With the 11th pick, the Steelers select...

This may come as a disappointment to those who want to spend the next four weeks figuring out the Steelers' first-round draft pick, but I've got it.<br><br> Not that anyone has sidled up and slipped me a note. Heh, that won't happen until the day before the pick, maybe two if I'm lucky. But I have the pick nonetheless.

It came to me the same way the others did - a hunch supported by hints that've been dropped from within and around the organization. It happens, oh, once every few weeks.

In January, while watching the Senior Bowl, it dawned on me that quarterback Phillip Rivers would be the pick. I usually don't act on a hunch until believing, in all earnestness, the player will "shoot up the boards" and be drafted before the Steelers' pick, which this year is 11th.

That's the way I felt watching Rivers hit everybody on the numbers, short and deep, during the Senior Bowl. He was an immense presence and supported what I'd felt earlier as he shredded Kansas in North Carolina State's bowl romp.

But that was only Kansas, so I still wasn't sure. Even though Rivers had played his best games against superior opponents, such as Florida State and Ohio State, he could've been a product of a system. Yet, while watching him dominate that all-star game it become evident that Rivers is a system unto himself. I also knew that Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert "loves Rivers" and so it led me to only one conclusion: That the Steelers would draft a cornerback.


Well, that's where my thoughts drifted after a few additional weeks of consideration. It's not the Steelers' style to think long term. At least it hasn't been their style since the Cow-bert amalgamation replaced Tom Donahoe in 1999. Since then, the Steelers have dealt with each hole as it opens up. Really, it's how all teams deal with talent procurement in modern free agency. And quarterback isn't a need right now. Cornerback is.

Last year, the Steelers prepped for their draft by selecting cornerback Andre Woolfolk in their own dress rehearsal, or mock. They took him because safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Sammy Davis were off the board. They also liked running back Larry Johnson.

Well, they ended up drafting Polamalu but the need at cornerback only grew with the departure of Dewayne Washington and the further decline of Chad Scott. Sure, Ike Taylor was a fourth-round find, but he's still too raw. So the focus this year had to be on Ohio State cornerback Chris Gamble, right?

Yes, he was the guy the Steelers needed most. That's what former defensive coordinator Tim Lewis told me as he was leaving, that the focus had to be -- for retro hire Dick LeBeau -- on finding the retro star, Rod Woodson. Gamble, more than anyone else, resembled Woodson.

That was the pick -- until the combine. That's where Gamble admitted to reporters he'd taken it easy in the Fiesta Bowl because he didn't want to risk injury and hurt his professional career. For a guy who'd played worse last year than the previous year, it was easy to say sayonara, pal.

It was also reported at the combine that the Steelers had met with Virginia Tech cornerback DeAngelo Hall, he of the 4.37 40. Could he be the guy?

Upon the team's return from the combine, someone who should know was chatting with a couple of us reporters about cornerbacks. He didn't get into any usable specifics, but at one point did look down at an open magazine and tapped on a picture of Dunta Robinson.

"This sucker here," he said with a chuckle, "he's not real big, but boy he'll come up and smack you."

"What about DeAngelo Hall?" I asked eagerly.

"Yeah, he can get you down," was the reply, and I kept it in the back of my mind.

"He can get you down." Wow.

Still, Hall had been ranked near the bottom of the first round by draftniks. Not that they know anything, the draftniks, but couldn't the Steelers trade down and pick from the lot of corners that included Robinson, Hall, the step-slow Derrick Strait and the guy with the questionable character, Will Poole? And wasn't the top of the second round loaded with quality small-school corners?

Sure. A corner could be found later. What this team needed was a running back. That's what Mike Mularkey had told me last year when I asked about his odious and offensive line. Of course, just as the target became Steven Jackson, who fit better than Kevin Jones, the Steelers re-signed Jerome Bettis and then added Duce Staley.

Uh, scratch. That was about as easy as scratching offensive tackle, since the No. 2 guy, Shawn Andrews, is judged by the Steelers to be a late first-rounder.

And then Bill Cowher showed up at the Ohio State pro day.

In the past, this has been a big clue, and there Cowher saw defensive end Will Smith run a 4.58 40, or only .03 slower than Gamble. Smith also vertical-jumped 38.5 inches and benched 225 30 times. He's a captain and had been used to drop at linebacker. The perfect 267-pound beast of a tweener!

Alas, the Steelers did not give young Clark Haggans a $3 million bonus to groom a rookie. Besides, Alonzo Jackson still has a pulse. The Steelers won't completely give up on him until after a second poor season. No, this would not be the targeted position, particularly since the Steelers believe they can find these "tweeners" later in the draft.

It was back to cornerback. After all, Hall can run, make plays and "he can get you down" in run support.

That's when it hit me. The pick that is. All the while I'd been trying to make the data, or quote in this instance, fit my preconceived notion, while all along dismissing the fact that an organizational poo-bah had literally pointed to a player and raved about him.

Yes, Dunta Robinson will be the pick. He actually ran faster than Hall at the combine, is an inch taller and is more physical. After all, Robinson was once a strong safety at South Carolina after being recruited as a running back. Coach Lou Holtz also toyed with using him as a two-way corner/receiver. The guy's an athlete.

Robinson (5-11, 186) has played cornerback for only two years, so he has an upside. He was also a team captain and last year was voted MVP by his teammates. All reports indicate the guy can cover and has the fluid hips scouts love so much.

What's not to like about this guy? Where the draftniks have him? Please.

The clincher, though, is my journalist's instinct. After covering these drafts for so long, you can predict how the press conferences will unfold, and I can see it now. One of the intrepid reporters will engage Robinson in this exchange:

How do you pronounce your first name?




Again, please, I'm an idiot.


Yep. He's the guy. And I can't see that changing. At least for a couple of weeks anyway.

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