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:
Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College
Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt
Jeff Otah, OT, Pitt
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon
Dre Moore, DE, Maryland
Red Bryant, DE, Texas A&M
Duane Brown, OT, Virginia Tech
Tyvon Branch CB-S UConn
Eddie Royal, WR, Virginia Tech
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
Jacob Hester, RB-FB, LSU
Thomas DeCoud, FS, Cal
Bryn Smith, OLB, McNeese State
Tim Hightower, RB, Richmond
King Dunlap, OT, Auburn
Ryan Mundy, FS, WVU
Keilen Dykes, NT, WVU
William Hayes, DE, Winston Salem St.
James Blair, OT, W. Michigan
Matthew Slater, gunner/KR, UCLA
Mario Urruttia, WR, Louisville
Jamie Silva, FS, Boston College