Well, I tried to warn you in the post title, so if you clicked on it, I have no sympathy for you. Besides, if you follow me on Twitter or have been a long time reader of this site, you know how I love to press buttons.
One last warning, if you don\’t want to hear about how Stanford tight end Coby Fleener could end up as the Pittsburgh Steelers first overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft, please close out your browser now.
OK, for those that decided to read on, here we go.
Let me start off by saying that I am not related to Fleener and earn no money by considering him a first round selection of the Steelers. I am fully aware that including him as possible target in round one is against the grain. I am fully aware that Fleener was not one of the pre draft visitors that the Steelers had in, but a source did inform me that they did meet with him at the combine in February.
The months leading up to the draft for me are full of watching tape and doing detective work. When you throw in a new offensive coordinator into the picture like Todd Haley, it makes the detective work even more of a challenge. I look at needs, I read ton of scouting reports and I study the draft history of General Manager Kevin Colbert over and over.
Now the easy thing to do in relation to mocking the Steelers first overall pick is to go with the consensus and although I know several of you will say you are not in that category, the truth is that Dont\’a Hightower is the overwhelming selection of many, and with good reason. The Steelers have a big question mark at the BUCK linebacker spot now that veteran James Farrior has been released. Currently the Steelers have Larry Foote and Stevenson Sylvester as the obvious players next in line to assume that role. Foote, who I think played well last season, is not a long term solution and the jury is still out on Sylvester as to whether he can be a BUCK or is merely just a backup MACK. It really is hard to say with him having just 70 plus snaps on tape in two seasons.
Farrior did not just age overnight. The Steelers had to know that 2011 was likely to be his last season and it takes time to groom an heir apparent. Something tells me they have more faith in Sylvester than many of us do. Hightower is a playmaker and I will give him that, but I worry that he just is not a three down linebacker in a 3-4 defense at the next level. His lateral movement and ability to drop scare me. As turned off as many of you are with Fleener, the same goes with me in regards to Hightower. Could he indeed be the pick? Absolutely he could and I do not discount him as a legitimate option. I am just not as high on him as others on when you look at players that could be on the board when the Steelers pick.
Let\’s look at a few other players that could be on the board when the Steelers pick. I am not enthralled with Cordy Glenn, Mike Adams and Jonathan Martin the more tape I watch on them. Gun to my head I would take Adams of the group. I fail to see the value in round one with either of the three and I feel it would be a “settle for” type of pick. Keep in mind that the Steelers have not drafted a tackle in the first round since Colbert arrived and I will also take this opportunity to remind you that a “true inside linebacker” has not been drafted in the first round by the Steelers in the Super Bowl era. Spare me the Lawrence Timmons talk as that has been discussed to death in the comments of previous post. If you consider him a “true inside linebacker”, then that means the total stands at one. This is just a little of the evidence that I talked about earlier in this post that I use in my decision making process. Sure each draft can be dissected as to why a tackle or inside linebacker was not drafted, but the fact remains that there hasn\’t since Colbert arrived. Each draft is its own animal plain and simple.
So now that I have cleared the tackles out, and I should note that I do not think Bobbie Massie is a first round talent, what do we have left? Dontari Poe? Could he fall to 24? I am not ready to rule that out as a possibility and if it does, I think Poe could indeed be a likely candidate to be the pick. Yes, even over Fleener. While I have shared my concerns about Poe over the months, I admit that he is raw. Very raw. He is also young and that is a major plus for him to go along with the fact that the Steelers do need a young nose tackle to groom. The grooming would take a while, but if anyone could whip him into a two-gap nose tackle, defensive line coach John Mitchell would be that person. Poe did not stick out on tape in the three games that I watched of him, but I do not discount that he has the tools and the build. With all of that being said, I think another team will draft him ahead of the 24th pick.
What about guard? Should David DeCastro drop, and I just do not see that happening, someone might rupture an Achilles on the way to run up the draft card. I have long had a draft crush on him, but have pretty much accepted for some time now that he would not be on the board at 24 and I do not think the Steelers would move up to get him. If he falls, great, he is the pick, same as with Poe. Kevin Zeitler you say? While I admit he looks promising, I do not see him as a round one talent. Round 2? Absolutely, but I figure his true draft stock lays around the top of the second round, in the first eight picks. Would I be crushed if he is the pick at 1:24? No, but I will feel that it is a reach. Good solid guard, but not a great solid guard. No other guard warrants being in the talk here in my opinion, so basically I have ruled out the Steelers drafting an offensive lineman in round one completely based on my film study.
What about safety Mark Barron, cornerback Stephon Gilmore or outside linebacker/defensive end Nick Perry? Barron has some medical concerns, but I think he certainly could be an option if he drops. The need for depth at safety is there for sure, but I just don\’t think he drops that far. He is at the top of another week safety class in my opinion and thus another team will likely snatch him. I also like Gilmore, but feel he too will be off the board. I also may have more confidence in the secondary the Steelers already have heading into the season than most reading this post and in my opinion they would sell the pick should he fall. The same goes with Barron, although the temptation and positional value with him may be too hard for Colbert to pass up. Perry? To me I think he is a pure 4-3 defensive end pass rusher and think it is mighty risky to project him as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the Steelers 3-4 defense. He is very talented and I would be surprised if he fell that far. The Steelers had him in for a visit, so I suppose he could be considered a legitimate option. I think he is another player a few teams might be willing to trade up for should he fall to 24.
Wide receiver you say? While Stephen Hill and Kendall Wright both have strong qualities to go along with splashy tape, I truly believe there is great talent to be had later on the draft as far as the wide receiver position goes. Let\’s just say that even though there are a few question marks in regards to the long term future of Mike Wallace, I would be pretty shocked if the Steelers drafted a wide receiver in the first round. They kicked the tires of Hill, but perhaps that was in case he fell and they wanted to look like they had some interest in him. Don\’t you just love speculation?
What about if outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw falls? I could certainly see him being the Steelers pick before I could see Hightower. The Steelers brass have been all over the Alabama pro days and maybe he is the one that they have had their eyes on the most. In my opinion he is better suited as a 4-3 defensive end at the next level, but that is just my tape assessment. I am not ready to rule him out completely, but would bet against him dropping, as well as being the pick if he did.
So where does that leave me based on my above assessments? Fleener of course. Is Heath Miller done in my opinion? No, he still has a few good years left in him and one of his strength is of course his ability to block and that is something that he does way, way better than Fleener does. The Steelers however need to save the mileage on Miller and can\’t keep rolling him out season after season for 1,000 plus snaps. Haley spoke very highly of Miller during his introductory press conference and you can bet Miller will likely be used more in the passing game in 2012. What is behind Miller? I have covered this in previous post, but will recap. Leonard Pope is a fall back body that knows the Haley system. The Steelers also only have $25,000 invested in him and that means that they are not afraid to add better talent should the opportunity present itself. Weslye Saunders is facing a four game suspension to start the season and the Steelers will not be afraid to add an upgrade over him in addition. The Steelers brought in 4 tight ends for pre draft visits, so that tells you something. If they were so comfortable with Pope and Saunders, why would tight end even be on the shopping list? Yes I know, Fleener did not visit. Perhaps they know all they need to know about him already. Cameron Heyward did not make a pre draft visit last year either and they picked him in the first round. Make of that what you will. What happens if Miller were to go down with an injury of some sorts? Are they ready to hang their hopes on Pope and Saunders? I don\’t believe so.
Haley had a fascination with Tony Moeaki back in 2010 with the Kansas City Chiefs and they traded up in the third round to draft him. Moeaki likely would have been drafted in the first two rounds had he not had the medical red flags associated with him. Since he was drafted Haley was quoted as saying in regards to the versatility of Moeaki prior to the start of the 2011 season and Haley said, “I wasn’t ever worried about the pass game side of Tony. As we evaluated him, it was clear he was a pretty good receiver, had real good feel, good hands. The things with him were just staying healthy and how he would hold up in the run game. He’s one of those guys that’s got very good feel, football feel, run and pass. So, when you possess that and then you have some skill and talent, you have a chance. Like I said, he’s playing catch-up right now. He’s got a ways to go. I don’t think that he’s where he was when the year ended last year, but he’s making progress here. And I wouldn’t expect him to be, really, for how the year has gone. He’s making progress, and he does. He’s another guy on what’s becoming a better list of versatile guys that give you versatility as an offense. You’ve seen us split him out, you’ve seen him in the slot, you’ve seen him in the backfield. Those are good things because now you’ve got a chance to create matchups, either for him or other players.” Haley was also quoted that same month by Peter King as saying in regards to Moeaki, “You can make Moeaki whatever. You can make him Wes Welker if you want.”
Now of course the Chiefs had a bigger need at tight end when they drafted Moeaki, than the Steelers have right now, but Fleener, who I consider a first round talent, presents great positional value at 24 and he would be a great player to spell Miller in his rookie season that Haley could move around in the offense quite a bit to present matchup challenges. He would contribute his rookie season and I believe his blocking can improve as well at the next level. Will he ever be as good of blocker as Miller? I would be foolish to even consider trying to sell anyone on that, but what he adds in versatility makes up for it in my opinion.
Now based on the above you can clearly see my reasoning as to why Fleener has been in my recent mock drafts as of late. It does not mean that I value him over a player like DeCastro, Poe, Barron, Gilmore or perhaps even Upshaw, I am just trying to take a realistic approach as to who will be on the board when the Steelers pick. Fault me if you will for not being as enamored as most are with Adams, Glenn, Zeitler or Hightower, but I call them as I see them on tape.
Will Fleener be the pick if the others I have rated higher are off the board? The odds are probably against it for sure, but something tells me the Steelers have legitimate interest in Fleener and that he is indeed on their round one board. We don\’t have long to wait to find out the answer and I am running out of time to shove more Fleener post down your throats as well. Lucky you and I know you can\’t wait for the pick to be anyone other than Fleener so you can tell me I was wrong. The odds are in your favor that you will get that opportunity.
Why oh why did you read this? I tried to warn you all.