Overall Grade for Steelers’ Draft: A-
Most experts did not give the Steelers a high grade for their selections in the first ever three-day NFL Draft in April. However, most Pittsburgh fans were satisfied with their team’s overall picks and elated if draft trades were factored into the equation.
Pittsburgh surprised many experts by keeping most of its draft picks and selecting 10 players overall, although it is highly unlikely that 10 rookies make the 53-man roster this fall.
The Steelers, however, traded away two late picks and in return received a pair of familiar veterans that should have a greater impact on Pittsburgh’s 2010 season than the 10 draftees combined.
Pittsburgh re-acquired Bryant McFadden from the Cardinals for a fifth-round pick. The Steelers’ biggest need entering the draft was clearly cornerback, although most fans were baffled that this position was ignored throughout the first four rounds.
However, the Steelers’ front office must have been confident that they could trade for McFadden, who had a poor season in his one year with Arizona. McFadden was a decent No. 2 starting CB for the Steelers’ record-setting 2008 defense. Solid in run support but lacking the speed to cover fast receivers deep, McFadden is an excellent fit for Dick LeBeau’s scheme.
Pittsburgh also wisely dealt a 7th-round pick to Tampa to re-acquire quarterback Byron Leftwich, who was a quality reserve on the 2008 Steelers’ championship squad, has loads of starting experience in the NFL, and will likely start Pittsburgh’s first four games while Ben Roethlisberger is suspended.
Thankfully in what has become the norm this century, the Steelers went with a solid, productive college player in the first round by plucking Florida standout Maurkice Pouncey. A 3-year starter for the Gators, Pouncey should be the next in a long line of great Steeler centers that ended following the retirement of Jeff Hartings after the 2006 season.
Pouncey may begin his pro career at right guard due to the mental demands on an NFL center. However, he needs to be starting somewhere by midseason this fall, preferably on opening day.
Pro Football Weekly dubbed the Steelers’ second-round selection of Virginia Tech linebacker Jason Worilds as the third biggest reach of the entire 2010 NFL Draft. Worilds is an undersized (6-foot-1), fast-twitch, tweener that has great pass-rushing potential, particularly as an outside linebacker in the Steelers’ 3-4 defensive scheme.
However, it was hotly debated if a 9-7 Steeler team with greater needs at several positions should have used a luxury second-round pick to back up arguably its two best players in James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
In defense of the front office, Pittsburgh had virtually no quality depth at outside linebacker last season. However, the Steelers had resigned Larry Foote to be the No. 3 inside linebacker and logic dictated that undersized but speedy starting inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons would move outside if Harrison or Woodley went down with an injury, with Foote starting at ILB. That has since been confirmed as the likely occurrence in event of an injury at outside linebacker this fall.
Worlilds had a second-round grade by some and no worse than a fourth-round grade by any draft experts, so PFW’s third biggest reach assessment for the entire NFL draft made little sense. However, no other pure 3-4 OLB prospects were drafted next until the Steelers took Ohio State’s Thad Gibson with the 116th overall selection in the fourth round, showing that the Steelers did probably reach for Worlids.
Gibson represented great value in the fourth round, but it was thought by many that the 21-year-old was more of a long-term project. However, he has consistently drawn rave reviews in training camp thus far and may play more than Worlids this fall.
The other Steeler rookie receiving the most positive press in camp thus far is third-round pick Emmanuel Sanders, a speedy wide out from SMU who physically resembles Santonio Holmes.
2010 was not a great wide receiver draft, particularly for speedsters, and Sanders was a late riser who ended up representing good value for the Steelers at a position of need. Ideally, he will eventually replace dependable Antwaan Randle El as the No. 3 receiver, which would add an extra deep threat to the offense that is considerably slower without Holmes.
The other Steeler draft picks are just fighting for roster spots and right now only sixth-round pick Antonio Brown appears to have better than a 50/50 shot of making the 53-man squad. Brown has looked smooth at receiver, but it is disappointing that he is not getting much of a look on returns, which is how I expected him to make the team.
Chris Scott, an offensive lineman from Tennessee who was the first of the Steelers’ three picks in the fifth round, fractured his foot and will begin the season on the PUP list and may well be transferred to the IR after the first six weeks of the season. This actually worked out best for the Steelers and Scott, since he was not a strong bet to make the team. Consider it a redshirt year.
Crezdon Butler, who was not even on some draft boards before being taken by Pittsburgh in the fifth round, has played well in the OTAs and training camp, and may force the Steelers to keep six corners on their opening-day roster for fear of not being able to resign Butler to the practice squad. However, that will not be determined until the play of Butler and second-year corner Joe Burnett is evaluated during preseason games.
It was surprising to see the Steelers draft a third linebacker in selecting Utah’s Stevenson Sylvester in the fifth round. Sylvester will have to be a special-teams stud in the preseason and show solid long-term potential at inside linebacker to force the Steelers to keep nine linebackers on its roster, because the top eight appear to be locks. It may be easier to resign Sylvester to the practice squad than Butler.
Like many Steeler fans, I was elated when the team drafted tailback Jonathan Dwyer in the sixth round, representing one of the greatest steals in the entire draft based on pre-draft grades, some of which had Dwyer going in the second round.
However, after looking impressive in OTA, Dwyer showed up fat to training camp and will need to play well over the next month or will likely lose out in a roster battle with preseason legend Isaac Redman, who looks improved and in much better shape than last preseason when he led the Steelers in rushing before spending most of the year on the team’s practice squad.
Seventh-round pick Doug Worthington appears headed for the waiver wire before the Steelers try to resign him to the practice squad. However, the former Ohio State Buckeye has the size and athleticism to eventually be a contributor as a 3-4 end.