Time for a foolish endeavor

Jim Wexell steps up to predict the Steelers' 32nd pick, and the rest of their draft, but he doesn't see it as an impossible task.

They're calling it an unpredictable draft, and that to put time into guessing pick No. 32 would be foolish because the guess is destined to be wrong.

Well, this fool's ready to be wrong.

But, really, I think it's the easiest prediction since Terry Bradshaw. The need matches the value and no one else seems too interested in the guy.

His name's Eric Wood. I made the prediction way back at the Senior Bowl, and after too many hours spent investigating I've found no reason to change my mind.

Hey, I know everyone in Pittsburgh loves defense. I love defense. The Steelers should want to keep this championship defense intact, and haven't four of the last five No. 1 picks been offensive players? Isn't it time for defense again?

But the value's not there; not at cornerback; not at defensive line. And don't even ask Dan Rooney to spend any more money on linebackers.

At corner, William Gay will replace Bryant McFadden and Deshea Townsend will be the nickel back. The Steelers will find a fine No. 4 corner who can return kicks in the middle rounds.

As for the line, the only legitimate first-round consideration will be Ziggy Hood.

Peria Jerry is 25 years old; Fili Moala is 24; Ron Brace has a bad back and weight problems; Jarron Gilbert is too boom-or-bust to consider in the first round – unless they want to test the 1-to-9 boom-to-bust ratio that's prevailed in the bottom 10 for defensive linemen over the last 10 years. There's a reason that bust ratio is so large: People take chances on workout warriors such as Gilbert and stretch their luck.

As is, Hood's a risk because he played the run so poorly at Missouri. Coach John Mitchell, of course, would love to get a crack at Hood's athleticism, but it'll be less of a risk if the Steelers trade up in the second round for their developmental lineman.

So, no, it won't be a defensive first round. And for all of my yearning, it won't be wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, either. The late word from a source on the South Side is this: "I will be stunned if we take a wide receiver."

It won't be a quarterback, either. Nor will it be a running back or tight end Brandon Pettigrew. No, it will be an offensive lineman, and instead of the fifth or sixth best tackle, it makes all the sense in the world for the Steelers' first pick to be the best interior lineman.

There are three who rank close, so either could be "the best interior lineman." But I feel Wood is the better fit for the Steelers over Max Unger or Alex Mack. Wood showed at the Senior Bowl that he's the best guard of the three, and in a weak year for guards, that makes Wood the best guard and possibly the best center in this draft.

The Steelers need help at both positions. Darnell Stapleton was pressed into emergency service at right guard last year and barely held his own. He needs competition, but from whom? Trai Essex is the swing tackle, so it's possible he could be working ahead of Tony Hills on the flanks. That leaves, um, no one behind the three interior positions.

Wood fills that gaping hole right away, and he gives the team some options when Justin Hartwig's contract runs out next March.

Wood's not going to run like Alan Faneca, but he's big enough to handle the massive nose tackles and he'll study and devour the game like Mike Webster.

Wood's passion appeals to the Steelers, so that makes it a no-brainer. Even in an unpredictable draft. Even at pick 32. Even for a fool.


1st Round – C/G Eric Wood, C/G Max Unger, DE Ziggy Hood.

2nd Round – Trade up for DE Jarron Gilbert or DE Fili Moala; sit tight for S Chip Vaughn, OG Andy Levitre.

3rd Round – CB Mike Mickens, WR Mike Thomas, CB Jairus Byrd, OG T.J. Lang, OG Tyronne Green.

4th Round – ILB DeAndre Levy, CB Joe Burnett, TE Richard Quinn.

5th Round – FB Frank "The Tank" Summers, ILB Tyrone McKenzie, DE Zach Potter, CB Don Carey.

6th Round – CB Tony Carter, C A.Q. Shipley.

7th Round – CB Ellis Lankster, ILB Spencer Adkins.

UFA – WR/KR Travis Shelton, QB Drew Willy.

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