And the envelope please ...

The Steelers go into the draft picking last in a weak first round, but the stars are aligned for them to select another fan favorite.

Doing it my way, the Pittsburgh Steelers would trade out of a thin first round to add picks and then trade back up into the fertile second and third rounds and come away with about eight good ballplayers.

Great theory, if I do say so myself, but what if I couldn't trade back up? I'd be sitting there with 13 players and four openings. It stands for Not For Long with calls like that.

The Steelers, of course, will be smart. They'll try to make something out of that first round by trading up for a player who's falling because of an injury.

LenDale White (6-0 3/8, 238) has a hamstring tear and is out of shape. But the Steelers have the time to let him heal, the lack of immediate needs to allow themselves the luxury, and the arsenal to get it done.

The Steelers believe his injury will heal, and perhaps quickly. White could ease into a crowded backfield and one day emerge as the new Jerome Bettis for Coach Bill Cowher. White may not be as wide as Bettis, or as low to the ground, but he's strong and has the ability to break long runs, just as the young Bettis did.

The No. 2 back at USC, White could've been the No. 2 back in the draft if not for the injury and subsequent weight gain. His work ethic has been questioned, but the Steelers like his quirky personality and are impressed with his football acumen. He also pass-blocks well enough to get on the field. White would eventually become the bell cow for an offense that must regain a running game if it wants to keep Ben Roethlisberger healthy.

Remember, the Steelers blew through the playoffs with a pass-first attack.

White is a rare big back in a draft of runts, so the Steelers will move on White if he falls into the 20s. A third and fourth – the Steelers would probably throw in a sixth – round draft picks would be enough to move up to, say, No. 25 and the New York Giants. The key will be to jump ahead of a pack of RB-hungry teams starting with Carolina at pick No. 27. Even the Chicago Bears would make a good trading partner at pick No. 26.

The Steelers, with their 10 picks, would also trade up for wide receiver Santonio Holmes, a 5-foot-10 deep threat from Ohio State. He can block for a little guy and can return kicks. He doesn't have A-plus explosiveness, and in another year might be a natural match for pick No. 32, so the bargain isn't the bargain they'd get with White.

The Steelers are also in the market for a safety. If they don't trade up for White or Holmes, they would sit still at No. 32 and probably miss out on Donte Whitner, Jason Allen and possibly Darnell Bing.

A solid prediction for pick No. 32 is safety Daniel Bullocks of Nebraska, but the trade for White makes too much sense and can get done. The Steelers have the will and the picks with which to deal. They won't be denied.

In the second round, Western Michigan wide receiver Greg Jennings could last until pick No. 64, but they still need a return man so the prediction is Abilene Christian FS Danieal Manning. He's the same size as Whitner and just as quick.

The third-round pick is gone, so on Sunday the Steelers will need a wide receiver, tight end, quarterback, linebacker and offensive lineman.

The focus in the fourth round is on wide receivers and linebackers. In hoping to buck their fourth-round receiver jinx of Danny Farmer and Fred Gibson, the Steelers take Ben's boy, 6-4 Martin Nance of Miami (Ohio). Roethlisberger has been in the front office's ear about his college go-to man, a 6-4 deep threat who came back from a 2004 ACL injury.

With the second compensatory pick, the Steelers take outside linebacker Brent Hawkins of Northern Illinois. He was second to Chris Gocong in the voting for D1-AA Defensive Player of the Year. Both are "tweeners" at linebacker. Hawkins (6-2, 241, 4.8) was the Defensive MVP of the Hula Bowl and the Purdue-transfer had 17 sacks as a defensive end last season. He and Eric Henderson of Georgia Tech were the "tweeners" to visit the Steelers.

The fifth-round spot is reserved for quarterback Bruce Gradkowski of Toledo and Seton-La Salle High. Gradkowski has adequate mobility and arm strength to go along with the savvy and leadership of a winning quarterback. He'll be the perfect pro back-up. The Steelers shouldn't count on Gradkowski being available in the sixth round.

In the sixth, a big right tackle will do. Let's go with Joe Toledo of Washington. The 6-5 ½, 337-pounder is a converted tight end, so we're killing two stones with one bird. Or something. Call Rasby later if you need a tight end.

In the seventh round, I'll wrap it up with Penn State special-teams ace Ethan Kilmer.

THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS' CLASS OF 2006

1. LenDale White, RB, USC.

2. Danieal Manning, FS, Abilene Christian

4A.Martin Nance, WR, Miami (Ohio)

4B.Brent Hawkins, OLB, Northern Illinois

5. Bruce Gradkowski, QB, Toledo

6. Joe Toledo, OT, Washington

7. Ethan Kilmer, athlete, Penn State


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