Monday, May 2, 2011

2011 NFL draft: Meet the new Steelers

By Mike Batista

As I write this, I'm watching Hines Ward on TV wearing a brown, Snickers-like outfit. I'm not sure whether to evaluate the Steelers' draft picks in terms of their football talent or their "Dancing with the Stars" potential.

The Steelers certainly went by the book in this draft, methodically addressing their top three needs at cornerback, defensive line and offensive line.

They didn't get an heir-apparent to Casey Hampton at nose tackle, which they'll need in a couple of years. They also could have used a safety since Ryan Clark's not getting any younger. But I'm hearing Crezdon Butler, drafted as a cornerback in the fifth round last year, might be able to play safety if he develops.

It also wouldn't have hurt the Steelers if they took a quarterback to back up Ben Roethlisberger. Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich are in their twilight, and it's hard to tell yet if Dennis Dixon is legitimate.

But with just the standard seven selections, one in each round, the Steelers didn't have a lot of room for luxury picks. So they stockpiled their top three need areas. It's hard to argue with that.

Before I take a look at the Steelers' picks, let me just provide a disclaimer.

I hardly ever watch college football. It's hard enough protecting 16 Sundays (or more) during the fall and early winter. If I was equally adamant about watching college football every Saturday, not only would I not have a life, I wouldn't have a job.

I used scouting reports from USA Today (and they used NFL Draft Scout) and Scott Wright's Draft Countdown in reviewing the Steelers picks.

And of course we know that without seeing any of these guys play a down in the NFL, it's sheer tomfoolery to evaluate a draft. So with that in mind, let's evaluate the Steelers' draft:

Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State (6-5, 294): The son of former Pitt running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward is a feel-good as well as a functional first-round pick for the Steelers. He can rush the passer and stop the run. Heyward gives the Steelers some new blood on the ends of the defensive line, where Aaron Smith is 35 and coming off an injury, and Brett Keisel is 32. Hopefully Hood and Heyward (how's that for alliteration?) can be the Steelers' defensive ends of the future.

Marcus Gilbert, OT, Florida (6-6, 330):
The Steelers get more Gator-aid in the second round. Gilbert will join former Florida teammate Maurkice Pouncey. Hopefully that gives the Steelers some built-in chemistry on the O-Line. Gilbert is highly regarded as a pass blocker, but might only be average as a run blocker. Offensive tackles are always looked at for their ability to play left tackle because they protect the quarterback's blind side, and Gilbert has left-tackle potential. Gilbert's father, Jeff Gilbert, knew a little about protecting blind sides. He was a Secret Service agent for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Curtis Brown, CB, Texas (6-0, 185):
First, let me ask how it is that the Patriots always seem to have 15 picks in every draft. Is that shyster Belichick doing some kind of card trick so that the Patriots get every other pick? We knew the Steelers would take a corner in Round 2 or 3 on the second day of the draft. My top choice would have been Ras-I Dowling of Virginia, a guy who probably would have been a first rounder had he not been injured. So what do you know, the Patriots take Dowling with the first pick of the second round. Reason No. 3,519 to hate the Patriots. Now that I have that off my chest, Brown was a thumbs-down guy in my draft preview, but I was really on the fence about it. I thought he was an intriguing pick as a potential special teams ace, but that he shouldn't be the prize cornerback of the draft for the Steelers. In taking another look at the scouting reports, the only real problem with this guy is he's a little small and maybe not the strongest guy on the field. But he's got everything else, including ball skills and enough speed to correct mistakes in coverage. The more I think about it, the more I like this pick in the third round.

Cortez Allen, CB, Citadel (6-1, 197):
As if Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert read my mind, the Steelers hedged their bets on Brown, but I thought this was a curious fourth-round pick. My second choice at cornerback for Day 2 of the draft was Davon House of New Mexico State, and he was still available here. But the Steelers took Allen instead, and the now-hated Packers snapped up House with the next pick in the fourth round. What I liked about House was that not only does he have good ball skills, he's also a very good interception returner. That brought Troy Polamalu to mind. Scott Wright's Draft Countdown labeled House with one of the keywords I looked for when reading about cornerbacks: "short memory." That site, as well as USA Today, had House ranked way ahead of Allen. OK, this capsule should be more about Allen than House, but Scott Wright had Allen ranked so low he didn't even have a scouting report on him. From what I saw on USA Today, Allen has good ball skills and teams didn't like throwing his way. I guess that counts for something. And don't forget, Ike Taylor was a fourth-round pick.

Chris Carter, OLB, Fresno State (6-1, 248):
Just like you can't have too much pitching in baseball, it seems the Steelers can never have too many linebackers. Carter, chosen in the fifth round, has a variety of pass rushing moves, but needs some work to develop into a regular 3-4 linebacker.

Keith Williams, OG, Nebraska (6-4, 318):
The sixth-rounder is the second offensive lineman picked by the Steelers, showing how serious they are about upgrading the unit. I like the words "nasty streak" in USA Today's capsule. It'll be interesting to see what happens if Sean Kugler can coach him up.

Baron Batch, RB, Texas Tech (5-10, 207):
The seventh-rounder is the Steelers' only luxury pick of the draft. Projects as a third-round back.

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