Because it’s never to early to roll out a mock draft…
1. (16) Prince Amukamara, CB, 6-1, 200, Nebraska
2. Clint Boling, T/G, 6-5, 305, Georgia
3. Cameron Jordan, DE, 6-4, 285, California
4. Charlie Gantt, TE, 6-5, 250, Michigan State
5. Shiloh Keo, S, 5-10, 210, Idaho
6. Owen Marecic, FB, 6-1, 245, Stanford
7. Ted Laurent, NT, 6-0, 305, Ole Miss
Analysis: This mock assumes the Steelers, although limited by current CBA rules, either (A) find a way to resign OLB LaMarr Woodley and OT Willie Colon to long-term extensions, or – the more likely scenario – (B) no CBA is reached at the time of the April, 2011 NFL Draft.
The latter would put the 2011 season jeopardy and probably keep rights for Woodley and Colon with the Steelers for another year if a CBA is reached late summer due to the chaos that would ensue if most 4th- and 5th- year players became unrestricted free agents in late summer. The owners are unlikely to allow that to happen, particularly since they will be bargaining from a much stronger position than the players thanks to television contracts that guarantee revenues for the owners regardless if games are played in 2011.
Of course, if they lose Woodley in free agency, this draft projection will change as the Steelers will almost assuredly draft at least one linebacker, even after absurdly taking three in the 2010 NFL draft when they had more pressing needs. Moreover, a free agent loss of Colon, who will already miss the entire 2010 season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, could move offensive tackle up to the Steelers’ primary need, particularly since Pittsburgh will likely not pay to bring in a starting-caliber offensive tackle through free agency.
However, this mock also assumes Pittsburgh will lose veteran cornerback Ike Taylor to unrestricted free agency, following the 2010 season. Taylor will be 31 before the 2011 season and Pittsburgh will be less likely to give a third, market-rate contract to an inconsistent CB at that age.
If Taylor has a rebound year in 2010 similar to his stellar play in 2008, he will be way out of the Steelers’ price range. If he plays like he did in 2009, the Steelers likely will not want him back. Remember that there will be no franchise or transition tags for the 2011 free-agency period.
Taylor loves Pittsburgh and is close to management, but how many older defensive players can the Steelers sign to third contracts after re-upping Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, James Farrior and Ryan Clark to similar contracts within the last two years? Pittsburgh will have the oldest starting defensive lineup in the NFL this year and could be too old by 2011.
Doing the same with Taylor could be a bad move for an aging cornerback who has always relied on pure athleticism, but has some of the worst ball skills of any cornerback in the league, is psychologically fragile, and seemingly sometimes uninterested on the field.
Even with the astute trade on the third day of the 2010 draft that brought back cornerback Bryant McFadden, who subsequently signed a 3-year contract, corner remains Pittsburgh’s No. 1 need in the 2011 draft, just like it was in 2010.
The inconsistent Taylor is the only cornerback on the Steelers roster who could start for more than 10 teams in the NFL right now. Of course, if any of the youngsters on the Pittsburgh cornerback roster (Keenan Lewis, Joe Burnett, Crezdon Butler) show great promise in 2010, cornerback becomes less of a need and offensive line should be the target in round one.
Fortunately, the 2011 NFL Draft will likely have a deeper and more talented group of cornerbacks than the average class in 2010, including several, big, physical, potential first-round cornerbacks who fit the Steelers’ scheme.
LSU standout Patrick Peterson headlines that list and is a possible top-5 pick. Amukamara, who may or may not be available at this spot depending on how well he plays as a senior and tests afterward, seems like the perfect Steelers’ CB and is battling three others for the No. 2 cornerback ranking in the draft.
Even with Colon’s projected return for 2011, Pittsburgh will still need depth on the offensive line and a potential starter at guard with the likely move of Maurkice Pouncey inside to center after his one season of hopefully starting at right guard. Boling, a four-year starter in the SEC, fits both needs, as he has garnered significant experience at four different offensive line positions and could theoretically play any position on the line in the NFL.
Jordan is a nice developmental player for an aging defensive line that could lose Chris Hoke and Nick Eason after 2010, and Aaron Smith after 2011. Seventh-round pick Ted Laurent, part of an absurdly rich corps of defensive tackles at Ole Miss this fall, could stick as a developmental NT behind Hampton.
If no CBA is reached, Matt Spaeth will remain the property of the Steelers for 2011. That will not necessarily be a good thing if offensive coordinator Bruce Arians insists on employing the poor-blocking Spaeth in two tight-end, short-yardage sets. Gantt is a classic over-achiever, excellent blocker and dependable receiver with subpar speed. He would be an upgrade at No. 2 TE regardless if Spaeth is retained.
One of the surprises of the 2010 draft was the Steelers not using any of their 10 picks on a safety in such a deep year for the position. Superstar Troy Polamalu is increasingly more injury-prone, free safety Ryan Clark will turn 31 this fall, and has absorbed and inflicted great punishment to his body, and new No. 3 safety Will Allen is in his 7th NFL season. An upgrade over Ryan Mundy at No. 4 safety and a development prospect is sorely needed.
Enter the hard-hitting Keo, who is undersized but very athletic. He would also be able to help out on special teams coverage units, where Mundy has been ineffective.
The Steelers are saying they are publicly committed to re-establishing their rush offense in 2010. However, I doubt offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is as committed and any chance of the Steelers actually showing significant improvement probably was severely hindered with the loss of Colon, clearly the Steelers’ best run-blocking offensive lineman over the last two seasons.
Therefore, Arians could finally get the axe if the offense struggles in 2010, which is certainly not an unreasonable expectation considering the loss of superstar quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for 4-6 games due to suspension, the dumping of the Steelers’ top offensive weapon in Santonio Holmes and the loss of Colon.
Regardless of the offensive coordinator, the Steelers’ front office and head coach Mike Tomlin might insist on using a true fullback more often in 2011. Enter Marecic, an old-school, throwback player who may actually start both ways this fall at fullback and inside linebacker for a potential top-25 team in Stanford. Marecic’s pro future, though, undoubtedly lies at fullback and he would be instantly beloved by a Steeler fanbase clamoring for the return of a true blocking fullback on the roster.