The Pick is In

The Pittsburgh Steelers still have three months to mull over the options for their first-round pick, but publisher Jim Wexell has work to do. So he's making his choice, and his bed, and he hopes he doesn't wake up all wet.

Really, who can claim ownership of a thought? Not Pro Football Weekly. No sir. That's where I read a mock draft that had the Steelers picking guard Branden Albert in the first round.

I was going to think the same thing. So I stole it. Now, it's my thought.

Oh, yeah, baby.

But, yes, I am looking hard at Albert, the 6-foot-7, 315-pound junior captain of the Virginia Cavaliers. In fact, I may as well bury myself completely and make it my prediction some 90 days before the draft.

I'm making the call before the combine and the pro days because I know scouts right now who are poring over tape of the juniors that were considered surprises when they announced they were coming out for the draft. And when those scouts are done looking over the tape, I believe Albert's stock will rise.


Well, for one, the guy has left tackle potential. He played two games at the position this past season, including the game against Pitt.

"Tackle might be my natural position," he told The Virginian-Pilot in December.

That's exactly what the Steelers need in their next first-round pick – someone to replace Alan Faneca now with the potential to replace Marvel Smith in the future. That's the ideal anyhow.

The alternative would be to draft one of the left tackles, move him to right tackle for now, and move Willie Colon to guard. But that's a lot of shuffling, particularly for a team that wouldn't move Colon to insert Max Starks last season.

The Steelers won't shuffle for the sake of a rookie anyhow, unless that rookie was a surprise who fell from the top of the draft board, someone like Chris Williams. But Williams isn't expected to be available, even if the stubborn Steelers would go to such great lengths and shuffle it up in an attempt to solve their line problems.

Is Albert talented enough to step right into the middle of the Steelers' line?

Well, I only saw him once, but these are the notes I jotted down as I watched Virginia's left guard play against Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl (chronological order, first quarter to last):

· "Long arms."

· "Not real quick, but mobile."

· "Very strong."

· "Gets in front of screens."

· "Blowing open holes."

· "*Very interesting."

· "Killing people!"

· "Second round."

The last note was more cautionary than anything: I was cautious of the competition and cautious of going overboard on a player I'd really never heard much about before the game.

Also, understand that I fancy myself more of a writer than a scout, so the exclamation point after Note 7 is rather embarrassing. I looked through my 68-game notepad for any similar embarrassments and couldn't find one. Branden Albert is the only player to garner such punctuation.

And note the asterisk next to Note 6. I use those to remind myself that, regardless of the round in which I predict any player will be drafted, this is a guy, a football player, the Steelers should examine closely.

Again, I looked back over the notes I so crudely put together and these are the players, aside from Albert, who drew asterisks:

* Quentin Groves, Auburn OLB vs. Kansas State, second round (for taking over the last series of the game like he was Joey Porter or something).

* Wesley Woodyard, Kentucky ILB vs. Florida State, third round.

* Jeremy Thompson, Wake Forest DE vs. UConn, fourth round.

* Rafael Little, Kentucky RB vs. Florida State, fifth round.

* Derrick Doggett, Oregon St. LB/S vs. Oregon, fifth round.

* Kyle DeVan, Oregon St. center vs. Oregon, sixth round.

That's it. I saw Chris Johnson put together a 400-yard game against Boise State and Donald Avery put together a 300-yard receiving game against Rice and wasn't moved to use an asterisk or exclamation point next to either name. I saw the Texas Ballman Incident in the Holiday Bowl and I saw TE Brandon Pettigrew dominate the Insight Bowl. Still, nothing.

I did use an asterisk next to Appalachian State punter Neil Young, just in case the Steelers want to trade up again, or in case I needed to make a joke somewhere, and I feel it's already paid off for me, but that's beside the point. Branden Albert fills a need, as well as a projected need, and he's a sensational player.

Of course, with the Steelers there are always the intangibles. But as mentioned, Albert was a team captain – as a junior – and he does come from the University of Virginia. The Steelers have two players from that school, and I'd be willing to bet they feel pretty good about going back for more after working with Heath Miller and James Farrior the last few years. They are classy guys all the way around, and I'd be willing to bet the same is true about Albert.

In a way, I have made that bet. Making a prediction with 90 days left in the process, when there are other such noble arguments (Tall Receivers?) to be made, is certainly a risky proposition. But it's one I'm willing to sleep on. Or even take with me into hibernation if need be.

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