By Cian Fahey
There are two players the Pittsburgh Steelers should consider trading up for in the upcoming draft, both on offense.
Back in 2008, one year into the Mike Tomlin-era in Pittsburgh, the Steelers entered the NFL draft expected to make moves to improve their porous offensive line. Instead of spending a first round pick on tackle Duane Brown, the only offensive lineman taken in the first round after the Steelers picked 23rd, the Steelers brought in running-back Rashard Mendenhall.
The Illinois runner was a surprising choice for the Steelers as Willie Parker was still fast Willie at the time and Mendenhall was expected to be long gone by the time Kevin Colbert and Tomlin got a chance to bring in a prospect. With a new weapon added to the offense, the Steelers were expected to make a move on the offensive line in the second round.
Limas Sweed was the team\’s second round pick that year. Sweed, a wide receiver who never made the impact the team expected him to, was drafted along with Mendenhall to diversify the offensive attack and overcome any shortcomings on the line with greater weapons.
While that direction ultimately didn\’t land where the map said it would, the Steelers still won a Super Bowl that year and have appeared in another since.
This year, the Steelers still have offensive line issues entering the draft as it wouldn\’t shock anyone to see them draft a tackle or guard to protect Ben Roethlisberger upfront. In comparison to most teams however, the Steelers have very few needs.
Colbert yesterday essentially said that they have no needs but instead called their needs “wants”. He also said that there were not many sure fire players in this draft.
With those factors in mind, it would not shock me if the Steelers decided to trade up in the first round of the draft. There are two players in my mind who the Steelers would be willing to trade up for in the draft if they slipped far enough. It\’s easy to understand why David DeCastro would interest the team, however the other may need some persuasion on my part.
Many of you are Isaac Redman fans. It makes sense. Redman is a good runner who gives his all and has a running style that is a lot more…let\’s say…Steelers-like than Mendenhall\’s ever was.
The thing about Redman is however that he is limited and won\’t ever scare defenses. He is not a good blocker, his running style is aggressive but not dynamic and his inability as a receiver is glaringly obvious for all to see. As I previously pointed out, I don\’t believe Redman can ever truly replace Mendenhall as a feature back.
Past Redman, the Steelers don\’t have any players who aren\’t going against the odds to be capable NFL backs. Jonathan Dwyer showed minimal flashes in his second season, while many people have high hopes for Baron Batch. Much of the hype surrounding Batch is just hype.
He may turn into the next superstar receiving back, but the reality is that Batch is a seventh round pick coming off a major knee injury without even playing a down in a pre-season game to this point in his career. As a committee, the Steelers\’ running back stable is not proven and they certainly don\’t have a feature back without Mendenhall.
Feature backs aren\’t necessities in today\’s NFL, but they are very helpful pieces to have.
You\’ve probably already figured it out, but the other player who I believe the Steelers should be willing to trade up for, if he falls far enough, is Alabama\’s Trent Richardson.
Richardson may be projected as a top five pick in the draft, but on draft day monumental falls have occurred in the past while evaluating where running-backs will go is always an almost impossible task. Last year, Richardson\’s former teammate, Mark Ingram suffered a similar slide before the New Orleans Saints traded back into the first round to draft him.
If Richardson falls as far as 14th overall, the Steelers should be looking to move up and grab him.
Richardson is a feature back. To some he is considered as good a prospect as Adrian Peterson. With Mendenhall\’s torn ACL and only one year left on his deal, the Steelers cannot turn a blind eye to taking a running back as high as round one or trading up for one.
Richardson is seen as a guy who offenses will draft to build their offense around. His value to those teams is very high. However, his value to the Steelers is even greater because the Steelers would not be drafting him to be the mainstay of their offense, they would be drafting him to play in what is now a passing offense.
Having a running back who scares defenses, with the Steelers\’ quality on the outside and under center, would wreak havoc on the field. How would any team line up to matchup with the Steelers\’ receivers without exposing their defensive backs to Richardson who would simply run over them in the open field.
Richardson isn\’t too dissimilar to Todd Haley\’s last feature back in Arizona, Edgerrin James, who also played in a pass first offense. The greatest difference would be that Richardson would be way ahead of his prime whereas James was coming to the climax of his career.
Offensively, the Steelers don\’t have any real needs except for on the offensive line. If Max Starks is indeed healthy in Mid-July like he previously stated he would be, the Steelers could re-sign him. Bringing Starks back would give the Steelers a good offensive line, if not great, with Willie Colon moving to guard.
Defensively, the Steelers still have some uncertainties at nose tackle and inside linebacker. However, Larry Foote affords them time to wait for Stevenson Sylvester to develop for another year at linebacker while Steve McLendon and a late free agent addition could fill the void Casey Hampton leaves until he is able to return, if he is able to return.
The last similar move to this prospective trade was made by the San Diego Chargers for another running back, Ryan Mathews. The Mathews\’ trade didn\’t cost the Chargers as much as you would think it would. In order to move up to the 12th overall pick, the Chargers gave up their first, second, and fourth round picks along with linebacker Tim Dobbins in exchange for the 12th pick and a fourth and sixth round pick.
If you take away the fourth and sixth round picks, the Steelers could potentially move up high enough to draft Richardson by giving up a first and second round pick while also sending Redman or a player of that level to the proposed partner team.
It would certainly be a very aggressive move but not completely out of character for this franchise\’s front office. The scenario is unlikely as Richardson first needs to fall before the option of trading up even becomes plausible, however these things must be considered and the Steelers shouldn\’t be too shy to invest in a quality running back like Richardson.
One way to overcome a defense (potentially) with holes in it is to start scoring more points on the other side. The Steelers could potentially be the most balanced offense, even team, in football next year with Richardson at tailback.
It may sound like a Madden move, but it really isn\’t that far-fetched or illogical when you break it down.
You can follow Cian on Twitter at @Cianaf