Steelers Draft 2013: Offensive Line

The Steelers might be tempted by blue-chippers, but their offensive line desperately needs depth. They can find it in this draft.

In three rugged games to end the season – the Iron Bowl, the SEC Championship Game and the National Championship Game – Alabama running back Eddie Lacy gained 452 yards at a clip of 7.8 per carry.

In carrying the Crimson Tide down the stretch, Lacy finished the season with 1,322 yards at 6.5 per carry.

Yet, many draft analysts question whether Lacy will be picked in the first round next week, because those many point to Lacy's cut-ups which show the massive holes through which he ran.

While Lacy may very well turn out to be the best pro runner in Alabama history, he might also have been the by-product of the school's greatest offensive line.

Three of the five Alabama starting linemen could be picked in the first two rounds next week. Lacy was asked at the combine to pick his favorite.

"Chance is my favorite lineman," Lacy said of left guard Chance Warmack. "Off the field, when we're on the side, he's one of the coolest dudes ever. But when it's time to go in and get some reps in the game, he's different. He's just a different person. Whoever gets in his way, they're going to move or get run over, one of the two."

Lacy calls Warmack "a freight train." Others call him the most talented prospect in this year's draft. But a guard hasn't been drafted in single digits since 1986, when the Steelers drafted John Rienstra ninth.

Rienstra, of course, was a bust, but the last five guards who've been chosen among the top 17 pick haven't been. They are: Mike Pouncey (15th 2011), Mike Iupati (17th 2010), Steve Hutchinson (17th 2001), Chris Naeole (10th 1997) and Ruben Brown (14th 1995).

Obviously, guard has become the draft's forgotten position, as the Steelers learned last year when David DeCastro, a player for whom they had plotted to trade up, fell to them at pick 24.

Warmack and this year's other elite guard, Jonathan Cooper, are both expected to break through that positional prejudice this season, but then again both stand a mere 6 feet 2 inches. None of the aforementioned five guards measured below 6-3. In fact, there hasn't been a guard chosen in the top 17 who measured below 6-5 in the last 16 years.

Warmack seemingly laughed in the face of this particular prejudice when he was asked at the combine why so many consider him the best run-blocker in this draft.

"First and foremost," Warmack said, "I want to give it up to God for making me 6-2. I appreciate that because I can get under players very well with not a lot of difficulty."

Warmack measured 6-2, 317 at the combine, while Cooper, the guard often compared to Dermontti Dawson because of his mobility, measured 6-2.1, 311.

Both are blue-chip players at a position of need for the Steelers, who have only one veteran backup behind Ramon Foster and David DeCastro, and that veteran is last year's seventh-round rookie backup tackle, Kelvin Beachum.

Of course, the listing of Beachum at guard means the Steelers don't have a backup tackle with any experience. And the top three tackles in this draft will be long gone by pick 17.

Perhaps the Steelers might be interested in another Alabama lineman in the first round, right tackle D.J. Fluker (6-4.5, 339), a feisty mauler who might also become a physical and aggressive guard in the near future.

"He brings the energy to everybody: defense, offense, special teams," Warmack said of Fluker to the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer.

"If it's a sluggish practice, he's going to be the one yelling and keeping everyone upbeat. He's always focused. He's always looking at motivational movies to get right. He's a true leader."

Of course, the Steelers have spent plenty of draft dollars the last few years on their offensive line. And if they trust Foster to take over for Willie Colon full-time at left guard, there's little reason to draft another first-round lineman.

However, depth remains a serious issue, and that may lead the Steelers to the third Alabama OL draft prospect, Barrett Jones, who was the Tide's full-time right guard (2009), left tackle (2011) and center (2012) on three different national championship teams.

Jones (6-4, 306) isn't as explosive as the other two Tide linemen, but his intelligence and versatility would certainly tempt the Steelers in, say, the third round.

"He has the size and the makeup and the ability to really play any position on the offensive line," Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Jones to The New York Times. "He has the adaptability to do it, too, and he has the psychological disposition that it doesn't bother him."

Considering the Steelers' woeful lack of depth behind their offensive line, drafting for versatility in the later rounds would be the smart approach.

Wexell's Value Board for the Pittsburgh Steelers

First Round – Chance Warmack (G), Alabama; Jonathan Cooper (G/C), North Carolina; D.J. Fluker (G/T), Alabama.

Third Round – Brian Winters (G/T), Kent State; David Bakhtiari (T/G), Colorado; Dallas Thomas (G/T), Tennessee; Barrett Jones (G/C/T), Alabama.

Fourth Round – Jeff Baca (G/T), UCLA; Emmett Cleary (T/G), Boston College; David Quessenberry (G/T), San Jose State.

Fifth Round – Reid Fragel (T), Ohio State.

Sixth Round – Khaled Holmes (G/C), USC; Nik Embernate (G/T), San Diego State.


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