Steelers 2012 Draft: Coby Fleener Vs. Mark Barron

By Christopher DiMarino

Can you feel the excitement growing in Steeler Nation? With just over 3 weeks remaining before the draft (April 26th), every fan is on the edge of their seats. There seems to be a blitzkrieg of draft profiles and mocks popping up all over the web and I am enjoying all of them. The draft is unlike anything else in football because of the magnitude of differing opinions both on prospects and likely team decisions. I’ve been especially impressed when reading the comment wires on how many Steelers fans have legitimate opinions and can back them up.

The first round pick is always the most public and debated. As a contrast, the Steelers are successful partially because of the players they take in rounds 2-5. The major reason the first round is so widely discussed in my opinion is the lack of variability. You have a much better idea who will be available at 1.24 then you do at 2.24. So you could do months worth of work on the Steelers 3rd round pick and he could be snatched mid second round. This focus on the first round is justified as that player is typically the only guy who will have a chance to start in the coming season. With the holes the Steelers have, we could see 2-3 eventual starters taken on draft day.

The consensus seems to remain that the Steelers will choose between OL and NT at 24. If neither target has a player that’s Steeler material than the popular alternative is Dont\’a Hightower. Jeremy Hirtz did a great piece on him and I have no doubt that he would be a huge value to Dick Lebeau’s juggernaut of a defense. Over run stopping and “thumping” (everyone likes a thumper), I value him for his leadership, intelligence experience in an elite defense. So the big question becomes, can a 2 down linebacker be the play caller/leader for a defense? You would typically like the caller to be a guy who’s in on every rep, so Hightower’s skills may go unseen until he can prove himself a 3 down backer.

So to get to the bulk of this article, the next decision for the Steelers would be a wild card. Many believe that the Steelers will take the Best Player Available (BPA). This could range from Stephon Gilmore to Stephen Hill or from Mark Barron to Coby Fleener. Unless the choices are severely limited, there will be 4-10 such players in positions of lesser need that the Steelers will have to choose from (assuming no trades). I say 4-10 because I don’t think it’s as cut and dry as 1 or 2 players fighting for the BPA. Of these, certain players will be ranked 5-10 positions higher or lower than others. As a skilled player, all of them have enough allure to become important to a team.

So I want to clarify this BPA situation still has some wiggle room and can be broken down further. While OL and NT are the primary areas of need, ILB, S/CB and TE/WR are secondary areas of need. The Steelers love edge rushers, but may have to wait until next year to draft James Harrison’s replacement, assuming Jason Worilds isn’t the answer. I would rule out CB and WR from this secondary list, as later round depth is needed more than elite talent.

For those reasons, I believe that the next likely scenario is that the Steelers will chose between Fleener and Barron. It’s no secret that I am a Barron fan; I’ve been very vocal about him even though few others even correlate him with the Steelers at 24. I think Ryan Clark is great, but only a serviceable compliment to Troy Polamalu. A dynamic tool that could be used in conjunction with Troy would cause nightmares for opposing play/signal callers. With a season that saw this great defense hitting lows for turnovers, specifically interceptions, it may be time to add a ball hawk.

You may also guess that I like Fleener based on all the Tight End articles that I’ve written. Heath Miller is a beast, but has been rendered a role player thanks to his great blocking. Adding a receiving option like Fleener will take some of the pressure off Miller and bring the Steeler offense into the new generation of pass offenses. These hybrid tight ends are a huge asset for an offense, especially the new(ish) one that Todd Haley will be scheming up. I also think that Fleener’s receiving ability will be a compliment to Miller as he will see much less attention and is still a great receiver and zone defense killer. This will also relieve the pressure that the Steelers are facing at wide receiver. As the young receivers excel and the cap tightens some receivers might become cap casualties.

There are good reasons to take both of these young players. I keep referring to the new NFL passing style and both of these players help the Steelers adjust to this trend. A hybrid tight end provides matchup issues with his height, as well as elite speed for his size. A talented safety is a player that can cover this new style of player, or be responsible for more space allowing extra attention to be given to these players. This contrasts the value of a player like Hightower who would be much more valuable in the old, run heavy style of NFL.

So to recap, safety is a need because of Clark’s age/upgrade concerns. Fleener would help the pass game and take the pressure off of Miller. Hightower would help gap the departure of James Farrior from a leadership/play call and run support side. I think drafting a high profile wide receiver will only strain the Mike Wallace situation and complicate the Antonio Brown/Emmanuel Sanders dynamic. I think the Steelers will draft up to 2 wide receivers, but in the mid to later rounds. Finally at Corner, drafting a new talent would be helpful, but with the promise shown by Cortez Allen and even Curtis Brown, it would be rash to try and replace them.

There are flip sides to these choices as well. Hightower doesn’t help with the new pass heavy NFL. Barron won’t likely have an immediate effect and the Steelers need relief at other positions now. There isn’t a dire need at tight end, and several later round options to choose from (where the Steelers have several picks). The way I like to look at it is if the Baltimore Ravens drafted these guys, which would I dread the most. I use the Ravens as an example but you get the idea. Out of the entire list of 1st round possibilities, I feel that Barron and Fleener would anger me most in Ravens uniforms.

The fundamentalist inside me still wants to see a new Nose Tackle or Offensive Lineman to anchor the major areas of need. The logical execution would be to draft these positions as early as possible. But with several intriguing options in the 2nd round and even a few in the 3rd, the 1st round may end up spent elsewhere. And in that case, the best player available could mean anything from a ball-hawk safety to a red zone monster tight end.

  • Grw1960

    not likely

  • Coby Fleener has a second round grade, and the Steelers don’t reach for players.

  • I wouldn’t mind Fleener in the 1st. Barron is more of a 2nd round prospect to me, but at least both are better options than Mike Adams.

  • Barron a 2nd round prospect? Chances are pretty slim that he even falls to us. I am on the fence about Fleener, not because of him, but because I don’t know that the need is there for TE. Barron on the other hand I think is a better overall prospect.

  • Yes. For me, a 1st round safety prospect has to be a very special one for me to regard him that high. Guys like Troy, Ed Reed and most recently, Eric Berry. While Barron is far and away the best safety this year, he’s not quite on that level. That said, I do think he’ll be a solid safety for a decade plus, so it’s not like I completely dislike him.
    I’m not exactly sold on Weslye Saunders yet. He’s got some skills, but hasn’t put up the numbers yet nor has he proven he can stay out of trouble. Not at the college level nor at the pro level. Big guys like Fleener who can run in the mid-4.4s don’t come around too often. Teams like the Cheatriots with Gronkowski and Hernandez are showing it’s great to have two very good/great tight ends.

  • If we were talking a top 15 pick with Barron, I would agree with you, but in the 20-32 range, I am looking for a solid, above average starter, and I think Barron is that.

    And I don’t disagree on the value of 2 TEs, but historically, we barely use one enough, I don’t see the value in a first there unless we are going to use them both most of the time, and I don’t think we will.

  • Intropy

    If Barron falls to 24 he absolutely merits consideration, and would probably be a pretty good pickup. I like the look of Fleener as well, and would be happy with him at 56.

  • Sam

    Fleener can’t block a lick, Barron would be a steal @24

  • Derick

    What potential NT and or OG/OT prospect will be available that could impact the team more than Hightower say 2-3 years from now. I am no fan of Glenn so I hope there are more options than that. I am high on Hightower because I just don’t see a future starting ILB to lead this defense in the later rounds. The lack of talent for this position puts it higher than the deep class of OG’s and possible NT’s in the 2-3 rounds imo.

  • SteelersBall

    disagree about Hightower being able to help with passing defense. I think LeBeau believes that the key to stopping the passing game is to hit the quarterback, attack the sending part of the passing game as well as attack the receiving part. If you are implying that Hightower can not get to the quarterback, that might be up for debate too.

    Keep up the good work
    A person might have an addiction if they visit this sight multiple times a day, guess I am addicted. Ahhh at least it is legal

  • johnstown jim

    If the Steelers do not improve their starting guard play, nothing else will matter as
    they will probably be a 9-7 ,,, 8-8 team.

  • IMO, who cares if an ILB can rush the QB. TImmons keeps babbling about getting 10 sacks, which has never been done by a 3-4 ILB for a reason. I am more concerned with whether he can read and shut down the middle.

  • moderatelysane

    I agree with this comment and would add that LeBeau’s defense is predicated on stopping the run first and on early downs to put the passing game under more pressure in 3rd and longs. Granted, many teams are passing on 1st and 2nd down, but within our division and conference, we’ve still got to beat some serious running teams like Baltimore, Houston, perhaps the Brows with T Rich. Hightower seems like the kind of guy who can make that happen.

  • moderatelysane

    Great article, Chris. I think it points out that the positions of greatest need will not be available at 24 without reaching down to get 2nd round talent. The only really OG that are likely to be available at 24 are Glen who I think is slow and lumbering or Zeitler who’s a reach at 24. The only NT who wouldn’t be a reach at 24 is Poe, who is a workout warrior but not proven NT. We could debate risk/reward, but he won’t be around at 24. Hightower is the safe pick likely to be available, but not flashy. Barron is also safe, but could be flashy. Fleener seems like a reach given our needs.

  • Broderick Wallace

    If not Hightower, I’d rather the Steelers draft Reuben Randle versus TE or safety. Assuming Steelers are not interested in the leftover OL. There is no NT worth a 1st round selection at pick #24.

  • 8-8? How did you reach that conclusion. If the O-line going to be any worse in 2012, than it was in 2010 and 2011?

  • Bleebo77

    As always, his grade depends on who’s grading. National Football Post has him as the #7 overall player in the draft, but consensus seems to be late first-early second. His stock seems to be rising after his pro day. The 1.24 spot might be a slight reach, unless the Steelers think he’s got Gronk potential. A tall TE who can run and catch is pretty attractive.

  • Broderick Wallace

    Hightower’s ability to shed blockers and get after QB’s would be a great asset. Timmons has failed to impress in that area thus far and we learned that he is no OLB as well. That being said, I think they would be great compliment to each other. I see Hightower as a guy who could play some OLB and allow Lebeau to dial up some new exotic blitzes.

  • Bleebo77

    Love this type of analysis that weighs pros and cons! The Steelers have shown that they’ll grab the BPA in the 1st, even if it isn’t a top need position at the time (see Mendenhall, Rashard). I’m torn. The Steelers absolutely MUST improve the offensive line. Don’t forget the utter disaster at the beginning of last season before they brought in Starks. The Ravens and Texans ate the O-Line alive, and all the weapons on offense are worthless if Ben doesn’t have time to throw. We are perilously thin at OT – we’re looking at Gilbert playing a new position and trusting that Colon can make it through a season healthy. Scott backs up. That can’t inspire confidence. That’s why it seems really tough to pass on Adams or Martin if they fall. And I cannot fathom they won’t take a guard in round 2 or 3 and maybe even another O-lineman in later rounds for competition.

    All this said, if the first round OTs are gone at 1.24, this really does become an interesting call. I’m not as down on Hightower as some and think he’d be a nice upgrade at a position of need. I don’t know enough to evaluate Barron, but Clark was in the Pro Bowl last year and has some years left. They could groom Barron for the future, but I don’t see Barron helping a ton in 2012.

    I can see the appeal of Fleener if other options aren’t there at 1.24. Haley has shown the ability to scheme to the strength of personnel, and having Fleener adds a dynamic player that could change the complexion of the offense in a good way. Less pressure on the WRs, etc. And as the Patriots show, you can throw out of a 2 TE set on 1st down, so imagine the play-calling options with a first down alignment with Miller and Fleener. And I’ve seen some sites say Fleener isn’t as much a blocking liability as some think.

  • John B.

    i really wouldnt mind Barron if we dont address the lines. Both Safeties are getting older and Clark cant play in Denver. i think Mundy is average at best.

    Coby is a reach that wouldnt fit an immediate need. Not saying i wouldnt like to see him on our team though.

  • Derick

    Hightower already has 2 years of experience playing ILB, BUCK to be more specific. I think he is very football intelligent and exactly what they need to replace Potsie. Not a late rounder project that we HOPE can play in a few years. I think Hightower could be ready by end of year or early next year. As oppose to a late round project ya know… I agree that it is not a huge deal if an ILB can pass rush as well as the OLB guys.

  • Bleebo77

    Just saw Don Banks’ mock on, and he has the Steelers taking Adams and the Ravens taking Hightower. Adams is the need pick, but the thought of Hightower in the middle for the Ravens worries me.

  • SteelersBall

    I hope mr haley adds to his new pay book more protection for Ben