Steelers Draft 2012: Quarterbacks

The Steelers are in the market once again for a backup quarterback, but SCI publisher Jim Wexell says this time they need to change their approach.

There's been only one question that Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has answered truthfully about the draft over the years.

It's the one dealing with the positions he won't be drafting in the first round.

His answer, since 2005, has always begun with one word: quarterback.

So out of habit, three local reporters asked Colbert the question once again at this year's combine. His answer this time was different.

"Punter," said Colbert.

You're not going to rule out quarterback?

"OK," Colbert said slowly and thoughtfully. "Quarterback. Quarterback and punter. There you go."

Even if it won't happen in the first round, the Steelers appear to be contemplating the drafting of a backup for Ben Roethlisberger.

Not only was Colbert's contemplation a sign, but the Steelers' three backup quarterbacks from last season are all free agents: Byron Leftwich is being wooed by former coordinator Bruce Arians in Indianapolis; Charlie Batch will turn 38 during the season; and Dennis Dixon wants a fresh start with another team.

The Steelers did sign Troy Smith and Jerrod Johnson, but both are longshot reclamation projects who were signed off the street – or more precisely the benches of minor-league teams.

Maybe that's why coach Mike Tomlin had dinner with quarterback Kirk Cousins the night before Michigan State's pro day last month.

But realistically, the Steelers have too many needs to spend a second-round pick on a backup to a 30-year-old.

The problem with filling this need with a late-round project is that Colbert hasn't done a very good job of it in the past.

Yes, he drafted Roethlisberger in the first round in 2004, but in the fifth rounds since being hired in 2000 Colbert has drafted Tee Martin, Brian St. Pierre, Omar Jacobs and Dixon.

The three before Dixon combined to throw one pass (incomplete) and rush 5 times for 5 yards.

Dixon started three games in four years, went 2-1, and posted a respectable 71.4 passer rating, but he obviously hasn't become the young-and-trusted starter-in-waiting the Steelers want behind Roethlisberger.

Not that Colbert has given up on Dixon, but at the combine Colbert said Dixon probably needs a new start somewhere else.

So it's back to the fifth or sixth round, where perhaps Colbert should stop looking for the big, mobile, athletic project and begin looking for a smart, savvy leader.

Of course, in the fifth round that type is usually a physical reject. But someone from this group of quarterbacks just might be worth the minimal investment:

1. Russell Wilson (5-10.5, 204, 4.54), Wisconsin.

2. Case Keenum (6-0.5, 208, 4.81), Houston.

3. Kellen Moore (6-0, 197, 4.92), Boise State.

In order, they've drawn comparisons to Drew Brees, Joe Montana and Doug Flutie.

Not that they'll become those players, of course, but the comparisons paint a portrait of their potential that can't be drawn by their mountains of statistics.

The three players do have some pretty important numbers associated with their names:

* Wilson, who captained two different Division One teams, led Wisconsin to an 11-2 record last season before losing a shootout to Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

* Keenum had a 37-14 career record at Houston, and his 13-1 senior season was capped by a 532-yard passing day in a 30-14 thrashing of Penn State in the Ticket City Bowl.

* Moore was 49-3 at Boise State. Yes, that's 49 wins and 3 losses.

They are winners, and that's the most important characteristic at the most important position in all of sports.

Colbert is more likely to look at another big, mobile athlete from a big school, such as Jacory Harris, so he'll probably have to try again in three years. It's just thatd Roethlisberger isn't going to be a kid forever.

Wexell's Value Board for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Fifth Round – Russell Wilson, Wisconsin; Case Keenum, Houston.

Sixth Round – Kellen Moore, Boise State.

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