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Everyone knows—or so we are told—that the Steelers draft well. Kevin Colbert will conduct his 12th draft April 28-30 as the team’s director of football operations and the one reasonably safe bet is that he will hit the mark with his first-round choice.

Even after seasons in which the Steelers were forced to draft at or near the bottom of the round after advancing to the postseason, they chose guard Kendall Simmons, strong safety Troy Polamalu, tight end Heath Miller, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, running back Rashard Mendenhall and defensive end Ziggy Hood.

And Colbert didn’t sit back and wait for all of those players to fall into his lap. He maneuvered upward by trading later picks to select Polamalu and Holmes. Such a scenario is certainly possible this year, if Colbert can find a team willing to drop all the way to the Steelers’ slot (31) in the first round.

All 11 of Colbert’s first-round picks turned into starters, including Hood, who replaced the injured Aaron Smith last season. Expand your analysis and you will find that 22 of the 30 players (73.3 percent) selected by the Steelers in the first three rounds since 2000—Colbert's first with the team—became valuable contributors.

Of the remaining eight, we’ll give troubled and oft-injured wide receiver Limas Sweed the benefit of the doubt for one more season (he’s still on the roster, after all). Also, outside linebacker Jason Worilds can’t be part of the present discussion because he used his 2010 rookie year as little more than redshirt season.

But beware the second round: The Steelers have made only one truly good one since 2003 – outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley in 2007. Argue for cornerback Bryant McFadden (2005), if you must, but it will be shouted down here. Yes, he’s a starter, but his level of play hasn’t reached a high enough level to prevent the Steelers from targeting that position this year – with a premium pick.

Which brings us to the team’s present needs:

If NFL owners continue to lock out the players in the weeks before the draft, teams will not be permitted to speak, negotiate with or sign veteran free agents. Needs that normally are handled in March may remain unfulfilled until draft day. That could create desperation in minds of many team executives and lead to players drafted a round or two prematurely.

The lockout probably prevented the Steelers from offering a contract to free agent cornerback Ike Taylor, the team’s next-best pass defender after Polamalu.

Unless they spoke with Taylor and his agent before the lockout to gauge his interest in re-signing and his contract demands, the Steelers won’t know for sure if he will be a member of the team in 2011. In that case, they would need to draft a cornerback with an early pick. But not too early.

The best three—LSU's Patrick Peterson, Colorado’s Jimmy Smith and Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara—won't be available. That may leave Virgina’s Ras-I Dowling, who has ideal size (6-1 ½, 200 pounds) and speed (4.54 in the 40), but missed most of last season with knee and ankle injuries and hasn’t intercepted a pass since 2009.

Do the Steelers want to reach for Dowling and leave higher quality offensive linemen for others to draft early in the second round?

Unless Colbert has a higher opinion of Dowling than most—Mel Kiper ranked him as the 63rd overall prospect in late March—picking him 31st wouldn’t be wise. Especially when he could fall to them in the second round.

The other factor to consider is that the Steelers haven’t used a first-round pick on a cornerback since 1997 (Chad Scott), and this might not be the year to end that streak.

The other need for the Steelers is at guard where many experts have tied Baylor’s Danny Watkins, 6-3 1/2, 309, to the Steelers. It says a lot about the NFL that a man weighing more than 300 pounds “lacks bulk,” according to The Sporting News, but he could fit with the Steelers. Kiper ranked him as the 35th-best prospect, and he is a late first-rounder in many projections.

Florida’s Mike Pouncey would be perfect to line up next to his brother Maurkice, but don’t expect him to be available at 31.

Another possibility (but not until the second round, at the earliest) is Penn State’s Stefen Wisniewski, 6-2, 290, a high-character, technically sound player with a strong NFL pedigree. His uncle Steve and father Leo played in the league. He didn’t always play at a high level last season, however, and is 106th on Kiper’s board.

Other lesser needs for the Steelers are at running back where Mendenhall could use a stronger backup and inside linebacker where James Farrior is 36.

The third round might be the place for Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray, 6-0, 214, who might slip because of injury concerns early in his collegiate career. He ran for 1,214 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.

Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson, 6-4, 250, is a good fit for the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme.

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