Sifting through the draft wreckage

As we inch closer to the NFL draft, the mocks continue to pile up as everybody with a computer seemingly has their thoughts about who each team will take.

Of course for most, it's not really who they feel each team will take, but who somebody that did a mock before them – and they copy, making a few changes for their favorite team – feel will be taken.

There, I said it.

Most mocks you see now from the so-called experts aren't actually based on anything other than speculation with much of that speculation growing legs of its own as people copy previous mocks.

That's why mock after mock this offseason had the Pittsburgh Steelers taking the University of Pittsburgh's Jeff Otah in the first round.

Somebody who did an early mock reasoned that the Steelers needed help on their offensive line, which is reasonable. They then saw that Otah's name was shooting up draft lists – something that was the case.

They then reasoned that since the Steelers needed a lot of help on the offensive line and Otah practices daily right next door, it would make sense for the Steelers to take Otah.

In this case, however, two and two have added up to five.

While Otah has some talent, as somebody who hasn't played the game very long, he's a project. And he's a project at offensive tackle, at that.

The Steelers' offensive line problems last season weren't so much at tackle - though Marvel Smith's eventual season-ending injury was troublesome – but at center. And with Alan Faneca's departure, guard is also a major need.

There's little doubt that the top three tackles in this draft, Jake Long, Ryan Clady and Chris Williams, could likely come in and start at guard or push right tackle Willie Colon to that spot.

But it's doubtful Otah could.

Hence we've seen a shift as people come to that realization, sliding Virginia's Branden Albert into the Steelers' spot at No. 23.

And, in fact, our Jim Wexell has placed his draft odds for the Steelers as follows:

3-1 Branden Albert

7-1 Kentwan Balmer

10-1 Gosder Cherilus , Jeff Otah, Chris Williams

15-1 Jonathan Stewart

20-1 Mike Pollak

Now that makes a lot more sense.

Albert is the top-rated guard in this draft by far and has also shown to be athletic enough to slide outside and play left tackle.

Unless Albert murders somebody between now and the draft, the chances that he will be the Steelers' pick are very good – if he's available.

And that's the problem. Now that everybody is catching on to just how good Albert is, there is some question about whether he will last until the 23rd pick.

If he doesn't, where do the Steelers go from there?

Head coach Mike Tomlin has stated that one of the team's goals this offseason was to get better on both front lines. And to date, the Steelers have not only accomplished neither of those things, they've actually gotten weaker on the offensive line with the loss of Faneca.

Certainly the Steelers won't panic and reach to fill those needs if Albert or one of the top three offensive tackles are gone.

Why take Gosder Cherlius or Otah in the first round when you can select somebody of similar talent in the second round?

So if Long, Clady, Williams and Albert aren't there, who do the Steelers look to?

I don't pretend to be the draft expert that Wexell is. Jim breaks down as much tape as an NFL scout and watches as many games as possible.

But I do keep an eye on things and use the power of deduction.

In my opinion, you can cross running back Jonathan Stewart – who would have been a great complimentary back to Willie Parker – off the list of possibilities. He had surgery to repair a foot problem this week, something you don't like to see from a running back if you're going to spend first-round money on him.

One of my personal favorites, Clemson defensive end Philip Merling has now pretty much risen out of the Steelers' reach as well. And I'm not a big fan of Kentwan Balmer, though he would fill a need.

Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Antoine Cason have been linked to the Steelers and there could be some legs to that, especially given Cleveland's addition of wide receiver Donte Stallworth, and Cincinnati's already potent passing game. When you've got to play two explosive offenses a combined four times each year, you'd better be solid in the secondary.

But because the Steelers have spent so many premium picks on their secondary in recent years, I don't think they'll do so again.

Besides, fixing the pass rush is more of a priority.

And that's why Auburn's Quentin Groves has drawn some interest from the team as well.

Groves is a disruptive pass rusher and though he would be a linebacker with the Steelers and they took linebackers with their first two picks last year, Lawrence Timmons is now an inside backer and the Steelers have no depth behind LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. And given Harrison's recent run-in with the law, the Steelers have to be at least a little concerned.

Where else might the Steelers look?

Center Mike Pollack would certainly fill a need, but 23 would be too high to take him.

How about wide receiver?

Hines Ward is getting near the end of his career and the depth behind Ward and Santonio Holmes isn't exactly great.

Michigan State's Devin Thomas would make sense, as might California's DeSean Jackson or Oklahoma's Malcom Kelly.

The bottom line is, as we draw closer to the big day, the picture will continue to become clearer, especially if you look at things analytically.

But all things being equal, Albert is the best bet.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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