Steelers Draft Review

Most of the fans and media wanted the Pittsburgh Steelers to fortify their lines of scrimmage, but the team drafted only one lineman. Here's what Jim Wexell thinks of the gamble:

As someone who advocated the drafting of big men this past weekend, I feel I should remain consistent, not flip flop, and rip the Steelers for abandoning their core fundamentals.

But I can't.

And, hey, they tried. The drafting of Tony Hills in the fourth round tells us they wanted an offensive tackle, but seven of them were drafted before the Steelers picked in the first round. They had no choice but to go Best Available Athlete. And I'm happy they did.

Rashard Mendenhall was ranked as the second-best back on most team's boards. But Mendenhall fell, as running backs do anymore in the first round. Laurence Maroney (21), Deuce McAllister (23), Steven Jackson (24) and Larry Johnson (27) slipped down the first round in recent years and Mendenhall is in their class. His power and speed are obvious, and his receiving skills are so good that he, not deep threat Willie Parker, would line up wide in any two-halfback set. That's the early word from offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

So Mendenhall was a slam dunk. The same went for the second pick.

As discussed in our receiver preview, Limas Sweed is a second-rounder because of a lack of polish. But he, according to scouts, plays faster than he times (and he timed well at 4.54), tracks the deep ball, and is said to be "driven" to succeed. He was outgoing on the conference call, but not boastful. He's intelligent and enthusiastic about coming to Pittsburgh.

Another point discussed in the receiver preview: Since Ben Roethlisberger got what he wanted, he knows it's now up to him to make it pay off. He'll take the challenge, I believe, and the "driven" Sweed will be the perfect fodder.

Ben, in fact, has last year's seventh-rounder, Dallas Baker, eating out of his hands before, during, and after practices. Ben does enjoy being flanked by big bodyguards, so I'm sure he'll enjoy his new and tall locker-room "gophers."

"One thing you ask about a handful of guys in this draft," said Steelers receivers coach Randy Fichtner, "Can they make a big-guy play? Meaning, you're a tall guy, you have range, you have size, but do you actually go up and pick a ball off a DB's head? Do you make those types of plays? A lot of guys are tall and big, and they never seem to ever play above their framework. This kid (Sweed) does that. And Dallas is now starting to do some of that, and it's kind of exciting."

Sweed, of course, needs polish, but that didn't prevent Fichtner from crowing that he's already the No. 3 receiver.

"It tickles you to death," Fichtner said. "You're looking at a three (WRs) group that's really strong, and a possibility of Nate Washington being four (WRs) is really exciting."

This talk is really exciting. But what about the lines?

Well, the Steelers drafted a pass-rusher in the third round. They have LaMarr Woodley moving into Clark Haggans's old spot, so why someone just to sit the bench behind him?

Well, because Bruce Davis can rush the passer.

Bruce Davis was one of my favorite college football players last season. I saw him give the crowd a throat-slash gesture after he took down their quarterback. He went back out onto the field and acted like a jerk after sacking that QB again. He's a guy you'd hate on another team, so why not have him on yours?

In this particular game, in the third quarter, the kid was coming alive. He was playing so hard he had to come to the sideline. He knelt and his teammates gathered around him. Someone got the bucket. But out of the commercial break to start the fourth quarter, Davis made a tackle without missing a play. That's when I wrote the words "Joey Porter" in my margin. The kid ran his mouth but backed it up.

Now, scouts did have Davis ranked in the fourth and fifth rounds. They don't like his 4.82 40 time, but Mike Tomlin looked at that 40 time, and he looked at Cliff Avril's 4.56 40 time, and he picked Davis instead. He wanted the player.

The fourth round had D-line coach John Mitchell pacing the hallway. He'd heard it – "We're so glad we could sign Nick Eason and Travis Kirschke" – all weekend. He also has "newbie" Ryan McBean on crutches. Mitchell also has three 30-somethings starting and there were only two 3-4 ends left on the board: Dre Moore and Red Bryant. The first is lazy and the second has a suspect knee, but Mitchell figured that falling to the second day would provide Moore with the chip he needs. But Moore went with the 115th pick, and when Bryant went 121st the Steelers traded down from 123 and went with the offensive tackle.

My early-season notes on Hills, before he fractured his fibula, had him as a fourth and fifth-rounder. I saw two games and didn't think his feet were good enough for left tackle. A real scout, Tom Marino, said otherwise in his pre-draft breakdown on Hills:

"A team is going to have to be patient with this player, but he has athletic ability, long arms, and the ability to bend his knees. Could be a high-rewards, second-day surprise."

With the 3-4 defensive ends gone, the Steelers drafted another fifth-round quarterback. My inclination is to hate whomever they draft in the fifth round. Colbert has drafted Tee Martin, Brian St. Pierre and Omar Jacobs in previous fifth round. Martin, in fact, went before Marc Bulger and Tom Brady. So here comes another project. I'd have preferred little, smart decision-maker Paul Smith, but figure the Steelers have to hit one of these big fifth-rounders some day, so I'm easing up on Dennis Dixon. Even though he can't help their special teams, he has the potential for high rewards as well. Colbert actually compared him to Vince Young.

In the sixth, Ryan Mundy was my prediction for the obvious reasons: He's smart, athletic and the Steelers shouldn't write off Anthony Smith just yet. Deshea Townsend can also play free safety if needed.

The other sixth-rounder, Mike Humpal, drew raves for his instincts and is a two-down player. The sixth-round is where you find two-down players, not the first, as Dan Connor found out. Lawrence Timmons was drafted high last year because of his potential as the future three-down coverage backer, so finding his future sidekick in the sixth round was another slam dunk.

And that's what we have to remember here: These are Tomlin's future playing pieces. As much as we want to patch holes and win another ring right now, the new head coach deserves the chance to build his own team. And I expect this draft has afforded him a few, if not many, of those pieces.

Grade: A.

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