By Jeremy Hritz
The 2013 NFL Combine is complete, and now, the Pro Days will begin, finalizing draft boards in team war rooms throughout the league. Yet as of the first weekend of March, it is still unclear as to whom the Pittsburgh Steelers will select with the 17th overall pick in the NFL Draft. The primary positions speculated in the first round for the Steelers have run the gamut from wide receiver to safety. This past week, Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette asserted that there was a good chance that the Steelers would select an inside linebacker with their first round pick due to the career-threatening injury to Sean Spence’s knee. While many Steelers’ fans would not be opposed to this, how much of a contribution would a rookie backer make on the Steelers defense? As Dave Bryan pointed out several weeks ago, Kendrell Bell has been the only rookie linebacker in the last several years who has come in to start on the Steelers defense. Is it worth using a first round pick on a player that will not be able to make a legitimate contribution to the team considering the many areas of need that the team has, especially on the offensive side of the ball? Or do the Steeler believe that Kevin Minter, Manti Te’o, or Alec Ogletree can get the job done in year one?
If anything is to govern the Steelers first round selection this year it has to be which player can come in and make the most significant impact in his rookie season. If the Steelers are to improve on 8-8 and be in contention for the playoffs this coming season, they must draft a player who can make serious contributions.
It doesn’t seem likely that the Steelers will use a pick on a running back in the first round, though Eddie Lacy’s physical running style is enticing. While Rashard Mendenhall wasn’t awful, he never truly fit the team’s philosophy and was more of a headache than a hero. With that situation all too fresh in the organization’s memory, a running back more than likely will not be taken until the later rounds, and there are numerous candidates that should be available in the second round like Giovani Bernard, Le’Veon Bell, and Christine Michael.
Safety is another position that is difficult to see the Steelers using a first round pick to acquire. While Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu are in the twilight of their careers, they can afford to draft a safety in the later rounds and provide them with a year or two to develop.
The two positions that seem to make the most sense for the Steelers are wide receiver and guard. While there are no elite receivers in this year’s draft, Cordarrelle Patterson, Keenan Allen, and Justin Hunter are all big bodied playmakers that could settle in with Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jericho Cotchery to make for a solid receiving corps for Ben Roethlisberger. A receiver drafted in the first round won’t have the pressure of coming in and being the number one guy because of the aforementioned trio, but he will help to create matchup problems for opposing defenses. The absence of Wallace’s speed has to be accounted for, and bringing in a young receiver can do just that, and with the presence of the veteran receivers coach Richard Mann, the maturity of a young group of pass catchers can be accelerated (I’ve already made my case for drafting a guard in the first round in my article “Take a Chance on Warmack,” so I won’t revisit that argument).
Is it a guarantee that the Steelers will select a receiver or a guard in the first round in April? Don’t bet on it, but to me, it makes the most sense considering the current make-up of the team. A lot can happen in the days leading up to the draft that will provide more clarity as to where the Steelers are headed with their first pick, but for now, drafting for offense seems the most logical decision.