Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Game Plan for Draft Day

We're convinced: The Steelers must trade down, and they will trade down. They will have excellent options on Saturday, and they should wait until they are on the clock to do a deal. No blinking, no wavering, in this poker game.

The Steelers are in a very sweet spot indeed for adding excellent picks in the second, third and fourth rounds, as well as (possibly) draft picks next year and even the year after.

Here's why ...

Atlanta, Miami and Carolina all need quarterbacks and will be jockeying to swing deals with teams sitting in the mid-20s of Round One. Baltimore might be in that mix, as well.

Four teams, all vying for three quarterbacks: Louisville's Brian Brohm, Michigan's Chad Henne and Delaware's Joe Flacco.

The Steelers, at No. 23, are in the ideal spot and carry the most trade leverage of any team late in the first round. The Steelers hold all the cards.

Atlanta would be an ideal trading partner for the Steelers. Atlanta, which holds the third and sixth picks in Round Two (numbers 34 and 37 overall), must be looking to move into the mid-to-late first round to position themselves for selecting Brohm, Henne or Flacco. That's because the Falcons, who hold the third overall pick in round one, are unlikely to select Boston College's Matt Ryan. They still need a quarterback to fill the on-field and public relations void opened last year by the Michael Vick fiasco.

The Steelers could conceivably swap their pick at 1.23 for Atlanta's two second-round picks at (34 & 37 overall), and ask for Atlanta's second pick in the third round (a compensatory pick, No. 98 overall); plus, say, a No. 6 pick from next year's draft (or a No. 5 two years down the road) as a throw-in. They might not get all that, but they could ask.

A trade with Atlanta would be ideal. A deal with Carolina could be good, too. The Panthers hold the 12th pick in the second round and have two third-round picks (67 & 74 overall).

In any case, with the leverage the Steelers hold, they could play Atlanta vs. Carolina vs. Miami vs. Baltimore (possibly).

In fact, the Steelers have other potential trade partners, too, including …

St. Louis. It looks like both Tampa Bay and St. Louis are eyeing DeSean Jackson, the small but dynamic wide receiver/punt returner from the University of California, whom the Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac "drafted" for the Steelers on Stan Savran's SportsBeat TV show last week. Tampa head coach Jon Gruden has stated plainly he'd like to upgrade both his receiving corps and return game. Jackson could do both for Tampa, which holds the 20th pick. If Tampa opts for somebody other than Jackson, however, St. Louis could well be interested in moving up to grab him, thinking he won't last till their second-round pick at No. 33 overall.

Thus, the Rams may be willing to trade up into the first round -- like, say, to pick No. 23, if Jackson is still available when the Steelers go on the clock. The Rams have extra sixth and seventh round picks. If the Steelers were to deal their first-round pick to the Rams, Pittsburgh might obtain St. Louis's second-round pick (No. 33 overall); swap positions in the third or fourth rounds; and obtain one of the Rams' picks in the sixth round, preferably the first one, which is the 14th pick in the sixth (No. 180 overall). Either that, or add a pick from next year's draft, say a third-rounder, which wouldn't be bad either.

There's extra motivation here for the Rams. Next up on the clock following the Steelers, at No. 23, are the Titans with the 24th pick. They, too, need a wide receiver and also may be eyeing either Jackson or Malcolm Kelly – which means St. Louis may want to jump ahead of the Titans by making a deal with the Steelers.

What makes the Steelers position at No. 23 even more enviable is that at least two teams behind them are also looking to trade down.

Seattle is one. Like the Steelers, Seattle has only six picks this year and is looking to trade down from the 25th pick in the first round.

Seattle GM Tim Ruskell says several teams with no shot at Boston College QB Matt Ryan in the first round are calling to ask about moving into Seattle's spot to put them in a position to draft Brohm, Henne or Flacco.

If the Steelers could screw Seattle out of a deal that would benefit the Seahawks, it would make it all that much sweeter for Steelers' fans, and another bitter pill for crybaby Seahawks' fans.

Also looking to trade down is San Diego, with the 27th selection. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chargers are trying to pick up second- and third-round picks for the rights to the 27th spot. The Steelers can do better.

Ahead of the Steelers, however, the Redskins, who hold pick No. 21, also are open to trading down.

According to The Washington Post,

"The Redskins have nine picks, including three compensatory picks -- an extra one in the third round and two additional seventh-round picks. They do not have a fourth-round selection. Washington has needs along the offensive and defensive lines, at wide receiver, cornerback and safety."

With so many picks, the Redskins plenty of flexibility to maneuver on draft day. Again, The Washington Post:

"The age and the health of the Redskins' offensive line is a pressing concern. Washington wants to add a versatile lineman who could challenge for time at guard immediately and potentially could start at tackle soon, said sources involved with Washington's draft process. Virginia guard-tackle Branden Albert (6-7, 315) is highly regarded by the Redskins."

So, for what it's worth, the Redskins appear to be targeting some of the same players that almost certainly interest the Steelers, specifically Virginia guard-tackle Branden Albert, Miami safety Kenny Phillips and Oklahoma wide receiver Malcolm Kelly.

We already know about Albert, and he'll be gone by the time Steelers go on the clock at No. 23. The Redskins would be crazy to pass him up, if he's still available when their turn comes around at No. 21.

If Albert is gone by the time the Redskins pick, Kenny Philips would be an ideal fit for the safety position left vacant by the murder last year of All-Pro Sean Taylor. Still, the Redskins have other needs and might feel they can address the safety position just a bit later in the draft, if they trade down. Which could put Phillips square in the Steelers' lap and would make for a tough decision whether to select him – the best player in the draft at his position – or trade down.

For what it's worth, Malcolm Kelly just may have run (slowly) and talked himself (loudly) all the way out of the first round, according to some reports. He's run sluggish 40 times in workouts this spring and had at least one mouthy outburst that characterized him as a finger-pointing, me-first player, which reportedly turned off several teams.

The Redskins (like the Steelers) would like to add a tall, speedy, physical receiver and brought Kelly in for a visit last week. Kelly, at 6-4, 224, fits their need for a tall, physical receiver.

Again, from The Washington Post:

"Kelly, who declared for the draft after his junior season, is second on the Sooners' all-time list with 2,285 receiving yards and fifth with 144 receptions. At an April 9 workout for NFL scouts at Oklahoma, Kelly had a disappointing 40-yard dash. And after being clocked at 4.68 seconds, Kelly criticized the surface and how Oklahoma's staff conducted the workout. Kelly ran for scouts again last week at Oklahoma City and posted times of 4.69 and 4.63 seconds, according to Oklahoma's media relations department. Kelly's agent, Chad Speck, said his client acknowledged he acted immaturely after the initial workout "and he knows he made a mistake. He was just frustrated, but he was the first one to say he didn't handle it in the right manner. It's not something that's going to happen again."

Merling a Question Mark

Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson, who has been unable to work out for NFL teams since undergoing sports hernia surgery in March, but he will have an on-campus workout for at least 15 clubs on April 24, agent Jimmy Sexton said.


Pittsburgh' s Picks As They Stand Today

Round 1, Pick 23 (23)

Round 2, Pick 22 (53)

Round 3, Pick 25 (88)

Round 4, Pick 24 (123)

Round 5, Pick 21 (156)

Round 6, Pick 22 (188)