Steelers Draft Series: Prediction

Jim Wexell's draft series on the Pittsburgh Steelers' options this weekend comes to a conclusion today with his long-awaited prediction. Who'll be the newest Steelers? Read on, my friend:

I get sucked in all the time by those guys who say the Pittsburgh Steelers should draft the best available talent no matter the round or position.

In theory, I adore that thinking. In fact, I did a mock draft the other day. I took bell-cow running back Jonathan Stewart in the first round and was looking at my very favorite thumping inside linebacker Curtis Lofton in the second round.

Stewart can return kicks, block, catch, run inside and outside. Lofton can thump, run sideline to sideline, and he loves contact. Both players are 21 years old with a future that would likely include the letter "C" on each jersey.

But then I realized I hadn't addressed the line. Which line? Either line.

While drafting the best available athlete is one of my favorite theories, a better one is this: Don't let your foundations crumble.

That's what's happening. The Steelers' defensive line is old and another Aaron Smith injury away from an ugly 4.8 yield per rush attempt. We've taken run defense for granted around here because it's always been a priority. The Steelers are dangerously close to mediocrity should they allow their defensive foundation to crumble.

Run offense is the other building block in Pittsburgh and, yes, Stewart could make that line look a lot better. He and Willie Parker would form a dynamite one-two power-speed punch that would make a lot of people up front look like they know what they're doing. But there are so many running backs that I wonder if drafting a tackle is not the smarter move. Kevin Colbert tells me it's a deep crop of tackles, but I get a little jittery when Duane Brown and John Greco are my options because that guy plays next year.

The Steelers have three tackles in the last years of contracts and the fourth, Willie Colon, might be a better guard. A future tackle is a must. A defensive lineman is a must. The luxury of a running back can be absolved by Gary Russell and, say, Tim Hightower in the fourth round. The inside linebacker to groom behind James Farrior could instead be Lawrence Timmons, even interesting free-agent pickup Keyaron Fox.

So it's all about the big men for me in the first two rounds.

The defensive line crop is thin. The Steelers attended Philip Merling's workout Thursday and he weighed in at 290 pounds. He's 14 pounds up, and his lack of bulk had been a Steelers concern. But that extra 14 pounds might also be flab accrued since Merling's sports-hernia surgery two months ago. There are also questions about his character.

The Steelers would be better off to trade down and draft Maryland defensive tackle/end Dre Moore if they can't get the offensive tackle of their choice.

That offensive tackle would be Boston College's Gosder Cherilus, a 6-6+, 314-pounder with the frame to add 30 more pounds. He's a right tackle with left tackle possibilities. Problem is, he's probably shot up in the first round past Pitt's Jeff Otah.

Otah or even Chris Williams, a medical risk because one leg's longer than the other, might also tempt the Steelers in the first round. Williams is a polished left-tackle prospect while Otah is a mauling right-tackle type with left-tackle possibilities.

So, the prediction:

1. Gosder Cherilus, OT; 2. Red Bryant, DE.

And if Cherilus is gone, look for the Steelers to trade down for extra picks and draft:

1. Dre Moore, DE; 2. Duane Brown, OT.

Here's my Value Board of the players who interest and/or fit the Steelers:

FIRST ROUND

Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College

Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt

Jeff Otah, OT, Pitt

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon

Dre Moore, DE, Maryland

Quentin Groves, OLB, Auburn

SECOND ROUND

Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona

Brandon Flowers, CB, Virginia Tech

Limas Sweed, WR, Texas

Red Bryant, DE, Texas A&M

Duane Brown, OT, Virginia Tech

Tyvon Branch CB-S UConn

Oniel Cousins, OT, UTEP

Cliff Avril, OLB, Purdue

Eddie Royal, WR, Virginia Tech

THIRD ROUND

Kendall Langford, DE, Hampton

Jason Jones, DE, E. Michigan

Shawn Crable, OLB, Michigan

Jerome Simpson, WR, Coastal Carolina

Chris Ellis, OLB, Virginia Tech

Antwaun Molden, CB, E. Kentucky

Orlando Scandrick, CB, Boise State

Marcus Howard, OLB, Georgia

FOURTH ROUND

Bruce Davis, OLB, UCLA

Jacob Hester, RB-FB, LSU

Thomas DeCoud, FS, Cal

Darrell Robertson, OLB, Georgia Tech

Charles Godfrey, CB-FS, Iowa

Bryn Smith, OLB, McNeese State

Tim Hightower, RB, Richmond

Breno Giacomini, OT, Louisville

FIFTH ROUND

Eric Foster, DE, Rutgers

Ryan Torain, RB, Arizona State

Jalen Parmele, RB, Toledo

King Dunlap, OT, Auburn

SIXTH ROUND

Ryan Mundy, FS, WVU

Keilen Dykes, NT, WVU

William Hayes, DE, Winston Salem St.

James Blair, OT, W. Michigan

SEVENTH ROUND

Matthew Slater, gunner/KR, UCLA

Mario Urruttia, WR, Louisville

Jehuu Caulcrick, RB, Michigan State

Jamie Silva, FS, Boston College


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