By Jeremy Hritz
The more that I think about the upcoming NFL Draft and the Pittsburgh Steelers first round pick at number 24, the more indecisive I become about their aim. While the Steelers have many glaring needs on the offensive line, at pick 24, the prospects that would be available are not without their warts (Cordy Glenn’s weight issues, Jonathan Martin’s average strength and struggles with power rushers). In a draft that is deep in offensive lineman in the second and third rounds, I am not sold that the Steelers will reach for a guard or tackle unless they are completely convinced about their value and ability to step in a play immediately.
The other puzzle piece is Dont’a Hightower. It is no secret that the inside linebacker position opposite Lawrence Timmons is a question mark, and whether or not the Steelers feel comfortable about starting Larry Foote or moving forward with Stevenson Sylvester has yet to emerge. However, if the Steelers are set on drafting Hightower, and if he is taken off the board earlier in the first round, what will be their move? It would not be out of the question for the Steelers to explore the value of trading their first round pick away for additional later round picks. Acquiring additional picks in the second or third and the later rounds would allow the Steelers to select multiple offensive line prospects such as Brandon Brooks and possibly tackle Bobby Massie, who could still contribute to the team early. It will also enable the Steelers to select players that will need to be groomed to eventually step into starting roles that will be vacated over the next couple of years (nose tackle, safety).
The nature of the NFL Draft is capricious, and the players that are being forecasted now to be taken prior to the 24th pick by the national media will be dramatically different come April 26th. Take for instance Dontari Poe, whose Combine workout propelled him from a projected late first round pick to a projected top ten pick. However, as more and more film study is has been conducted on Poe and his lack of production at Memphis against lesser competition surfaces, his value appears to be dipping. What also cannot be ignored is the history surrounding highly drafted players who were workout warriors at the Combine that were debilitating busts (see Matt Jones, a 6’6, 237 pound quarterback converted to wide receiver selected by the Jaguars in 2005 based on his Combine workout where he posted a 4.37 forty yard dash). Conversely, there are also players who are currently being undervalued whose names will find their way into the first round, and those foretasted to go later in the first round will climb higher, which is what I see happening with Hightower.
The Draft cannot get here fast enough, as Steelers’ fans are eager to welcome new prospects that will hopefully develop into major contributors, and ideally, into Pro Bowl players. One thing is certain, the Steelers will not reach with their first round pick, and if the player they want is not available at 24, trading out of the first round for more picks is a possibility. And with later round prospects like Brooks, Isaiah Pead, and Mike Martin who have been linked to the Steelers, trading out seems like a solid idea.