The Pittsburgh Steelers struck gold with Maurkice Pouncey in the first round of last year’s draft. This year, they’ll try to do the same thing … with another guy named Pouncey. Ted Kian of Steelers Lounge looks at Maurkice’s brother and every other potential Steelers pick in our latest draft preview:
1. How sweet would it be if the Steelers were able to land Mike Pouncey? I’m thinking they’d have to trade up though.
Mike Pouncey is not nearly as good as his brother, which is why he received a mid-round grade from the NFL advisory committee after his junior year and opted to stay in school for his senior season. However, his draft stock has risen, in part, due to Maurkice’s success as a rookie. Mike, though, is by himself an excellent prospect and the symmetry between him and Maurkice would help Pittsburgh dominate the interior just as the twins did in helping Tim Tebow break Herschel Walker’s Southeastern Conference career touchdown record while at the University Florida.
The Steelers’ most successful offensive lines have been dominated by interior players for the past 40 years (e.g., Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson, Alan Faneca, etc.). However, right guard has been the weak link of the Steelers’ offensive line for the better part of the last decade. In fact, Pittsburgh started three different players each multiple games at that spot last year in Trai Essex, Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster. Pouncey would shore up that weakness immediately. However, it would likely take trading up at least a third-rounder to secure Pouncey. The Steelers are not averse to trading up for a player they target and have had great success the last two times they did so in the first round to pick up Troy Polamalu in 2003 and Santonio Holmes in 2006. If Pouncey falls to No. 24 overall, the Steelers may consider offering their first- and third-round picks to New Orleans to move ahead of Seattle, who would likely select Pouncey at 25 if he were still on the board. It seems highly unlikely that he would fall past the 28th pick, assuming New England holds onto that spot. I would not complain if the Steelers traded up, but a third-round pick to move up in the first round is a steep price.
2. I’m thinking cornerback and tackle are the team’s biggest needs. Which worries you more? There are bound to be some solid players at both positions available in the 31st spot.
Cornerback is a far greater immediate need for the Steelers than tackle. It is also a major long-term need. Pittsburgh’s top corner, 30-year-old Ike Taylor, will likely become an unrestricted free agent at some point during the offseason. William Gay, the Steelers’ No. 3 corner, would also become an unrestricted free agent if a new CBA is reached similar to the old agreement that grants free agency to most fourth- and fifth-year players. Moreover, both No. 2 corner Bryant McFadden and Gay struggled last year in man coverage, a team weakness that was badly exposed by Aaron Rodgers in the Super Bowl.
However it is debatable if any corner prospect would be worthy of the 31st pick overall. The top two cornerback prospects, Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara, will both be long off the board, as will probably be Jimmy Smith, although he is likely already off the Steelers’ target list due to character concerns. The consensus next two best corners are Miami’s Brandon Harris, although he is a little short (5-feet, 10 inches) and slow (4.5 in the 40) to warrant that spot and Texas’ Aaron Williams, who is more of a big zone corner who could have trouble in man coverage, which is where the Steelers need the most help. Moreover, this is a pretty deep cornerback draft, and the Steelers can probably grab a smaller slot cornerback who can cover in the second or possibly even the third round.
If everyone from their 2010 roster returns, the Steelers may be the NFL’s deepest team at offensive tackle this fall. The concern is for 2012 and the future. Still, the Steelers lost both their starting tackles last year to injury and still ended up one drive away from winning a seventh Super Bowl title. Max Starks, a solid but unspectacular starting left tackle, is expected to make a full recovery from a neck injury that sidelined him for the second half of the 2010 season. Starks, however, is the only Pittsburgh offensive tackle signed through 2012, which is the last year on his current contract.
Right tackle Willie Colon was the team’s best offensive lineman in 2009 but missed all of last season due to a ruptured Achilles. Colon’s status is one of the great mysteries in the current labor unrest. If a new CBA is reached by June, and that grants unrestricted free agency to most fourth- and fifth-year players, Colon will likely demand and receive a bigger payday from another team than the Steelers would offer. However, if a deal is not reached until late summer, the fall, or a judge lifts the lockout and the NFL plays its 2011 season under the 2010 CBA, then Colon will remain the property of the Steelers for at least one more season since they already tendered him a one-year deal as a restricted free agent.
Although he has only played tackle in the NFL, the 6-3, 315-pound Colon is physically built more like a guard. He may actually play right guard this year for the Steelers if Colon returns, along with veteran Flozell Adams, who will turn 36 in May and is contemplating retirement. However, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin has already said he wants Adams back as his starting right tackle regardless of Colon’s status, a powerful endorsement. After spending most of his career at left tackle and earning five Pro-Bowl trips for the Cowboys, Adams was signed as an emergency fill-in for Colon and ended up a strong right tackle, who seemingly improved at his new position as the season progressed.
While less talented, journeyman Jonathan Scott also improved as the replacement for Starks at left tackle, playing his best in the AFC championship game against the Jets and in the Super Bowl. However, Scott and Essex — who has started at both guard and tackle for the Steelers — are slated to be veteran unrestricted free agents this offseason, although the Steelers would like to have Scott back as a reserve, probably on a multi-year deal that at least puts another tackle under contract through 2012.
The top four tackle prospects will likely be off the board when the Steelers pick in the first round, but the team will consider Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod if he is available at No. 31. Sherrod would not have to play next year, but would be favored to start at right tackle in 2012 after Adams retires and/or Colon departs via free agency, and almost a lock to start at one tackle spot in 2013. It is difficult to find an immediate starter at tackle through the draft — particularly when you are late in the selection order as Pittsburgh usually is — so waiting until 2012 to address the tackle position would be a huge gamble for Pittsburgh. But the Steelers do not need a tackle in this draft to contend for another Super Bowl in the fall.
3. Is there a veteran player they might want to think about replacing? Aaron Smith?
Pittsburgh already has Aaron Smith’s replacement in 2009 first-round pick Ziggy Hood, who played extremely well as a starter in the second half of the season after Smith was lost for the third time in the last four seasons due to a season-ending injury. On the other side, Brett Keisel is coming off his best season and is signed through 2013. Plus, Smith is saying he wants to play two more seasons and is signed through 2011, with standout nose tackle Casey Hampton under contract through 2012.
While not an immediate need at all, the Steelers may want to draft a defensive lineman in the first two or three rounds this year, because five of their top six defensive linemen from last season are 30 or older, and because this is the most loaded draft in recent memory at defensive end, including lots of potential starting 3-4 ends. Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward would have to be considered as the best player on their board if the Steelers’ front office had a chance to take this top-20 talent at No. 31.
4. Who are you predicting they select with that first-round pick?
At this point it is still up in the air but I would rank the odds in order at Sherrod, Harris, trade-up for Pouncey, Heyward, trade-down into the second round and then take the top cornerback on the board with their first pick.