Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Something to Consider

The Steelers have so many needs, and so few draft picks, they should strongly consider swapping the number 23 pick in the first round for a high second-round pick and another, lower-round pick, if there are any takers for such a deal.

The Steelers have so many question marks at various positions, however, that they also must ask themselves, "What if the very best player at his position is available at 1.23?"

Which brings us to: Kenny Phillips, safety, University of Miami.

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls have been focused on other positions of need, and there are plenty of those: offensive line, defensive front seven, cornerback, and receiver (not necessarily in that order). One could make an argument for spending the team's first-round choice on a highly rated player at any of those positions.

One could also make a case for selecting Phillips, who is universally considered the best safety, by a wide margin, in this year's draft.

The drop-off from Phillips to other safeties is said to be considerable. Which is not to say you couldn't find a serviceable player later in the draft. But the premier player? It's Phillips.

The prospect of Phillips pairing with Troy Polamalu would be interesting, if not troubling, for opposing offensive coordinators, Carson Palmer and other NFL quarterbacks.

Phillips is accustomed to being hailed as the very best safety at whatever level he has played throughout his career.

But what about the Steelers? Do they really need a safety? Not sure, really. Given all their other pressing needs, if the Steelers were to select Phillips, it would reveal or point to a variety of factors: Lack of confidence in Anthony Smith. Continued health problems for Ryan Clark. A lack of depth at the position – although Tyrone Carter is a capable backup, he is a stopgap starter, not a long-term answer. Plus, one more question, and a legitimate one in light of last year: Can Troy Polamulu stay healthy all season?

So, if the team has qualms about entering the season with the prospect of Clark on injured reserve (or retiring), and a camp competition between a shaky, reckless Smith and a limited, aging Carter … well, then, maybe, just maybe they'll take a damn close look at the best safety in the draft, Kenny Phillips, who is supposedly being targeted by the Eagles (1.19), Redskins (1.21) and Giants (1.32).

So far, about the worst we've heard anybody say about Phillips is that he is the best of a weak draft class at safety. The weakness of the rest of the draft class is not his fault.

We've also heard that the coaching staff at Miami described him as a cross between two other former Miami safeties, Sean Taylor and Ed Reed.

Hyperbole aside (following the 2006 draft, Syracuse coach Greg Robinson described Anthony Smith as a cross between Dennis Smith and Carnell Lake), Phillips does have a track record of success to back up the effusive praise. He also has demonstrable playmaking abilities, is a sure tackler, has excellent size/speed ratio, strong coverage skills – pretty much everything you'd want in a safety.

Like Penn State LB Dan Connor, he'd be a safe choice: With both Connor and Phillips, at least you know what you’re getting. And there's a lot to be said for that.

So, as flaky as it sounds at first thought … maybe, just maybe, it would make sense for the Steelers to draft Kenny Phillips.

Maybe not, but pairing the best safety from college with the best safety in the NFL is something to consider. The Steelers could do worse.

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