Tomorrow night is round one of the 2012 NFL Draft. Because when it comes to the NFL, nothing is worth doing that isn’t worth overdoing, rounds two and three follow the next evening. And on Saturday, we finish up with rounds four through seven. Throughout this three day marathon, you can be assured of two things. First, draft guru/demigod Mel Kiper will have a scouting report on every player no matter if they went to Ohio State or Slippery Rock University. And secondly, the event will culminate with the naming of Mr. Irrelevant, the very last pick of the entire draft who usually receives nice little rewards like a new car, a trip to Disneyland and/or dirty monkey sex from a young lady of questionable morals.
I try to avoid overblown statements like “This is the most important draft in recent Pittsburgh Steelers history” here on Total Steelers. But the fact is, um, this is the most important draft in recent Steelers history. The Black and Gold lost a number of players over the off-season, at least five of whom were starters on last year’s team. With no outside help coming in, it’ll be up to General Manager Kevin Colbert and company to once again build through the draft.
Going back almost ten years, the Steelers have had the luxury of using their picks to bolster depth and prepare for the future. Lawrence Timmons sat behind Larry Foote his first two years. Ziggy Hood served as a back-up to Aaron Smith and Bret Keisel. Even LaMarr Woodley had to wait a year while Clark Haggans started ahead of him. Well, those days are over. The future is now.
For the first time in years, the Steelers have multiple openings in the starting line-up. Willie Gay has gone (Pittsburgh) West, leaving only chronic underachiever Keenan Lewis and a couple of second year players (Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown) to replace him. Long-time defensive captain James Farrior finally succumbed to Father Time and now we’re left with journeyman Larry Foote and unimpressive youngster Stevenson Sylvester at inside linebacker. And the offensive line, man, the offensive line continues to have more holes than Oakmont. Other than center Maurkice Pouncey, who’s only in the starting line-up until he gets an ingrown toenail, there isn’t a single member of the line I’d rate much above average.
I’m not going to get into this mock draft nonsense which seems to be the rage on football websites and message boards. Hell, I saw one Steelers site posting mocks the day after our soul-crushing loss to Denver. I couldn’t even think about the Steelers without wanting to curl up in the fetal position while watching my Super Bowl XLIII dvd for a week after that game. Anyway, mocking is pretty pointless because after the first ten picks or so, there really is absolutely no way to predict how things will go. The Steelers will move up a handful of spots if a player they really really like starts to slip but usually they let things shake out and hope one of their targets falls into their lap when it’s their turn to pick.
Two names have been frequently assigned to the Steelers. First we have Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower. Hightower is your prototypical inside linebacker, exactly the kind of thumper we need to replace Farrior. In fact, Hightower is so highly rated that rumor has it the Ratbirds are looking to trade up ahead of us so they can draft him as an eventual replacement for Ray Lewis. The other name is Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler. Now that the Chris Kemoeatu era is thankfully over, Zeitler is the kind of kid who can step in immediately and start. There have been other names thrown around like Dontari Poe (an athletically gifted nose tackle who shot up draft boards after the combine) and whole host of offensive lineman (tackles Bobbie Massey and Mike Adams, guard Cordy Glenn) that are all possible picks depending on how the draft falls. And then we have corners like Dre Kirkpatrick or Stephon Gilmore, who probably won’t still be around since CB is one of the more highly valued positions in the draft, but either would sorely tempt the Steelers if they were still around at pick #24.
Then we have the later rounds. Good teams find starters in rounds 2 and 3, great teams find them in rounds 4-7. I’m not going through the nearly infinite possibilities available after round 1 but I will say Colbert has acknowledged he absolutely cannot blow rounds 2 and 3 as he’s done in recent drafts. Limas Sweed? Bruce Davis? We can’t afford any more of those kind of mistakes.
Overall, it’ll be interesting to see what positions the team addresses. If we take a running back in rounds 2 or 3, that’d be a pretty clear sign Rashard Mendenhall‘s days are numbered. Will Colbert try to strike late round magic yet again by taking a receiver as insurance in case Mike Wallace continues to behave like an asshole? How about wasting a pick or two by taking a kicker or punter in a the final couple rounds? And will they take a developmental quarterback to compete with grey-hairs Charlie Batch and Troy Smith?
Whatever happens, we know one thing for sure. The 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers will look a lot different than recent incarnations of the team. How many of those players are new faces will be determined over the next three days. And how those new faces play will go a long way in determining whether the 2012 season is a success or another year to forget.