Somewhere the spirit of Al Davis is clapping his hands and laughing.
For years and years the running joke in the NFL draft was if a player was fast, the Raiders would inevitably take him. With Darth Al’s passing, Oakland has taken a much more sensible approach to picking players. Of all the teams to step in and take over their obsession with speed, who expected it to be the Pittsburgh Steelers?
In my Steelers Draft preview, I didn’t mock out specific players but I did identify bolstering the defensive line and a Chris Rainey-type running back as areas of interest. I just didn’t expect them to go out and fill those needs in rounds two and three. Your second and third rounders are premium picks today’s NFL. I’m not too sure about the wisdom behind using one of those picks on a third string running back.
Let’s start with the second round, though. The Steelers took Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Unlike their other two picks, the Tuitt selection has been met with nearly universal acclaim. I hate when people say stuff like “this guy has first round talent yet you’re getting him in round 16!” – remember they said that about Limas Sweed and we soon found out why he fell like he did. Tuitt’s story is worth mentioning, though. A lot of draftniks had a first round grade on him from his game tape but he fractured his foot and couldn’t participate in either the Combine or his Pro Day. Without any of the all-important measurables, his stock took a bit of a tumble.
Had he been able to work out, Tuitt very well may have been a first round talent. The Steelers are 50-50 on first round defensive ends – Cam Heyward is a beast while Ziggy Hood was a bust. The good news is Tuitt projects a lot more as a Heyward type than a Hood. Hood’s selling point was his (alleged) non-stop motor, while Cam had all the physical attributes. Tuitt has a lot of the same tools. He’s a big strong dude who can take on blocks and hold his ground at the point of attack. In other words, the ideal bookend for Ironhead Jr.
Second round might be a bit early for a defensive end but if this draft has taught us anything it’s that Kevin Colbert cares far more about getting the best player available than worrying about positions of need. Not that DE wasn’t a need. With the signing of NT Cam Thomas, most of us expected Steve McClendon to slide over to DE with a late round pick or two backing them up. After taking Tuitt, it appears Colbert and Mike Tomlin still believe in SMac at NT – or perhaps Thomas with McClendon and Tuitt splitting time at DE until Tuitt starts outright. If nothing else, this pick apparently puts an end to any chance that they’d bring back Brett Keisel for one last go-round.
The Steelers are clearly committed to getting younger and more athletic on defense and while we may quibble over the choices and the rounds, there’s no denying its something they have to do.
In the third round, we got our second curveball of the draft when they took Kent State running back Dri Archer. As I expected, he’s a Rainey-clone, minus being a moron with sociopathic tendencies. Archer’s strongest selling point was an insane 4.26 40 time at the Combine. That’s not just fast football speed, that’s crappy little Balkan republic Olympic sprinter type speed. With bruisers Le’Veon Bell and LaGarrette Blount already on the roster, it was obvious the Steelers would be looking for a third down scatback to fill that last slot.
The reason some people are less than enthused with the pick – besides the fact there was an unprecedented run on wide receivers which, unless Colbert has a hidden gem stashed away somewhere, has left that position pretty well thinned out – is that Archer has some concerning flaws. For one, he’s extremely small. LaRod Stephens-Howling and Darren Sproles are peanuts by NFL standards yet they both have a good 20 pounds on him. It’s not just weight, though, as Archer plays small. His coach says he’s one of the toughest kids he’s met which he’ll have to be after NFL safeties line him up a time or two. There’s real concern about his durability and his propensity for fumbling.
Not only that, he’s a pure gadget player. In some ways that’s good as Todd Haley can come up with creative uses for him. Archer started for awhile at slot receiver so you know he can run routes and has excellent hands. He’s not particularly good at breaking tackles but get him out in space and Archer can be a home run hitter. As a regular running back, though, his scouting reports say he’s not too strong and tends to go down fairly easy. If MAC defenders had no problem dragging him down, 320 pound NFL linemen will maul him. If the Steelers intend to use him as a third down gadget play specialist, I have to think he’ll nearly always be sent out in the pattern because I can’t see him being effective at pass protect.
If I had to pinpoint one reason the Steeler braintrust wanted Archer, it’s probably his ability as a return man. He was MAC Special Team Player of the Year and has four career kickoff return TDs, including a 100 yarder against Northern Illinois. With Antonio Brown the team’s best (only?) playmaker at wide out, they desperately need to get him off return duty. AB may be awesome at it but you can’t risk such a valuable player returning kicks. Hopefully if nothing else Archer can step in and be the kind of electric returner the Black and Gold have been looking for.
The draft resumes this afternoon with the Steelers having six more picks to play with before the day is through. I’ll be back tomorrow with a complete draft recap. Maybe they’ll have even taken a defensive back. Although if this year’s draft has shown me anything, whatever you expect them to do, they’re going to do something completely different.