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Friday April 25 2014
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10 Thoughts on the Steelers Draft

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For the last few seasons, I have made sure that I left a few days between the draft itself and my first major reaction to it. It helps to leave a little time to digest it after the three-day marathon that is the NFL Draft.

With that said, here are my ten thoughts on Pittsburgh’s foray into the 2012 Draft.


1. This year’s class has the potential to be the best Steelers draft of the last dozen years. Of course, we won’t know the full impact of the 2012 crop until years and years from now, but you have to like the talent Pittsburgh snagged in all three days. First-round pick David DeCasto has the ability to start immediately, and the potential to remain a starter and major asset on the offensive line for the next decade. Mike Adams (more on him later) was a high-risk, high-reward selection that could bring a huge payout. Sean Spence, Alameda Ta’amu, and Chris Rainey are all solid picks and could make contributions as early as this season (especially on special teams). Hell, the four seventh rounders have a legitimate shot of figuring into the team’s future plans. All in all, the Steelers might have had the best draft of any team this season and may have just received the shot in the arm it sorely needed.


2. The most important pick isn’t DeCastro, it’s Mike Adams. Simply put, his success or failure will be a deciding factor in how we look back at this draft class five or ten years from now. If he goes bust, like Limas Sweed, everyone will look back at a wasted pick and a gamble that was too risky. If he becomes a regular starter on the offensive line, everyone will praise Colbert for a risky move and the 2012 class will be a fond memory of Steeler Nation.


3. Adams’ story is one of the more interesting tales in recent memory. For those who haven’t heard about it, I’ll sum it up quickly. Adams failed a drug test at the combine (essentially the biggest interview of his life), but those results don’t officially come out until a week or two before the draft. Adams, however, knew he failed itOhio State Buckeyes and contacted the Pittsburgh Steelers to request a face-to-face meeting (which would count as one of the team’s 30 allotted pre-draft visits). The Steelers were the only team he contacted. When he met with the Steelers brass, they informed him he was off their draft board, but could earn his way back onto it if he met some criteria. He did, and the stars aligned such that Adams slid all the way to Pittsburgh in the second round.


No one knew this story until general manager Kevin Colbert spoke after the team announced Mike Adams as its pick. By the way, Colbert speaking at any point in the draft between the team’s first-round pick (where he and Tomlin speak) and the end of the draft (where both speak again) is an absolute rarity. He came in to field questions about Adams’ character, knowing that the media was curious about it, and that’s when the story of the meeting came out.


Obviously, the pick was a risk, and we won’t know how it pans out until Adams either enters the starting lineup or washes out of the league. However, the fact that the young prospect was pro-active to contact the Steelers (and only the Steelers) showed how much he wanted to be a part of this team, and how far he was willing to go for it. You have to like that in a player. Knowing what I know now, I’m a lot more confident than I was before the draft that he’ll pull through and pay off big time.


4. Not all value is created equally. Imagine you’re in a grocery store and you’re looking to buy bread. On your way to that particular aisle, you see some snacks that are on sale. You feel like you’d be getting good value for the sale price, so you get them. When you finally get to the bread, you find out that it’s on sale, too. You get great value for that and you leave the store feeling all warm and fuzzy.


Except there’s one problem: not all value is created equally. The sale you got on the bread was great, because it was an item you needed and came for anyways. You were going to get it whether it was on sale or not.


But the snacks? You probably wouldn’t have grabbed them if they weren’t on sale. You didn’t really need them, but you picked them up anyways because it was a bargain.


Yes, I’m about to compare grocery shopping to the NFL draft.


The bread represents this year’s draft. The Steelers came into the three-day event looking to fill major needs on the offensive line and in the middle of the defense. When the weekend was over, they found that they had grabbed great value at their positions of need. They needed a guard and, lo and behold, the best interior lineman in the draft falls into their lap. They filled other needs with players they wanted, but didn’t expect to be there.


The snacks represent a draft like the 2008 draft (of which only two members remain). Rashard Mendenhall was not expected to be there when the Steelers picked, but running back wasn’t necessarily a major need anyways – it was more of a luxury. However, Mendenhall fell Pittsburgh’s way and they grabbed him because it was great value. Same with Limas Sweed in the second round (another luxury pick at WR) and Tony Hills in the fourth (which was closer to an actual need.


I, myself, wasn’t particularly thrilled with the Mendenhall pick when it was made, and none of the later picks really wowed me at the time either (though I did like the gamble for Hills and fifth-rounder Dennis Dixon). However, I eventually started to classify it was a great class early on because of how much value the team got. Every pick looked like a steal. Mendenhall shouldn’t have been there, Limas Sweed was a first-round talent, and Hills fell only because of an injury.


We all know how that class turned out. Third-rounder Bruce Davis couldn’t make it out of his second training camp. Sweed and Hills were both given more than enough chances to crack the lineup and couldn’t. Mendenhall has had success, but his presence and importance to the team is one of the more divisive issues for fans and media. Ryan Mundy (a sixth-rounder) is the only other player (other than Mendenhall) who is even still on the roster.


Simply put, 2008 and 2012 are both great value drafts, but the value is weighted very differently. I would be very surprised if 2012 turned out to be even remotely like the 2008 class. When I look back at those years down the line, I wholly expect to be writing about how the 2008 class was Colbert’s worst as a GM, while 2012 was his crowning moment.


5. Toney Clemons could be the steal of the class. Clemons is the safest bet out of the four seventh rounders to make the roster, for a few reasons. First, his college production suffered as a result of a tJustin Edmonds Gettyransfer and multiple coaching changes at Colorado (which, in turn, hurt his draft stock. Second, he has the work ethic that will help him maximize his impressive size-speed combo. Finally, there’s a clear roster spot open for him.


Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery are the team’s four primary receivers, but they usually carry five or six. Clemons’ competition for the fifth or sixth spot isn’t that fierce (a crop of undrafted guys from last season, plus a possible free agent in the future). Even if he only makes the practice squad this season, the uncertainty of the Mike Wallace situation means that another spot could open up a year from now.


6. I don’t know if I’m completely sold on Chris Rainey. At 5’8” and 180 pounds, he’s awfully slight for the running back position and likely won’t be able to develop into a first or second option in the backfield. He’s a complementary piece, first and foremost.


While some will argue that complementary pieces are pretty much the norm in the later rounds, I feel that running back is a different animal. Above average (and even great) running backs are coming out of the later rounds and free agency at an alarming rate. While a complementary back is nice, wouldn’t you rather pick up a guy with the potential to develop into something more?


Either the team doesn’t feel they need that guy, or they feel that particular player is already on the roster (Dwyer, Batch?).


7. I’m still not entirely comfortable with the team’s inside linebacker situation. It still feels unsolved in the wake of James Farrior’s release. Larry Foote will take over as the starter, of course, but he’s not exactly a young guy himself. Is Stevenson Sylvester ready to take over Farrior’s complex “buck” linebacker position when Foote departs or if he breaks down? If he isn’t, then why did the team draft Sean Spence, who is more suited to back up Timmons’ spot than Farrior’s old haunt?


8. The biggest winner of this year’s draft? Ben Roethlisberger. The two-time Super Bowl winner will head into his thirties knowing that the Steelers are building one hell of a wall in front of him. By the start of the 2013 season, there’s a real chance that the offensive line will feature two first-round picks and two second-round picks, all drafted in the last three seasons, as four of the team’s starting five.


It will likely be the youngest offensive line in the league and the one with more draft pedigree than any other. Only Seattle’s line (two firsts, a second, and a third) would come close in that regard.


9. Some quick predictions for this year’s offensive rookies: DeCastro follows in the footsteps of Maurkice Pouncey and opens the season as a starter on the offensive line. Even if he starts as a right guard, he eventually moves to left to become the team’s next Alan Faneca.


Adams doesn’t make into the starting five in September, but he’s part of the crew by the time January rolls around thanks to some fortunate (for him) injuries.


Chris Rainey enters the season as the team’s primary kick returner and shares punt duties with Antonio Brown. He’s not as consistent as Brown, but he does take at least one kickoff back to the house in his rookie year. His offensive snaps are limited to garbage time.


Toney Clemons impresses in training camp, but gets stuck on the practice squad to start the season while more veteran options claim the last two receiver spots. However, he sneaks up more than once and catches a handful of passes this year.


David Paulson and Kelvin Beachum both make it to the practice squad, but neither of them are able to crack the 53-man roster in 2012. Beachum is a dark horse to make it the following year.


University of Washington10. Some quick predictions for this year’s defensive rookies: Sean Spence struggles in camp, but starts to show flashes late in the preseason. Once the regular season begins, the speedy linebacker establishes himself as a favorite on special teams, similar to what Stevenson Sylvester did in his own rookie year. Spence’s defensive snaps are severely limited though.


Alameda Ta’amu makes the team out of camp and joins the rotation on the defensive line. He gets a fair amount of snaps early, but his playing time dips around midseason. However, his snaps peek back up towards the end and he finishes strong.


Terrence Frederick spends the season as the Steelers’ version of Pedro Ciriaco, bouncing up and down between the 53-man roster and the practice squad. He spends most of his rookie season as a gameday inactive.

It’s all starting to make sense. The Steelers have not made the playoffs the past two seasons. Those two years have seen the team part ways with players who were integral to a sustained run of success that resulted in a pair of Super Bowl championships.
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