Time for Steelers to Draft Future Captains

The Steelers watched a lot of leadership walk out the door the last month or two, and Jim Wexell says it's time to get some of it back. Here are his unshackled draft predictions.

I did my due diligence last week when Pro Football Weekly asked if I could pick for the Steelers in their mock draft.

Having little confidence in any particular player – except a supposed second-round right guard who doesn't have much, if any, position flexibility – I was staring at pick 24 with a choice between two players who seemed to be Steelers prototypes:

Dont'a Hightower and Cordy Glenn.

Even as a pretend GM, I refuse to use a first-round pick on a slow-talking, overweight waistbender, so I chose Hightower.

And then Kevin Colbert spoke a couple of days later and sounded as confused as I had been.

"There are just not that many sure-fire guys. It's just an unusual year," said the general manager who almost never says there are fewer "sure-fire guys" than the number at which he's drafting.

"Once you get beyond the first seven to 10 guys," Colbert said, "everybody is going to be picking and hoping."

Everybody? It's not just me?

The beauty of Colbert's honesty, his truth, is that it set me free. I no longer feel obligated to look for the prototype, because, well, maybe there isn't one this year.

So I'm going with Kevin Zeitler, the right guard from Wisconsin.

Colbert did say his team has no needs, and he's telling the truth from the perspective of returning starters. But the Steelers do have one glaring need as I see it: Without Chris Kemoeatu, they lack anything close to resembling a pulling guard.

That's all Kemoeatu did well. He was the offense's rolling badass, and they used one play, that counter power play, and variations off of it, repeatedly.

Doug Legursky pulled a few times out of duty. So did Trai Essex. Neither of them conjured up visions of Bruce Van Dyke leading Franco.

Yes, the Steelers would like to add an offensive tackle, but Mike Adams wasn't smart enough to stop smoking pot at combine time and Jonathan Martin is the reverse of the cliché: "if he gets ahold of someone, they're finished."

No, the longer Martin locks up, the closer to a sack he gives up.

OK, what about Hightower?

Well, I was nudged to watch one of his tapes and then to watch tape of Nebraska captain Lavonte David. And, yes, the difference is clear: David, a 230-pounder, made several tackles that Hightower did not have the dexterity to make.

David is clearly a tackling machine with tremendous football acumen and the quick-twitch muscle fiber that Mike Tomlin appreciates. And if James Farrior can play the buck position at 212 pounds, why can't David?

David is said to be a "film junkie," and it shows. He made 287 tackles in the last two years, was the Nebraska captain, and looks for all the world as if he could replace Farrior as the next true defensive captain from the buck ILB spot.

Hightower would make a great story lined up next to his cousin LaMarr Woodley, but those two would have trouble against quickness. Not everything rolls downhill in the NFL and my worry is these two together would become a liability in the passing game.

Hightower might fit the Steelers better as James Harrison's eventual replacement, but is that really what the Steelers want to draft in the first round?

Along the defensive line, Michael Brockers could fall, but the Steelers won't draft a third defensive end in four years. So that pretty much leaves defensive tackle Dontari Poe.

The Steelers need to groom a nose tackle, and the 346-pounder is strong, mobile, has a great work ethic, fine character, and he won't turn 22 until August.

Since Tomlin arrived in Pittsburgh, the Steelers' first-rounders have been, on average, 21 years and 8 months for the opening kickoff. Poe will turn 22 in August (Zeitler is only five months older; David seven months older).

Poe's main drawback is a lack of production, which the Steelers believe will improve with proper coaching.

But isn't the tape – the almighty tape – the most important part of the Steelers' draft process?

You know the answer to that.

There's also this most important question:

With whom do you feel most comfortable on your team in Baltimore?

With the choices narrowed to Poe and Zeitler, I'm more comfortable with Zeitler. He's been in the big games and performed well. He's a film junkie, a scholar athlete, a weightroom freak, a man strong enough to turn Haloti Ngata and mobile enough to get out in front of a screen and knock Ed Reed into retirement.

In a perfect world, I would trade down a few spots to take Zeitler. And with my extra picks I would trade back up in the second round to take David.

But really, in this column, particularly since Colbert has set me free, I'm already in heaven. And in heaven you don't have to trade down or up.

Wexell's Draft Board

First Round – OG Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin.

Second Round – ILB Lavonte David, Nebraska.

Third Round – OT Tom Compton, South Dakota.

Fourth Round – OG Lucas Nix, Pitt.

Fifth Round – CB/S Keith Tandy, WVU.

Sixth Round – WR DeVier Posey, Ohio State.

Seventh Round – FB Rhett Ellison, USC.

Seventh Round – FS J.J. Jones, Wayne State.

Seventh Round – DE Ryan Van Bergen, Michigan.

Seventh Round – NT John Hughes, Cincinnati.

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