

As for the unlisted players:

* DT/NT Dontari Poe is off the list because if a man his size has the type of character the Steelers require, he'll be drafted too early.

* ILB Luke Kuechly – the only player for whom I'd trade up – might not appeal to Tomlin because the Boston College standout won't fit as a third-down player next to Lawrence Timmons.

* NT Alameda Ta'amu is the only true and elite NT in the draft, but he's a two-down player in a changing game.

So here are my odds for the Steelers' first-round pick:

Jonathan Martin (12-1) – Stanford left tackle has size and athleticism but for a three-year starter he's too unpolished to deserve the high rankings he's been receiving since the start of last season. It's unlikely the Steelers would take a chance on a boom-or-bust type when they already have a player in Marcus Gilbert whom they believe to be their left tackle of the future.

Mike Adams (9-1) – But what about the right tackle of the future? Well, Adams has the size and pedigree (Ohio State) the Steelers covet, and he's still a pup. Adams won't turn 22 until next month. And there's a chance that even though he was so inconsistent after coming back from a suspension last season, Adams's solid work at the Senior Bowl has turned the Steelers toward this young tackle.

But with Willie Colon, Jonathan Scott and even massive project Trevis Turner already on the roster, right tackle isn't that big of a need. Besides, someone wanting a young left tackle is likely to take Adams off the board before pick 24, and the Steelers are worried about whether Adams really loves the game anyway.

Kevin Zeitler (8-1) – This powerful Wisconsin right guard has been the apple of my eye all season. However, value is the basis by which Kevin Colbert and the Steelers make their picks and frankly I'm not convinced Zeitler belongs in the top 24.

Not that I would mind, but he's strictly a guard (played a bit of center during Senior Bowl practices) who doesn't move all that well (but not all that poorly) and one who was uninspiring during pass-blocking drills at Senior Bowl practices. But if you're looking for a 22-year-old with a tremendous work ethic and the strength to stand up to Haloti Ngata one-on-one – and even turn him on the biggest plays of the game, as Zeitler did to Jerel Worthy during those classic Wisconsin-Michigan State games last season – Zeitler's your man, and you might even be able to trade down and still get him.

Dont'a Hightower (7-1) – The only defensive player on this board could rise precipitously if he runs well this week. But I'm expecting a 4.7 40 for the 265-pounder, and that just doesn't sit well with GMs around the league who are looking for more coverage skills out of their inside linebackers.

The Steelers could really use a thumper in the middle, particularly someone smart enough to run Alabama's defense. And on pass downs Hightower showed in the national championship game that he can put his hand on the ground and create chaos off the edge. That makes him a three-down player. The Steelers might also deem that Hightower has plus versatility. The big ILB should also be able to play OLB in the big leagues and that would put an end to their ridiculous plan to wreck the career of Lawrence Timmons, who's clearly not a 3-4 OLB.

Cordy Glenn (6-1) – I've watched this Georgia O-lineman closely for two years and the only time I believed him to be a valid draft target was at this past Senior Bowl. That worries me because I'd hate to be so influenced by an all-star game.

But the 6-5½, 346-pound Glenn fits the prototype of a massive and versatile Steelers-style offensive lineman. He played left guard as a junior and left tackle as a senior, so the Steelers could line him up behind Doug Legursky at left guard, and reserve the right to switch him to left tackle should Gilbert fail in his transition, or even right tackle should an injury knock Colon out of the lineup again.

In that regard, Glenn's perfect for the Steelers – except for the fact that he really doesn't play guard all that well. He's a bit rigid and is on the ground too much for a man with his power potential. Besides, his skills as a tackle, and just his sheer size, will probably cause another team to draft him earlier.

Peter Konz (5-1) – This center/guard isn't the position fit for the Steelers that guard/tackle Glenn is, but Konz is the more mobile of the Wisconsin interior linemen, and since he played center we can assume he has more "football smarts" than Zeitler, can't we?

Well, we might be able to assume that since Konz played last season while taking 18 class credits and finished the semester with a 3.4 G.P.A. He has classic Steelers "character" and drafting him would also rob the Baltimore Ravens of their future center.

But, Konz is, after all, a center. Yes, he projects to either guard spot and would be able to replace Maurkice Pouncey if needed, but the Steelers also have that luxury in Legursky. So consider these odds – as always at this time of the year – to be in a state of flux.

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