Revisiting the 2007 draft

What would happen if the Steelers could have a 2007 draft-day do-over? Specifically, with the 2007 season in the books, which players would make Pittsburgh better? Ryan Wilson takes a look.

People like to say they don't take up certain hobbies because they don't have the time. I'm not one of those people. That's not to say that I have a lot of hobbies, but to suggest that time isn't the reason. Instead, it usually has more to do with acute laziness and my commitment issues. This is why I've never gotten into fantasy sports. Well, that and I don't want to be in a position where I have to actively hope somebody on the Baltimore Ravens succeeds. I did it during the Baltimore-New England game and I felt less dirty after attending my bachelor party in Atlantic City, and that included a trip to Bare Elegance.

No fantasy sports also means no keeper leagues, which seems like it has the potential a great deal less fun than it sounds. I mention the keeper league because this column builds off a column I wrote last year, and in a way, requires some hindsight before making future decisions.

My 2006 Draft Do-Over piece might've been the most fun to write, although I suspect others might disagree on its readability. That's fine. So fine, in fact, that I'm bringing it back, baby! First, the small print, and then we'll get to the business of making the Pittsburgh Steelers better than they were before; better, stronger, faster. Or something.

Instead talking about the NFL Combine, free agency and the 2008 draft (they're will be plenty of time for that), I'd thought I'd take a look back to the 2007 draft. By now, many of us can recite Pittsburgh's recent draft-related issues: poor Day-2 selections, no depth on the defensive line, gaping holes on the offensive line, and so on and so forth.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, crystal balls and time machines, I decided to revisit the last weekend in April 2007 and hold a Steelers' re-draft. That's right, knowing what I know now about every rookie in the league, which selections would've best helped Pittsburgh last season?

And to make things slightly more difficult than saying, "Okay, Rog, gimme the eight best rookies you got", I've come up with a few rules:

* You can't draft any player eventually taken by the Steelers (how much fun would that be?);

* You have to make your selections based on who was available after Pittsburgh made their pick. So, for example, you can't take Adrian Peterson -- even though I know some of you would love to have him -- because he was drafted before the Steelers' 15th overall pick, Juan Timmons;

* For the round in question, you have to select players taken between Steelers' draft picks. Case in point: Pittsburgh has to make their first-round selection based on the players available from pick No. 16 to No. 45 (the Steelers took LaMarr Woodley, their second pick, 46th overall);

* Finally, if the Steelers have two selections within 20 picks of each other (like the supplemental and end-of-round second-day picks), you can draft two players up to the Steelers' third selection. For instance, Pittsburgh selected Daniel Sepulveda with the 112th pick and Ryan McBean with the 132nd pick. Instead of being forced to take someone drafted between these two, you can cycle through all the players until you get to the next Steelers draft choice, Cameron Stephenson, taken 156th overall.

Obviously, these rules aren't set in stone -- I mean, I made them up -- but if nothing else, it'll serve as a distraction to any concerns you may have about the current state of the Steelers' offensive line.

For this little exercise, I'll list the actual 2007 Steelers' draft pick, then the players still available I thought were worth consideration (within the rules cited above), and finally, who, in retrospect, I would draft.

Pick No. 1
Steelers pick: Lawrence Timmons

Available players worth consideration (picks 16-45):
Aaron Ross, CB
Dwayne Bowe, WR
Anthony Spencer, LB
Joe Staley, OT
Ben Grubbs, OG
Arron Sears, OG
Justin Blalock, OG
Tony Ugoh, OT
Dwayne Jarrett, WR

Since it became clear about four weeks into the season that the offensive line was a tad porous, I think addressing that need might be prudent here. The question is who to take. Joe Staley was a dark-horse candidate in the weeks leading up to the draft, and he was pretty good with the 49ers. Tony Ugoh, even though he was a second-round pick, did a swell job of replacing Tarik Glenn in Indianapolis. Guards Ben Grubbs, Arron Sears and Justin Blalock were less successful, but if nothing else, they got a season's worth of experience. Aaron Ross would've added depth, but in retrospect, it would've been a luxury pick. Anthony Spencer got plenty of virtual ink around these parts last spring, and most of us preferred him to Timmons. Dwaynes Bowe and Jarrett serve no purpose other than to fuel those "Hey, these guys woulda given Big Ben that big target he's been looking for" arguments. I take either of them, I'm growing a 'stache, changing my name to Millen and moving to Motown.

My pick:
Joe Staley. Ugoh works here too, but -- and maybe this is from watching four days of combine coverage -- Staley has more upside. There, I said it.

But here are where things get interesting. And when I say "interesting", I mean "headache-inducing." If we're doing keeper league for draft-day do-overs, then taking Staley probably wouldn't be necessary here … because the Steelers drafted Marcus McNeill in 2006. So my keeper league pick? I'll go with Grubbs. Of course, the team doesn't have Santonio Holmes … but not to worry, I grabbed Marques Colston, which kills two birds: the Steelers have their future No. 1 receiver and a tall toy for Roethlisberger; everybody wins.

Pick No. 2
Steelers pick: LaMarr Woodley

Available players worth consideration (picks 47-76):
David Harris, LB
Kenny Irons, RB
Brian Leonard, RB
Ryan Kalil, C
Jacoby Jones, WR

David Harris jumps off the page and punches me in the face here, but then I scroll down three names and see Ryan Kalil. Last year, I took Greg Eslinger with the team's seventh pick, but given that he's with his second team and hasn't played a down, I think it's okay to think about solidifying the position. Either that or sign this Buccaneers free agent I've heard good things about, some dude named Sean Mahan.

My pick:
God, I can't believe I'm doing this, but thanks to Mahan's legendary ineptitude, I'm passing on Harris for Kalil. It kills me to do it, but Larry Foote and James Farrior are still getting the job done, even though it could be a potentially bone-headed decision down the road. On the upside, the Steelers get the draft's best center. One, presumably, who doesn't spend 40 snaps a game in the backfield getting bull-rushed into the running back. And while it hurts to pass on Harris, consider this 2008 starting offensive line:

LT: McNeill
LG: Ben Grubbs
C: Kalil
RG: Kendall Simmons
RT: Max Starks.

(Note: no Willie Colon because I didn't draft him last year, but even if we include him, he's battling either Simmons or Starks for playing time. It also means that Staley might've been a better selection than Grubbs; McNeill, Simmons, Kalil, Colon and Staley is even dreamier than the five guys I've listed above, but again, it'll give you a migraine trying to keep everything straight.)

I suppose I should've mentioned something about Kenny Irons, Brian Leonard and Jacoby Jones here. Last year, I drafted Michael Robinson, and he's a decent third-down back who can also return kicks. Irons never did much for me, but I was a big Brian Leonard fan. He's worth a second-round pick, I think, but not given Pittsburgh's many other needs.

Pick No. 3
Steelers pick: Matt Spaeth

Available players worth consideration (picks 48-111):
Jay Alford, NT
Marshall Yanda, G
Stewart Bradley, LB
Adam Podlesh, P
Tanard Jackson, CB

With Grubbs already selected, the Steelers don't need Marshall Yanda here. Jay Alford makes sense, although he plays in a 4-3 scheme with the Giants. (The fact that he absolutely obliterated Tom Brady during that last fateful Super Bowl series elevates him to cult-hero status and worth a third-rounder as far as I'm concerned.) Stewart Bradley was also someone I liked last spring and with no Timmons, Woodley or Harris, there's a definite need at linebacker. Same with Adam Podlesh, although I know some folks don't like the idea of using draft picks on punters. Tanard Jackson had a solid rookie season with the Bucs, starting all 16 games. He had "off-field concerns" heading into the draft, but he made it through his first NFL season without having to pay a visit to Roger Goodell's office.

My pick:
Again, this is killing me. Pittsburgh needs warm bodies along the defensive line and at linebacker, but I drafted Gerris Wilkinson and Mark Anderson last year so that mitigates some of the immediate worries. Which means that I'm taking Jackson here. He'll be just like William Gay but better.

Picks No. 4, 5
Steelers pick: Daniel Sepulveda, Ryan McBean

Available players worth consideration (picks 113-155):
Marcus Thomas, DT
Antwan Barnes, LB
Le'Ron McClain, FB
Steve Breaston, WR/R
Kevin Boss, TE

We get two picks here which allow us to address two ginormous needs: defensive line and linebacker. The thing is, there's a good argument that all of these guys could immediately help Pittsburgh. Le'Ron McClain is a beast, but with Bruce Arians doing away with the fullback position, he becomes less important. Steve Breaston proved against the Steelers that having a competent returner is kind of important. And Kevin Boss would make up for passing on Spaeth.

My picks:
Marcus Thomas, a first-round talent with enough character issues to drop three rounds, is worth the risk. And Antwan Barnes is one of those guys who can go bonkers on special teams while he learns how to be an NFL linebacker. Plus, since I'm omniscient, I know these guys will be available here and it allows me to draft Grubbs, Kalil and Jackson before them. Pretty sweet how that works.

Picks No. 6, 7
Steelers pick: Cameron Stephenson, William Gay

Available players worth consideration (picks 157-227):
Tim Shaw, LB
Derek Landri, NT
Troy Smith, QB
Prescott Burgess, LB
Ben Patrick, TE

Tim Shaw was an interesting prospect last spring because of his athleticism and versatility. Derek Landri is the fat dude who picked off Roethlisberger during his three-interception first-half performance in the AFC wild-card game. That play alone earns him a mention here. Troy Smith is the guy who takes over for Brian St. Pierre, and maybe eventually Charlie Batch, and Prescott Burgess adds depth at linebacker. Ben Patrick can't block a lick, but some draftniks thought he'd be a second-round pick for his pass-catching ability.

My picks:
I'm going with Shaw and Smith. Landri might've been the more sensible pick with Chris Hoke now in his 30s, but Shaw is fast and can play special teams. Right now, that's more important than a career backup nose tackle. Plus, I drafted Ethan Kilmer last year, the most recent "next Chidi Iwuoma." Bob Ligashesky shouldn't have any excuses.

Smith provides good value and has shown he can play in the NFL, something St. Pierre has yet to do. (Granted, he hasn't been given the opportunity, but still.)

Pick No. 8

Steelers pick: Dallas Baker

Available players worth consideration (picks 228-255):
DeShawn Wynn, RB
John Broussard, WR

Slim pickins' at this point in the proceedings, but DeShawn Wynn actually got some playing time with the Packers and John Broussard was something of an early-season phenom with the Jags.

My pick:
I'm going with Broussard here. The Steelers drafted Dallas Baker but he was stuck on the practice squad, plus Broussard fills a need. If nothing else, he can push Nate Washington and Cedrick Wilson for the No. 4 job.

*******
To recap:

1 - Ben Grubbs, G
2 - Ryan Kalil, C
3 - Tanard Jackson, CB
4 - Marcus Thomas, DT
5 - Antwan Barnes, LB
6 - Tim Shaw, LB/ST
7 - Troy Smith, QB
8 - Josh Broussard, WR

And let's include the 2006 Draft-Day Do-Over Class:

1 - Marcus McNeill, LT
2 - Gerris Wilkinson, LB
3 - Michael Robinson, RB/KR
4 - Dawan Landry, S
5 - Mark Anderson, DE
6 - Bruce Gradkowski, QB
7 - Greg Eslinger, C
8 - Ethan Kilmer, ST
9 - Marques Colston, WR

A couple of thoughts:

First, I'll repeat what I said last year: There's still the little issue of how all these players make the 53-man roster, but I'm just going to do a lot of hand-waving and let the Turk resolve those problems.

Second, I'd like to think these selections make the Steelers a better team, but good Lord, I hope they would. You know, with hindsight being what it is. That said, there were still misses: Eslinger and Gradkowski are likely cuts, but if it makes the team better, these are mistakes you can live with.

Now if I could just get my hands on a time machine.

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