Recently, I went through many of the possibilities of the current NFL labor negotiations and likely upcoming lockout in March.
This unrest and unpredictability is why it is so difficult to do any mock drafts, because it is unclear who teams will lose to free agency or what players will even be eligible for free agency. Thus, any Steelers mock drafts will have to be explained under various scenarios at this juncture. To that end, here are three potential Steelers mock drafts for 2011:
SCENARIO I: No CBA is reached before the 2011 April NFL Draft and the Steelers are fairly confident that there will NOT be unrestricted free agency for 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-year players even if a CBA is successfully negotiated before any potential 2011 season. However, they do anticipate a slight increase in roster size (probably to 56) if/when a CBA is reached to better accommodate an 18-game schedule.
In this hypothetical scenario, the Steelers end up re-signing veteran free agents CB Ike Taylor, K Jeff Reed, NT Chris Hoke, DE Nick Eason, OT Jonathan Scott, CB Anthony Madison and LS Greg Warren. Steelers lose OG Trai Essex and ILB Keyaron Fox in free agency, do not attempt to re-sign RB Mewelde Moore and QB Charlie Batch retires.
1. OT Anthony Castonzo, 6-7, 295, Boston College – The Steelers would probably prefer Mississippi State OT Derek Sherrod, but his stock is soaring from a strong 2010 season thus far, and Sherrod could easily end up the No. 1 player in a poor draft class for offensive tackles. In contrast, an increasing number of scouts see Castonzo as being far more of RT than LT. However, he could potentially play both sides in the NFL and the Steelers will like his versatility, productivity and toughness.
2. NT Jerrell Powe, 6-2, 320, Ole Miss – Powe’s stock has been dropping this fall, but he still may be the best from a down crop of 3-4 NT prospects after the 2010 draft was loaded with such players. Still, he remains an excellent two-down prospect for the Steelers’ 3-4 defense and would be seen as Casey Hampton’s eventual replacement.
3. OG Clint Boling, 6-4, 305, Georgia – Boling has been Mr. Versatile for Georgia, starting at both tackle and both guard spots over four years. Although he has played mostly tackle the last two seasons, Boling’s best pro positions are the guard spots, although he could also start at right tackle. The Steelers are still looking for a potential upgrade at right guard and the experienced Boling could start by his second year in the NFL.
4. RB Kendall Hunter, 5-8, 200, Oklahoma State – Hunter reminds me of a slightly slower-version of former Steelers Amos Zereoue. He is having a strong senior campaign and would provide a different element to the Steelers’ offense. However, few scouts see him as a future NFL starter due to his lack of measurables.
5. DE Cedric Thornton, 6-4, 290, Southern Arkansas – Ziggy Hood is the only one of the Steelers’ current six defense linemen who is under 30, so Pittsburgh must start developing some younger players in the defensive trenches. Thornton could beat out Nick Eason for a roster spot or make the team in addition to Eason as part of an expanded roster.
6. TE Charlie Gantt, 6-4, 250, Michigan State – Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians refuses to keep a pure FB on the roster, but drafting Gantt would allow him to use David Johnson almost exclusively at FB. Moreover, Gantt could be the eventual replacement for Matt Spaeth, who is a strong bet to leave via free agency when he finally gets the opportunity. Gantt is not a great athlete, but he is complete tight end who blocks and catches well. Just ask Notre Dame. Gantt would be a steal in the sixth round.
7. OLB Bruce Miller, 6-2, 250, Central Florida – Kevin Colbert never misses a chance to take a 3-4 OLB prospect, and Miller – the current active leader in career sacks amongst all major-college football players – is an overachieving tweener who fits this bill. An increased roster size and the possible departure of Keyaron Fox means Miller could stick as the No. 5 OLB and No. 9 overall LB on the roster.
SCENARIO II: No CBA is reached before the 2011 April NFL Draft and the Steelers are fairly confident that there will NOT be unrestricted free agency for 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-year players even if a CBA is successfully negotiated before any potential 2011 season. However, they do anticipate a slight increase in roster size (probably to 56) if/when a CBA is reached to better accommodate an 18-game schedule.
In this hypothetical scenario, the Steelers end up re-signing veteran free agents K Jeff Reed, NT Chris Hoke, DE Nick Eason, OT Jonathan Scott, CB Anthony Madison and LS Greg Warren. Steelers lose CB Ike Taylor, OG Trai Essex, and ILB Keyaron Fox in free agency, do not attempt to re-sign RB Mewelde Moore and QB Charlie Batch retires.
1. CB Aaron Williams, 6-1, 190, Texas – If the Steelers lose their No. 1 CB Ike Taylor in free agency, then this position again becomes the team’s top, immediate, off-season need. Fortunately, the first two rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft should be loaded with top-tier cornerbacks, including many big, physical CBs who fit the Steelers’ defensive scheme. LSU’s Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara of Nebraska are looking like top 10 picks. The Steelers would love to tab Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling, but he will likely be off the board before they pick late in the first round. Williams, a junior, is one of three Texas CBs who should go in the first 4-5 rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft, including a pair in the first two rounds.
2. OG Mike Pouncey, 6-5, 310, Florida – The Steelers would prefer taking a tackle early. However, it is not a deep draft at tackle and Pittsburgh will not view it as a necessity to reach for one in the first two rounds, since Willie Colon will likely remain the property of the Steelers for at least one more season if no CBA is reached before the draft and Flozell Adams is also signed through 2011. How cool would it be to have Mike and his twin brother Maurkice Pouncey starting on the interior for the Steelers? Pretty cool for their family, Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler and Pittsburgh fans, since the younger Pouncey could join his brother as an immediate starter in the NFL.
3. RB Noel Devine, 5-8, 180, West Virginia – The Steelers have been lacking a true speedster in its running-back rotation since they opted not to re-sign Willie Pakrer. While he will likely never be an every-down NFL player, Devine is a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball and Arians will find ways to get him the ball in space. Devine is also a standout kick returner.
4. NT Ian Williams, 6-2, 305, Notre Dame – The Steelers have to start grooming a replacement for Casey Hampton after surprisingly not selecting a NT in a loaded 2010 draft at that position. Williams is a classic overachiever who does not possess NFL Pro Bowl potential like former Steelers Joel Steed and Hampton, but he still should be a solid, long-time starter in the NFL. Pittsburgh would be lucky if Williams slipped this far in the draft.
5. FB Owen Marecic, 6-0, 245, Stanford – How can you not love this old-school, throwback player who starts at FB and LB for a top-25 major-college program? I know Arians proudly claims his offense will never keep a pure fullback. However, his team is using the fullback position much more this fall than ever before and a potential increase in roster size creates room for a pure fullback on the squad.
6. ILB Josh Bynes, 6-1, 235, Auburn – Pittsburgh still needs to get younger at ILB, where Lawrence Timmons is an emerging superstar and rookie 5th-round pick Stevenson Sylvester looks like a keeper. James Farrior and Larry Foote, however, are both in their 30s and Keyaron Fox may depart via free agency, creating a potential roster spot for Bynes.
7. QB Jerrod Johnson, 6-4, 240, Texas A&M – A developmental QB prospect for the practice squad, Johnson possesses a lot of raw talent. Dennis Dixon will be entering his fourth season in 2011 and may be heading elsewhere via free agency for 2012.
SCENARIO III: A CBA is reached before the 2011 April NFL Draft that results in a return to unrestricted free agency for most 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-year players before the 2011 season. The new CBA includes a slight increase in roster size (probably to 56) to better accommodate an 18-game schedule.
In this hypothetical scenario, the Steelers end up re-signing unrestricted free agents OLB LaMarr Woodley, P Daniel Sepulveda, CB Ike Taylor, K Jeff Reed, NT Chris Hoke, DE Nick Eason, OT Jonathan Scott, CB Anthony Madison and LS Greg Warren.
They also re-sign OT Willie Colon to a relatively cheap 1-year deal, since no team will pay huge guaranteed money for a player coming off a torn Achilles and who may not even be ready for the start of the 2011 season. The Steelers lose TE Matt Spaeth, CB William Gay, OG Trai Essex and ILB Keyaron Fox in free agency, do not attempt to re-sign RB Mewelde Moore and QB Charlie Batch retires.
1. OT Demarcus Love, 6-4, 315 Arkansas – Like Sherrod, Love’s stock is on the rise. However, he is a little shorter and top-heavy, so he may not be seen as having as much upside. Still, Love would be a perfect fit at RT for the Steelers, has the feet to potentially play LT in the NFL and could also project at guard. Yes, Colon would be back for 2011 and Flozell Adams is under contract with the Steelers for 2011, although none of that is guaranteed money and his annual salary doubles to $5 million. However, Colon and Adams (retirement) could both be gone before 2012 and thus the Steelers need to find a potential starting tackle in this draft.
2. CB Jimmy Smith, 6-2, 205, Colorado – The only reasons Smith may fall to the lower part of the second-round is because (A) it is a loaded draft for corners in the first couple of rounds and (B) some teams will be scared of his ability to play a lot of man-to-man coverage downfield. However, he is a perfect fit for the Steelers’ defensive scheme.
3. NT Simone Fua, 6-2, 305, Stanford – Fua is climbing up the draft boards. His tenacity and intelligence would be a nice fit for Dick LeBeau’s defense. Fua would be slated to become the Steelers’ eventual starting nose tackle, probably in 2012 or 2013.
4. TE Zach Pinalto, 6-4, 240, North Carolina – It would be understandable if Matt Spaeth signs elsewhere, since he will not become a No. 1 tight end in Pittsburgh so long as Heath Miller is healthy. Spaeth, however, has finally developed into a quality No. 2 TE and the Steelers will need to find someone to immediately fill his role. Although he is not very big, Pinalto is a tough run blocker who also possesses good hands.
5. RB Derrick Locke, 5-9, 190, Kentucky – Often most effective when lining up at QB in the wildcat formation, Locke has been a consistent 100-yard rusher for a Kentucky offense that is often out-talented in the SEC. He will not be an NFL starter, but could provide nice, big-play potential as a No. 3 running back for the Steelers.
6. DE Mike Blanc, 6-2, 290 Auburn – A nice fit for the Steelers’ 3-4 defensive scheme, Blanc has also shown surprising pass-rushing skills over the last two seasons despite not possessing great athleticism.
7. OG Justin Boren, 6-3, 320, Ohio State – An expanded roster means the Steelers will likely keep 10 offensive linemen, thus opening up another spot. Boren is a mauler who comes from an OSU program that the Steelers coaches obviously admire based on the franchise’s recent draft history.