Steelers Could Ignore OT Again in 2011 NFL Draft to Focus On Need and Value

Pittsburgh is the only NFL franchise that has not drafted an offensive tackle prospect in the first two rounds in any NFL draft over the past decade (2001-10). Do not be shocked if that streak continues in the 2011 NFL Draft. In fact, the Steelers may ignore offensive tackle altogether in April.

The Steelers rarely reach for prospects that are further down its draft value board and teams picking later in the first round simply cannot draft an offensive tackle in any round in this era without reaching at some point due to the increasing premium placed on the position by all NFL franchises.

Moreover, the Steelers could easily enter its 2011 NFL training camp (assuming a new CBA is reached and there are training camps) with three quality, proven, starting offensive tackles on its roster in LT Max Starks, RT Willie Colon and Flozell Adams, who could still start on either side.

They also could have up to two more versatile offensive linemen with significant game experience at tackle in veterans Trai Essex and Jonathan Scott, as well as two more young tackle prospects who have been on Steeler regular-season rosters in third-year left tackle Tony Hills and rookie right tackle/guard Chris Scott.

That is a lot of options for a veteran, Super Bowl-contending team with more immediate needs at right guard, cornerback and potentially defensive end if often-injured veteran Aaron Smith opts to retire after the 2010 season.

However, ignoring tackle in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft could prove disastrous for Pittsburgh as early as 2012, a season when the Steelers could be forced into starting a rookie, late, first-round offensive tackle, a recipe which is rarely successful.

After losing both Colon and Starks to season-ending injuries, the Steelers’ already-poor offensive line is now a makeshift unit.

Signing the veteran Adams right before training camp, however, has turned out to be a season-saver and one of the team’s best personnel moves of the highly-successful Kevin Colbert era. While not great, Adams has been a solid starter at right tackle this fall after spending most of his career as the Cowboys’ left tackle.

Adams, however, will turn 36 before the start of a potential 2011 season. While his annual salary doubles to $5 million in 2011, with none of it guaranteed, the Steelers will likely beg Adams to return for another training camp and would be best served keeping him on their 2011 roster even if he is an high-priced No. 3 offensive tackle.

That is because both of the Steelers’ starting offensive tackles over the past several seasons, Starks and Colon, will be returning from season-ending injuries. Moreover, while his play should not suffer upon his return in 2011, the type of neck injury Starks sustained means that any other serious injury in that area could quickly be deemed career-ending.

After struggling in pass protection early in his career, Colon emerged as one of the better right tackles in football in 2009 and was clearly the Steelers’ best offensive lineman before a season-ending Achilles tear in July that ended his 2010 season.

Colon is reportedly making great progress in his rehab, but he is unlikely a long-term answer for the Steelers for several reasons. First, players often need 1.5-2 years to recover from season-ending Achilles injuries, which is another reason why Adams will be asked back for training camp.

Second, while the Steelers’ coaching staff loves Colon and agrees with his agent that he is among the top right tackles in the NFL, Pittsburgh management has always placed more value on Starks, in large part due to his ability to play the more-important leftside.

Colon should have been eligible for unrestricted free agency after the 2009 season if not for an owner-friendly provision that kept most fourth- and fifth-year players from becoming unrestricted free agents due to a new CBA not being agreed upon. That same provision will hold for this coming off-season as well, assuming no CBA is reached.

Veteran Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette wrote on the Post-Gazette‘s premium subscriber site a few weeks ago that he sees no way a CBA is reached that does not allow players like Colon to immediately become unrestricted free agents and that he expects Colon to cash in with a big paycheck while leaving the Steelers.

However, with the owners holding more cards in this labor strife due to their receiving guaranteed television revenues even if games are not played in 2011, I could easily see a scenario where teams again having the option to issue one-year tenders to their fourth- and fifth-year players like Colon and LaMarr Woodley, thus prohibiting those players from entering the free market.

If a CBA is not reached until after the draft, it seems unlikely that owners would allow the roster-shuffling chaos that would ensue with such a large group of potential free agents entering the open market so close to the season and with teams not able to draft their replacements. The later in the summer that a lockout drags on, the more likely any agreement eventually reached would prevent players like Colon from entering free agency until after the 2011 season.

Of course if a CBA is reached before the draft and the Steelers lose Colon to free agency, Adams would be the clear starter at right tackle for 2011 and tackle would become a bigger draft need for the Steelers.

However, even in that scenario, what team would pay a huge signing bonus to an undersized right tackle coming off an Achilles tear? Colon certainly would not receive the type of long-term deal reflective of a top starting right tackle in free agency.

Thus, the Steelers may be be able to resign him to a hometown discount or maybe Colon would turn down mutli-year offers, opting to instead sign a 1-year, incentive-based deal (most likely with the Steelers) with a plan of cashing in on a huge payday after returning to form in 2011.

Therefore, considering all these options, I disagree with Bouchette by arguing that the odds right now favor Colon remaining in a Steeler uniform in 2011, although that is much harder to see for 2012.

Scott is seemingly outmatched every week since he has been thrust into the Steelers’ starting left tackle role, a position he simply lacks the athleticism to play well in the NFL. However, Scott has surpassed expectations this fall and has shown himself as long-term, valuable and intelligent, reserve offensive lineman capable of playing 3-4 different positions on immediate notice. He is as tough as any Pittsburgh offensive lineman and hits somebody until the whistle. Unfortunately, that player is often not the defender he was initially assigned to block, because that man is already en route to harassing QB Ben Roethlisberger.

Essex, who has now seemingly lost his starting right guard spot for the rest of 2010 to Ramon Foster but did not fare horribly when forced to replace Adams at right tackle in the second half of last week’s 13-10 win over the Ravens, is similar to Scott in his versatility, intelligence and experience. Scott is tougher, but Essex has more size and experience within the Steelers’ system.

Both of these journeyman will be unrestricted free agents in January regardless of the CBA situation. While there will be multiple free-agent offers for top players Ike Taylor, there will likely be little external market for players like Scott and Essex. If no CBA is reached, why would an opposing owner shell out cash for a reserve offensive lineman? If a CBA is reached, then a much deeper and more talented group of offensive linemen will be available, and no franchise would sign Scott or Essex to be a starter.

Regardless, expect the Steelers to resign one of these two players of their choice to a 2-year contract in the upcoming off-season. Pittsburgh will have major free-agency issues to deal with if a CBA is reached, since Taylor, Woodley, Colon, and Matt Spaeth would all be unrestricted free agents, with the Steelers likely focusing all their energy and cash on keeping Taylor and Woodley, the latter of whom would likely receive the franchise tag if such a designation is again part of a CBA.

Taylor, however, would be the only starter on the market and the only Steeler who would receive lucrative free-agent offers if no CBA is reached. Pittsburgh must break the bank to maintain Taylor, but that would still enable the franchise to resign valuable veteran reserves like Essex or Scott to smaller, short-term contracts.

Either Scott or Essex, however, could be batting with or even sharing the right tackle job with a rookie 2012 first-round draft pick, because Colon will likely be in another uniform before the 2012 season at the latest and it hard to imagine Adams playing that long.

If that scenario scares the Steelers’ brass greatly, they could elect to draft a future starting offensive tackle late in the first round of the upcoming draft, passing over prospects at other positions who would be more likely to play sooner.

However, this is not a deep draft for tackles and Colorado’s Nate Solder, Mississippi State’s Derek Sherod, Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi and Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo are all likely to be selected before the Steelers’ pick, assuming none of the four bomb in the post-season all-star games and workouts.

If so, at this point there appears to be no other left-tackle prospect worthy of a first-round pick and the Steelers should not be reaching for a player like Arkansas’s DeMarcus Love, who most scouts see as a right tackle who may actually end up playing guard.

The ranks of offensive tackle prospects only gets thinner in later rounds and I do not see Pittsburgh veering too far down its board just to draft a tackle when it has so many roster options at that spot for 2011.

Be sure to log back onto SteelersLounge.com tomorrow as we unveil a new 7-round Pittsburgh Steeler 2011 mock draft.

This entry was posted in 2010 steelers, 2011 mock draft, Cool Stuff, Free Agency, Front Office, Offensive Line. Bookmark the permalink.
  • http://www.google.com/profiles/100857546184516732260 Dr Obvious

    Frankly, as bad as the need for a tackle is, I think that the need for a CB may be worse. CBs, almost without exception, need a year on the shelf to develop. I have no idea what CBs are worth a late first round pick, but I hope that’s the way the Steelers go this year.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/100857546184516732260 Dr Obvious

    Frankly, as bad as the need for a tackle is, I think that the need for a CB may be worse. CBs, almost without exception, need a year on the shelf to develop. I have no idea what CBs are worth a late first round pick, but I hope that’s the way the Steelers go this year.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/100857546184516732260 Dr Obvious

    Frankly, as bad as the need for a tackle is, I think that the need for a CB may be worse. CBs, almost without exception, need a year on the shelf to develop. I have no idea what CBs are worth a late first round pick, but I hope that’s the way the Steelers go this year.

  • David

    Dr. O, I agree. We need a cover corner.

    With Ike, Woodley, and Colon possibly leaving, we may have to give Ike what he wants, start Worilds, and draft an O-lineman in R2-3.

    • Mike L

      I don’t see the need for a guard. Give Ramon Foster a chance it is only his 2nd year and he just broke into the lineup. I do agree LT is a position we need to draft and develop, with the neck injury to Starks. Anyone know when Tyron Smith is slated to be drafted? He fits the zone blocking scheme the Steelers are leaning towards.

  • David

    BTW, isn’t Pouncey’s bro pretty good? Maybe we could get him!

  • ecks

    i’m being lazy and not doing my own research, but maybe there’ll be a flozell adams type in free agency next year?

    • Steeler Stan

      We could not only have a “Flozell Adams-type”. We could have the real thing. He’s actually signed for next year already. I think people were presuming that we would cut him after this year to put Colon back in, but if Colon want to get paid… I’m surprised people keep glossing over the possibility of keeping him. I think he’s been an upgrade over Colon.

  • steelerjunky

    I agree there are some difficult scenarios ahead in early 2011. The way I see it for now,until we have future info.
    Is the Steelers have approximately four possible choices in the up coming 2011 draft.
    1 – is to pick a top CB “IF” one falls to them or trade up to get one if they think one is special?
    2 – Pick best DE/DT.
    3. Pick OG Mike Pouncey
    4 -pick BPA in any area that best serves the team

    1 & 2 possiblities of course will highly depend on how many of the top juniors declare for the 2011 draft.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

    Everyone says we need better corners. But corners are like offensive coordinators – fans typically overrate other peoples. Or maybe just underrate their own. Regardless, I am not that confident there are really a bunch of high quality cornerbacks just sitting around waiting to be signed/drafted. If there were, QBs wouldn’t be throwing for a bijallion yards all of the time. I mean, Kyle Orton, KYLE ORTON, is going to throw for 4000+ yards this year. The way the rules have been changed, I’m not sure how consistently any cornerback can really shut down a receiver. Also, LeBeau’s scheme plays a big role in all of those 10 yard completions. I doubt LeBeau would change his scheme even if we magically had Revis on our roster with Tayler. Frankly, I’m not convinced that the Steelers should commit a bunch of resources to corner in the future. Those picks/money would be better spent on the two lines, in my opinion.

    • drinkingclub

      As much as I despise the man I have to agree somewhat with Bob Costas, if that is really you Bob, and you still owe me for that bar tab! Corners are a dime a dozen.

      A really good corner who LeBeau would change his scheme for a rare.

  • DC in ATL

    Scott Wright’s December 3rd Mock Draft has us taking Carimi with the 29th pick in the first round with the Falcons getting Sherrod with the 32nd. Carimi is the 3rd tackle picked after Castonzo and Solder so it could happen where one of these guys falls in our lap:

    http://www.draftcountdown.com/sub/Mock-Draft-B.php

    I think a corner with our first or second pick is a highly likely scenario, for no other reason than Ike is in his early 30′s and getting a top notch cover guy to be our #1 guy for the rest of the decade would be a good idea.

    • Ted

      DC, yes some mocks have some of these tackles falling that far. But examining the last few draft, tackles that were given first-round grades have almost always (Oher was an exception) been selected earlier than expected. With the position being thinner than the last few years for the 2011 draft, it is hard to foresse a near-consensus first-round talent falling to the end of the round.

      • Randy Steele

        I agree with Mr. Kian. Offensive tackles always go high, not only because good prospects are relatively rare, but because of the incredibly high amount of money that’s paid to first round picks.

        Even if the prospect proves he can’t handle the job at tackle, at worse the team that drafted him can usually turn him into a guard, and that way the front office won’t have lost all of its investment in the player.

        Compare that to the risks teams take by drafting quarterbacks, wide receivers, or even cornerbacks and running backs high in the first round. When those guys bust, millions of dollars are lost, not to mention the countless hours of time and energy used to train them.

        From a bean-counter’s point of view, the least risky draft choice is a offensive or defensive lineman.

    • Ted

      DC, yes some mocks have some of these tackles falling that far. But examining the last few draft, tackles that were given first-round grades have almost always (Oher was an exception) been selected earlier than expected. With the position being thinner than the last few years for the 2011 draft, it is hard to foresse a near-consensus first-round talent falling to the end of the round.

  • Cols714

    I don’t think we need a tackle. Starks, Colon, and Adams are all good enough. What we need is a right guard, a CB, maybe safety depth.I’d be all for drafting a guard in the 1st round. As I said last year, the biggest weaknesses are center and RG, now they had a decent center, get an ok guard and we are in business.

  • Cols714

    I”m pretty sure the Steelers will sign both Ike and Colon. Colon isn’t going to get big money anywhere after being injured all year.

  • Jason M

    I see the Steelers trading up to get a the best corner they can afford. Talent at their positions of need (which I see as primarily CB and G, with depth needed at S and DL) is vacant in the early rounds. Trading up means losing a chance at a new G, and everyone wants a matching Pouncey, but I really want the 2nd or 3rd best CB in this CB heavy draft… and the Steelers don’t settle for 2nd tier talent in the 1st round.

    Early mock drafts seem even more useless this year, with the CBA, large number of vital UFAs, and my belief that this is a trade up year.

    • Jason M

      Despite my last remark, I’m looking forward to your mock!

      • Ted

        Thanks, Jason. However, the top two corners, Patterson and Amukamara will be top-5 picks at this point. Next up is Jenkins, who after his performance against AJ Green, now looks like a top-20 pick, and hopefully well out of our trade range. After him, it s a bunch of late first-round and second-round CB prospects grouped together.

        You are correct that it is too early. But I seriously doubt this will be a trade-up year. We need to fill a lot of spots for the future and cannot afford to be giving up picks. Plus, the only times we traded up in the first round under Colbert is when free agency losses had hindered a position group (WR and S), a special player was very high on our board and within trading range (Santonio and Troy), and our front office rightly saw a significant drop-off between those guys and the next guy on the board at their positions (Chad Jackson and Ken Hamlin, who was also probably off the Steelers’ board).

        None of those will be the case this year at corner and we will not trade up for Jenkins, whose criminal history/character likely will have him completely off the Steeler board.

        • Jason M

          Good points… color me disappointed. Too bad McDaniels was fired, we could trade him our 32 overall, 3rd rounder, and Keenan Lewis for his 5th overall pick.

    • Mike L

      I could not agree more. Trading a 3rd and maybe even a 3rd next year should get the steelers ahead of the Ravens. I like Ras-I Downing if he falls enough.

      One thing I would like to see on Steelerslounge is doing a mock draft during or just after the draft. It is pointless to say the Steelers should have traded up for so and so because they might not have had a trade partner. It is also pointless to look back in hindsight and say they should have drafted this guy instead of the one they took. Everyone chooses who they would have picked when the Steelers draft.

      Since the 18 game schedule seems inevitable, it should be talked about on SL. An expanded roster will certainly affect the draft of the Steelers.

  • Cols714

    Another position I’d like to see upgraded is free safety.

  • Bigswa

    Need Cover CB, OG, OT, and BIG WR

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  • Ewelch82

    The steelers first need to find a new OC and then go from there. I truly believe that we need a RG, LT, another speedy yet big Wide reciever, A good cover corner like the kid from LSU or comarti from the jets, A true line backer, Another quater back They will go blitz crazy on him next season because he holds the ball and makes horrible decisions. We chalk up a ton of holding penalties and sacks because of him. Just think where we would be if we didnt have that. My picks for the draft are Castonzo, Pouncey, LSU corner, Cam Newton its time that we got back to getting solid players again and quit wasting roster space.

    • Mike

      Generally, I think most members of Steeler Nation can agree that we’re an abnormally smart fanbase that understands most aspects of football and specifically our roster. There are however a few misguided souls such as Ewelch82 that keep us humble. Without trying to sound too harsh to a fellow Steeler fan, what amazing fantasy world do you live in that gives us 4 picks in the first round and 2 in the top ten spots alone? Pat Peterson will never make it passed Cleveland. Cam Newton by all accounts goes somewhere top 10 and would be a horrible fit in Pittsburgh. Pouncey is either going to fall into our lap (doubtful) or we’re going to have to trade up for him. Oh by the way, there is no new CBA so no trades are allowed and we are forced to pick at 31, so there’s that. Castonzo would be the same scenario. We’re most likely going to end up with Sherrod or Heyward in the first round and both of those would be great picks. Now, I don’t think I’ll even delve into your comment about trading/signing Cromartie. Even Raiders fans know that K Colb wouldn’t bring that nightmare into the organization.

      Now, with the exception of Hines Ward, God bless his heart and legs, the majority of our wide receivers have very good 40 times. One Trick, and the Young Money duo are all very good speed receivers and can all act as a deep threat which is what is going to make our receiving group rock solid for the next few years. That’s not even counting Pittsburgh’s favorite boy, who reportedly is going to be battling for the #4 spot on the depth chart, Limas “Alligator Arms” Sweed.

      So that leaves me with maybe your one inkling of a valid point, and that would be the tenure of BA as Steeler’s OC. The only two reasons I’m not one of the people who subscribe to the notion that we should hang him from a bridge and start dressing up like English Monarchs are 1) his amazing, and yes it was amazing, playcalling in the first half of the Jets playoff game. I’ve never seen a Steelers offense look that dominant. And 2) Consider this: Without Either Troy Polumalu or Aaron Smith, Dick LeBeau’s defense is above average at best. Without his entire starting offensive line, an effective run game, and generally bad field position, BA not only put up enough points on the board to win one super bowl and contend for another but he also had a year with a 4000 yard passer, two 1000 yard receivers and a 1000 yard rusher. Most teams would make that guy his head coach under those circumstances.