Friday, March 18, 2011

It's Just Starting to Get Drafty in Here

The NFL is in lockout mode, so there's not much to discuss. Unless, that is, you're the Post-Gazette and actually thought it worthwhile to work up a headlined article about Hines Ward practicing for "Dancing With the Stars." That's really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Aside from an possible "labor" settlement, the next major event on the calendar is the NFL Draft, which starts Thursday, April 29. Joey Porter's Pit Bulls expect a Collective Bargaining Agreement to be in place by then. If not, the draft will be held, anyway, so it's not too soon to begin looking at potential scenarios.

It's impossible to say who the Steelers might pick. We can look at positional holes to be filled -- and there are plenty -- but when your team picks 31st (too bad it's not 32nd), it's pretty much a waste of time at this point to get overly excited about individual players the Steelers might draft.

The University of Florida's Mike Pouncey -- Maurkice Pouncey's twin brother -- is perhaps the guy that tantalizes many Steelers' fans. Maurkice's success with the Steelers as a rookie Pro Bowler has elevated the level of scrutiny on Mike Pouncey, who (like his brother) can play either center or guard. He might last until pick No. 31, but it's unlikely.

Naturally, the Steelers' coaching staff attended the NFL Scouting Combine and college pro days such as the one conducted last week by the University of Wisconsin. At least two Badger players are considered first-round prospects: tackle Gabe Carimi and defensive end J.J. Watt.

Either player would fit perfectly with the Steelers, but neither is likely to last until pick No. 31. The NFL Network's Jon Jansen, a former tackle himself, compares Carimi to longtime stalwart Jon Runyan, a former Eagle, and that looks about right. A lot of mock drafts have Carimi going either to Philadelphia or Dallas.

Watt also drawing high praise, and understandably so. From what we saw of Watt on video, he's cut in the mold of longtime Steelers' standout Aaron Smith. That kind of player is rare in the extreme, and the Steelers would be lucky to get him. The Steelers need a successor to the aging Smith, but Watt is projected as a top-20 pick.

If Watt somehow lasts until No. 31, we wouldn't be surprised if the Steelers draft him.

What would be interesting is the choice the Steelers would have to make, if somehow two of these three players -- Pouncey, Carimi, Watt -- are somehow still available at No. 31. Then, the Steelers really would have to make a decision.

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