Sunday, April 20, 2008

Still drafting ...

Now, even uber-agent Tom Condon, who represents three players projected to go in the top 10, says even he has no idea how this year's NFL draft will play out. Now, that may be some not-so-fancy dissembling, but we believe him. Sort of.

As noted previously on this here site, there's no consensus number one overall pick this year. In fact, there's no consensus how the top five will shake out, let alone the top 10. Which makes it hard to predict with much confidence how the draft will shape up when the Steelers pick at number 23.

Add to that uncertaintly other factors, such as the Steelers' many, many needs this year, and still other factors such as the uncertain status of certain "sliders" and "risers" in this year's draft, and it's really tough to predict who the Steelers will select.

Early on this year, we'd identified Oklahoma WR Malcolm Kelly as a potential number one pick for the Steelers. It soon became clear, however, that most people expected Kelly to be picked anywhere from number 11 overall, by the Bills, to number 22, just ahead of the Steelers' pick.

At 6-4, 220, he has great hands. From the video we watched, he plays fast, too, plenty fast, in a way we might describe as "violent" fast -- some guys are "gliders," some have deceptive speed, some are smooth striders. Not Kelly. He's "violent fast" -- which is to say, explosive, as in, when the ball is in the air, he goes and gets it ... and then seems to have a knack for just going past people, exploding past people, on his way to the end zone. Violent fast. Plus, as we said, he has great hands. Great hands.

Now, we hear that he may drop out of the first round altogether because of what's described as a poor Pro Day workout and some mouthy outbursts that characterize him as a "me-first" guy. The result? Kelly's a "slider."

Guard/tackle Branden Albert, on the other hand, is most definitely a "riser." Until the past couple weeks, Albert was the guy whom most people projected as going to the Steelers. Now, most mock drafts project him as being selected somewhere between six and 15. Too bad for the Steelers. He'd be perfect for that gaping hole at left guard.

Jeff Otah, the big tackle from Pitt, is all over the board .... projected (by Mike Mayock) to go as high as number five overall, or as low as 29 ... including, perhaps, to the Steelers at number 23. We expect he'll be gone.

An offensive tackle who intrigues us is Sam Baker, from USC. He should be available at 1.23, but most project him as a second-round pick. Most "experts" would admit Baker (a three-time All-American) is more accomplished than Otah, but they would also say he has less upside. We're not so sure. Oh, by the way, he played through a cracked rib last season. Frankly, he might be a steal at 1.23.

However, the name most mock drafts now project for the Steelers in Boston College guard and tackle Gosder Cherilus. But for a guy who's projected as a sure first-rounder, Cherilus sure seemed to struggle a lot last year, albeit under extenuating circumstances. There are questions about just how ready is to step right in and help. That's not what you want in a first-round pick. Is it?

Speaking of Lawrence Timmons: Quentin Groves. Explosive pass-rushing linebacker from Auburn ... but he had only three sacks last year, a number that happens to match the number of broken toes he also had. Plus he had offseason surgery for a heart condition that's actually considered no big deal, if you can believe that. And we just might.

At 6' 3", 259, Groves ran a 4.57 40 at the Combine. He is a lifelong Steelers fan and wants to be a Steeler. He may be the disruptive pass-rushing force the Steelers need. And he should be available when the Steelers pick. So, at this point, we'd rather have Groves (or Sam Baker) than Cherilus. For that matter, we'd rather have Groves than Timmons.

Keep in mind that Otah may be available at 1.23. Of course, so was Tom Ricketts, another lineman from Pitt. But that was years ago, and another story. And, despite what the experts say, we're more impressed with Sam Baker than Jeff Otah.

The Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac made a case for Cal wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who should be available. He's a playmaker, a "weapon," as Dulac describes him. But, at (maybe) 5'10", and (maybe) 167 pounds, he's small. Can he block?

A hell of a punt returner, though, and the Steelers sure could use one of those. There are other, more serious, questions about Jackson. Plus, don't the Steelers already have a player with roughly equivalent size/speed/playmaking pedigree in Santonio Holmes? On the other hand-- wait, that's three hands! -- what would be wrong with adding another of those, as long as Jackson keeps his head on straight? Jackson surely would be an upgrade over Cedric Wilson. Wouldn't he? Then, too, presumably, so would Malcolm Kelly. Or Donald Duck.

Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart is yet another guy with medical question marks who may or may not fall to the Steelers at pick number 23. But the Steelers do have other needs. Besides, they already have Gary Russell, Carey Davis, Mewelde Moore, Najeh Davenport and Willie Parker. If they want to add a running back to replace, say, Najeh Davenport, they should be able to do so in a later round.

The bottom line for the first rund is, the Steelers need to select a player who will provide immediate impact. No great revelation there, but still.

If it's an offensive lineman, he'd better be able to step in and start immediately. No questions asked. Unless he can do that, pick a player at another position. Defensive line? Derrick Harvey? Philip Merling? Or, how about Kentwan Balmer? Maybe, although we're skeptical of anyone associated with Butch Davis.

We like Groves. We could see a case for DeSean Jackson, the wide receiver/kick returner or, for that matter, Malcolm Kelly (who, by the way, Mel Kiper now projects as going to the Steelers. Could Mel have been reading Joey Porter's Pit Bulls? Nah.) .

But, really, we shouldn't have many doubts or question marks about the player we pick at number 23. With that in mind, who would be a safe pick?

Stupid question, maybe, but what about Penn State ILB Dan Connor?

Safe pick, as in, "What you see is what you get."

If the criteria, however, is to select a player who makes an immediate impact, Connor wouldn't be it. Or ... would he? Not with Farrior and Foote, starting (and, presumably, Timmons having moved to ILB). On the other hand, again, if you're looking for a player who will make an impact in 2009 and beyond, hmmm, maybe. Seriously, why not? Just asking ... especially since James Farrior becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season.

Or, how about Arizona CB Antoine Cason? We like Cason. Indiana CB Tracy Porter?

A little later ...

Or ... how about just trading down and picking two or three (or four) of the guys listed below? Not one will go in round one, but each and every one has "Steeler" written all over him:

And how about, just for fun ...
Kansas State WR Jordy Nelson: The consensus All-American shattered school and Big 12 Conference season records in 2007, hauling in 122 passes for 1,606 yards (13.2 avg.) and 11 touchdowns. He scored twice on five punt returns for 264 yards (52.8 avg.) and registered a school record 140 points. He hit on 2-of-4 passes for 45 yards and a pair of touchdowns, finishing with 1,863 all-purpose yards, an average of 155.25 per game.

In 36 games at Kansas State, Nelson started 32 contests. He ranks second in school history with 206 receptions for 2,822 yards (13.7 avg.) and is third in KSU annals with 20 touchdown grabs. He returned six punts for 267 yards (44.5 avg.) and three scores, as he also completed 3-of-6 passes for 73 yards and two touchdowns, adding seven tackles (6 solos) on special teams.

Speaking of numbers ...

Now, check out these numbers from a guy we've never heard of:
Chaz Schilens, WR, San Diego State. Pro day numbers: At 6-4, 208, Schills ran the 40 in 4.38 and 4.39, had a 43-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 3-inch long jump, 4.25 short shuttle, 6.84 cone drill, and ran position drills.

Unreal numbers. A 43-inch vertical jump? At 6' 4"? And runs a 4.38 40? Makes you wonder.

Yeah, again, we spend too much time on this, but not enough.