Best Player Available Likely To Be Steelers Draft Plan In 1st Round Of 2011 Draft

The days of March are clicking off the calendar and there are only 44 days now until draft day. The Pro Days are also winding down and the Steelers will soon be entertaining draft prospect visitors down at the South Side later this month and into April. In my recent post about 1st round tackles drafted from 1995-2010 I showed how just because you might need a tackle while drafting late in the first round, it might very well not be the best course of action. David Todd and I even elaborated more on this in the latest episode of the Terrible Podcast.

Without a doubt, we can pretty well safely assume the Steelers will at least spend a pick on both on an offensive lineman and a corner somewhere in the upcoming draft, but to lock them into definitely drafting either position in the 1st round is pretty foolish. When you pick late in drafts, you have to let the draft come to you. The Steelers are notorious for neglecting a perceived need by us, the fans, and we have often seen instances where it appears they have taken what they considered the best player on the board as it relates to scheme and overall need. Let\’s look at the 2009 draft for example. The Ziggy Hood pick surprised a big majority of Steeler Nation, me included. Now we knew a quarterback, running back and tight end would not likely be their number one pick and you could possibly even throw in the linebacking position as well when you look at the state of the team at that time. Most of Steeler Nation was clamoring for an offensive lineman and cornerback in the first round of that draft. What a surprise. They did however draft two linemen and two corners in that draft.

Was defensive end a need in that draft? Somewhat, sure. The Steelers certainly needed some depth at the position behind Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. When you look back at that draft board and who was selected, Hood was the 2nd true defensive end off the board after Tyson Jackson was picked 3rd overall by the Chiefs. Now some might argue about Aaron Maybin, Brian Orakpo and Robert Ayers, but these players were all transformed into outside linebacker types by the teams that drafted them. Peria Jerry was projected 3-technique guy as well. Hood by most accounts was primed for being a 5-technique guy and a perfect fit for the Steelers 3-4 defense. Considering the defensive scheme and the somewhat need the Steelers had, Hood was easily the best player available on the board for the Steelers with that pick.

Too often as fans we get caught up looking at what we deem are the biggest needs for the team and instantly try to correlate that with the mock drafts and player rankings. Too many times we overlook the big picture as well of what player fits what scheme. This is done quite a bit with defensive players more than offensive players, but offensive line blocking schemes and types of offenses certainly play a role as well in matching best fits.

Let\’s go back to just last year. The Steelers probably had a little easier time in narrowing down there first round big board as they were picking 18th overall. Guess who the first center/guard type that was that drafted in 2010. Yep, Maurkice Pouncey. Now the Steelers had likely envisioned him as a guard first with the idea of eventually moving him to center. We all know how that ended up. They got a guy who could play both positions and play them well. Can you say best player off the board that also met a need? Jackpot. Would the Steelers had the success they had in 2010 with Justin Hartwig playing center? Probably not and you probably agree.

As I eluded to in my underclassman cornerbacks post, that is a mighty risky thing to do based off history. I\’ll admit that Brandon Harris sure looks impressive in not only his combine work, but also his play on the field with Miami. He might even climb further up the draft board come April. If you look at the top 5 tackles and cornerbacks this year with perceived first round grades, the top 3 if not 4 might very well be off the board by the time the Steelers pick if they do not trade up. Would the Steelers draft the 5th best tackle or 5th best cornerback on the board if that were the case? Are the Steelers tackle and cornerback positions such a dire need that you just take the best of the rest in round 1? I think the answer is no. It is also highly unlikely that a first round tackle or corner could come in and contribute instantly even if that were the case. Especially the corner position in a Dick LeBeau defense.

Now just because best player available is the talk here does not mean that the Steelers should draft running back Mikel LeShoure, who could still be on the board when the Steelers pick. He also is considered the 2nd rated running back in this years draft. It also does not mean that they should draft Jake Locker should he fall. There is a place where BPA (best player available) meets a team need, especially when a first round pick is concerned. I expect the Steelers to once again to use that strategy unless they trade up. No reason to think otherwise.

So what position would BPA meet some need with the Steelers at 31? Guard perhaps? Although old for a rookie, Danny Watkins could likely be had there at 31. By many accounts he is the 2nd best interior lineman in the draft. He could likely even contribute in his rookie season at right guard at some point. What about linebacker Martez Wilson? His skill set is pretty amazing and he could cut his teeth on special teams early on. There is a chance he could be on the board at 31 as well. Those are just two off the cuff examples.

As you move forward now with your draft expectations, I think you will see that the Steelers certainly could disappoint those that have tackle and corner as an automatic position the Steelers will draft in the 1st round. Put you Kevin Colbert hat on for a few days and measure the other team needs against best player available method along with the skill set of the players in relation to the Steelers offensive and defensive schemes. You will likely see the bigger picture and method of the Steelers draft madness as it relates to the best player available and overall team need.

  • dave

    Agree 100%. You shouldn’t try to plug a square peg into a round hole, just to fill a need. Take what the draft gives you….The Steelers have done a nice job of getting one of the top rated players at a position for the last few drafts instead of just going for “need”. For example Heath Miller (#1 TE) at pick 30, Santonio Holmes (#1 WR) traded up to pick 25, Mendenhall (#2 or 3 RB) at pick 23, plus Ziggy (#2 3-4 DE)and Pouncey (#1 C/G) as you mentioned above. Also Troy Polamalu (#1 Safety) trading up to pick 16.

    Based on history, it wouldn’t be totally shocking if they passed on the #6 OT or the #5 CB to take the #1 ILB or the #1 NT, etc… I wouldn’t be too shocked to see them trade up to get someone they really like, too, like they did for Polamalu and Holmes.

  • Jared Coglietta

    wow, great work! keep it up

  • Andy…

    While I can’t agree 100% (I think that Danny Watkins is too old for the Steelers, even though you only used him as an example), I think that your theory and analysis are spot on. he question then becomes, are we capable of determining whether the 2nd best ILB, TE, or OLB is better than the 4th or 5th T or CB? Or harder still, is the 2nd best safety, ILB, NT, etc. better than the 2nd best OLB, or G/C? No…that’s why we leave it to Colbert & Tomlin!

  • rick gagliardo

    I agree w/ drafting BPA to a point. I’d say, BPA “among these 4- 5 options.” I think G is a higher priority than OT, IMHO. The team obviously thought so last yr. when drafting Pouncy. When they moved him to C, the situation at G never improved. The 3/4 best CB and OTs won’t be has high as the the Gs. I’d go best G (Watkins or Marcus Cannon.) Also, we’ve gone FAR too long ignoring Hampton’s eventual replacement. I’d take Phil Taylor in a NY minute if he’s available, even over G. Finally, I know it’s not “the Steelers’ way” but I’d sign Asamura. That one out-of-the-box act would solidify CB and allow us to address a starter for the OL, then spend the rest of the draft shoring up our depth everywhere. Think about it: we were 1 good CB away from a SB victory. Have we EVER been in a position to say, “We are ONE player away from remaining on top,” and then actually having that player available to us? Would you pull the trigger ONCE to stay on top?

  • Tanner

    I agree 100% but the steelers would not take Danny Watkins. He’s to old for a first round pick. The steelers should do one or two things here. 1) trade down in the draft and maybe get some good picks for next years draft. Just like the patriots do. Our offensive of line isn’t that bad and with Starks, Colon, Adams, Pouncey, Legursky, and Kemoeatu. I think we can come up with a solid line. And see what te new DB coach can do with the CB you never know what talent we have just yet. But the steelers still need to draft sleeper picks like big boy Kenrick Ellis in the 4th round and maybe get a couple speed CB to give the DB coach some options. 2) this is what my mock draft looks like 1) Martez Wilson 2) Rahim Moore 3) Kenrick Ellis 4) Shiloh Keo 5) DeMarcus Van Dyke 6) Bruce Miller 7) Alex Henery

  • John

    The problem I have with the Steelers taking BPA this year is they already have 3rd tear CB’s who are having trouble getting on the field and the one 2nd tear (McFadden) isn’t any better than William Gay who is terrible as an outside corner and just fair as a nickel CB.
    I think the Steelers may have to reach a little to get a good starting CB in the 1st because the top 7 or 8 will be gone before their 2nd pick.
    The Steelers cant get some quality OL or DL upgrades at 63.

  • Freddie

    In Tomlins four year tenure he has not pick a player older than 22 with the first pick. with at least ten teams looking for QBs someone has to drop to the Steelers. Someone like Sherrod, Carimi, Harris, Dowling, Moore or Heyward has to be avilable.

  • Dave

    Andy and Tanner – I agree about Danny Watkins, not a huge fan of taking a 27 year old rookie at pick 31. By the time his 5 year rookie contract is over, he’s almost ready to retire! But I still agree with the principle of taking the BPA over “reaching” to fill a need.

    John – the interesting thing will be if Jimmy Smith falls to 31. He has maybe top 15-20 talent but a lot of off-field and attitude questions. Do the Steelers take a chance on a guy like that?

  • Demon

    This is a year when I could see the Steelers trading players for picks, then bundling picks to trade, and setting themselves up with 3 second round picks. But…. they can’t do that with no CBA. Only picks can be traded, no players. That kills the strategy of a lot of teams…. trades on draft day are fun !!

    I gotta agree with everyone about taking Watkins… too old, especially considering the number of times the Steelers take underclassmen. Let’s get the CBA in order, and then trade Big Ben for #1 picks this year & next.

  • Dave Bryan

    I really doubt Ben will be traded. lol This might interest you old man Watkins haters: