The futher the 2008 draft gets in the rear view mirror, the better the view becomes of the Steelers 2008 draft. As of right the jury is still out, but 2009 should provide the information to make a solid judgment. Let us break down where we are with the draft class.
RB Rashard Mendenhall – There is more that we don\’t know about Mendenhall than what we do know. If his season had not ended due to injury, we would have a much better idea of where he is at. He had an acceptable 2008 pre season, but showed a fumble problem. Can he run in btween the tackles? Can he get around the end? Can he break tackles? Does he get better with more carries as the game goes on? So much is still unknown until we have a bigger body of work. Make no doubt that Willie Parker is still the starter, but Mendenhall will likely get plenty of shots to lighten the work load. The Steelers obviously are only concerned about winning in 2009, but make no doubt that Parker being in the final year of his contract is in the back of their mind.
WR Limas Sweed – Sweed had a rough rookie year, as do most rookie wide receivers. He just now appears to be getting caught up with the speed and knowledge of the game. Second year receivers are expected to make a huge progression. The competition rookie Mike Wallace brings along with some good free agent rookies, seems to have helped so far in training camp. Sweed had some great work in the first pre season game and needs to continue it into the season. While he will not be counted on for 70 receptions, merely catching everything thrown his way will ease the loss of Nate Washington. With Hines Ward aging, Sweed needs to become a Plaxico Burress type player minus the distractions. Looks like he is slowly getting there.
LB Bruce Davis – Two steps forward, three steps back. That is how I like to describe Davis. Just when you think he is making progress, he relapses. In the Steelers 3-4 defense, there can be no also rans. Davis appears to be on the bubble once again. He needs a strong last few pre season games, to make at as a back up backer. Davis will never be one of the games all time greats though, merely a reserve.
T Tony Hills – Good Left tackles are hard to come by. Hills has one of the best offensive coaches in the league, so coaching is not to blame. His technique will be fine on one play and the next play is back to just trying to maul with his size. You can get away with it in college, but not the NFL. Hills may or may not get work on the right side going forward in pre season. Ramon Foster looks destined to be a roster lock as a swing-man at both guard and tackle and may run Hills right off the roster. Hills is a tackle, if he cant play the right side, he is done.
QB Dennis Dixon – Dixon is turning the corner, but clearly not ready for a number two shot. He is an athlete for sure, but you have to be more than athlete to be a starter or number two quarterback in the league. Sure he was a project, a great college quarterback in a system that utilized his skills. Dixon will never be a starter and will be likely be off the roster in a few years.
LB Mike Humpal – Who? Long gone.
S Ryan Mundy – An ankle injury in game one of the 2008 pre season ended up landing him on the practice squad. He has been working at both safety spots, but is still very raw. With roster spots coming clearer into focus, he might be again headed back to the practice squad for 2009. in a few years you likely will not even remember him. The only real shot he will have is if the Steelers suffer numerous injuries at the safety position, he will have to shine in every minute given to stay in the NFL.
As you can see, the 2008 draft class will soon boil down to Mendenhall and Sweed. If both make huge jumps in 2009 and look to be long time contributors or starters, you can say the draft was OK. If only one emerges, the draft looks shaky at best. If neither make progress, you have a full blown bust of a draft.