Thursday, April 24, 2008

We're Ready

If the Steelers stay put at 1.23, they should have a chance to draft a player to fill a specific need -- and they have plenty of needs, which is why it makes sense to trade down and add picks. As detailed in Wednesday's post, we believe the Steelers have very strong leverage for negotiating extremely favorable deals.

By trading down, we might miss out on guys like Jeff Otah and Gosder Cherilus, but we might improve our chances of adding some of the following players (in no particular order).

Owen Schmitt, FB, WVU, who pretty much never gets tackled for a loss.

Martin O'Donnell, G, Illinois, a pile-driving road grader who paved the way for Rashard Mendenhall and the Illini's productive, power running game.

John Greco, OT, Toledo, whom the Steelers brought in for a visit. Greco succeeded Nick Kaczur at left tackle at Toledo after Kaczur was drafted and went on to start for the New England Patriots. Tough guy who can play any position on the line.

Red Bryant, NT, Texas A&M: Arguably the most effective run-stuffer in college football.

Andre Caldwell, WR, Florida: Often described as a faster, quicker Hines Ward.

Donnnie Avery, WR, Houston: With 4.28 speed, Avery caught 91 passes for 1,456 yards last season, including 17 plays of 20 or more yards. A poor man's DeSean Jackson.

Craig Steltz, S, LSU: A leader on the national championship team and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation's top defensive back.

Eric Young, T, Tennessee: Not as high on the draft radar as he should be because his senior season was cut short by a torn quad muscle that caused him to miss the final six games. Prior to the injury, he had registered 58 knockdowns with 11 touchdown-resulting blocks. He was rated the SEC's top offensive linemen with an 86.4% grade for blocking consistency, and was considered one of the most dominant position blockers in college football.

Dexter Jackson, WR, Appalachian State: He could be an ideal slot receiver in the mold of Antwaan Randle-el. Clocking 4.35 in the 40, Jackson averaged 22.9 yards per catch as a senior and lit up Michigan with touchdown receptions of 20 and 68 yards.

Kirk Barton, OT, Ohio State: Entrenched at RT for the Buckeyes since his freshman canmpaign, Barton is a battle-tested veteran who has competed at the highest level for several years. Not as much upside as Otah; but not much of a learning curve, either, with this guy.

Doug Legursky, C, Marshall, who can handle long-snapping as well as every-down center duties.

Cliff Avril, LB/DE, Purdue: Yet another in a long line of premier pass-rushers out of Purdue.

Corey Lynch, S, Appalachian State: A safety in the mold of John Lynch, although not quite as big a hitter. Known as a team leader and clutch player, he blocked the kick at the end of the Michigan game.

Ahtyba Rubin, DT/DE, Iowa State: Just nasty. That's all you need to know about this guy.

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 (six solo) on special teams.

In our defense ...

If the Steelers stay put at 1.23, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls believe the best options are the following players (if they are available, of course):

1. Kenny Phillips, S, Miami

2. Kentwan Balmer, DE, North Carolina

3. Quentin Groves, OLB, Auburn

4. Dan Connor, ILB, Penn State

All defense, we know. The team already signaled that it plans to address the offensive line later in the draft. Each and every wide receiver on the board has issues, limitations and question marks. RB Jonathan Stewart is still in a walking cast, which makes him another question mark, and no other RB has a first-round grade. No need for a QB or TE in the first round, so it's Defense. The team should add a cornerback sometime this weekend, and we like Arizona's Antoine Cason, but we believe any of the four players listed below would make more sense for the Steelers at this time.

Taking a closer look, in inverse order:

4. Dan Connor: We're concerned about what happens after the season when James Farrior becomes an unrestricted free agent. It would be great if the Steelers re-sign Farrior, the defensive captain and signal caller, but if he goes away … well, that's why Connor is on this list. That, plus he's a safe choice (you know what you're getting) and a deserving player, anyway. He's a first-round talent who is arguably every bit as good as (and maybe better than) Paul Posluszny.

3. Quentin Groves has had some medical issues but is healthy now. He could be an explosive pass rusher coming off the edge. We're not sure how would be in coverage or against the run. Still, dynamic pass rushers don't come along every day. As noted in last Saturday's post, we like Groves, a lot. If Farrior leaves via free agency, the Steelers could move James Harrison inside and have Groves and Lamarr Woodley on the flanks. We're still not convinced Lawrence Timmons will ever amount to much more than a role player, if that.

2. Kentwan Balmer has had notable success for only one year, so there may be a question as to whether he will continue that high level of play in the NFL. We like his chances. Playing at defensive tackle, he showed last year that he can provide a steady inside push. He has a lethal punch and his hands are lightning fast -- keys to getting off blocks. In the Steelers system, he would play defensive end. As noted in Monday's post, you could make a very strong case for Balmer.

At 6-5, 308, Balmer is an Aaaron Smith clone, and every bit as athletic. It's conceivable Balmer could start at end in place of Brett Keisel, freeing up Keisel to take better advantage of his athleticism in some sort of new, hybrid-rover position. That probably wouldn't happen this year, however. This year, Balmer would step right into the defensive line rotation, and he would surely bolster the run defense, which sprang alarming leaks late last season.

1. Kenny Phillips is probably the safest choice of any player that might fall to the Steelers at 1.23 (although we suspect the Redskins might grab him at 1.21). As noted in Tuesday's post, the Steelers have almost no depth at the safety position.

Phillips is the best player at his position in college football. He's been the best player at his position at every level of play all his life. He has all the skills and attributes you could want in a safety. As is the case with Connor, Phillips would be a safe choice -- you know what you're getting.

No doubt about it: After Ryan Clark went down last year, the defense struggled. Yet at this point, we're not sure we can count on Clark to return or stay healthy for a full season; or Troy Polamalu, either, for that matter. We're not writing off Anthony Smith. There's a place for him on this team, absolutely. We just believe Phillips would dramatically improve the overall defense. Teaming the best safety in college football with the best safety in the NFL: It could only help.

A closer look ...

By the way, if you are wondering about the Steelers' depth at safety, look at the current roster (sorted by position, look for "FS" and "SS").

A little thin, isn't it? Mike Lorello?

Considering Ryan Clark's questionable health status, this lack of depth is a big reason, and an alarming one, why we believe the Steelers need to think long and hard about selecting Kenny Phillips, if he's available at 1.23 (as outlined in Tuesday's post).

That, and the fact that he's the top-rated safety in the draft, and the players at virtually all the other positions (OL, LB, DL, WR, RB) that many mock drafts have going to the Steelers -- each and every one has issues and/or question marks (except for Branden Albert, and he ain't gonna be there).

Kenny Phillips and Dan Connor would perhaps be the safest, "sure-thing" choices available when the Steelers go on the clock.

Our nod would go to Phillips. Teaming the best safety in college football with the best safety in the NFL: It could only help.

And it wouldn't mean giving up on Anthony Smith. This team needs quality depth, now, at this most crucial of positions.

We'd still trade down, for what it's worth.

About that offensive line ...

About the Steelers' O-line – here's an interesting observation from AOL Fanhouse.