Sunday, February 10, 2013

Revisiting the 2012 Draft: David DeCastro vs. Kevin Zeitler and Mike Adams vs. Kelechi Osemele

Looking back, the eminently reasonable consensus at the time of the 2012 NFL Draft was the Steelers had no choice but to select guard David DeCastro (Stanford) when he fell to them at pick No. 24 of the first round. He was an ideal choice at a position of dire need. DeCastro was widely considered the best guard in the draft, a no-brainer at No. 24, and possibly the next Alan Faneca

A perfect choice.

Or was he?  Because of his pre-season knee injury, we never got to see the real David DeCastro last year. We never got to see the player everybody expected would be the next Alan Faneca.

The Cincinnati Bengals -- the Bungles, for crying out loud -- were criticized loudly for trading down in the first round and thereby passing on their chance to select DeCastro.  Typical Bengals, people said. 

Instead of jumping on DeCastro, the Bengals selected Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler, whom they claimed at the time was the player they'd targeted all along and was the guard they preferred over DeCastro.

Along with everybody else, we still have high hopes for DeCastro. He showed enough at Stanford -- plenty enough -- to merit being picked at No. 24.

People would have howled if the Steelers had selected Zeitler over DeCastro.

Still, however, it’s fair to point out that two nagging, related, little, niggling question marks hovered at the time of the draft (at least for Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls).  Those questions were: (1) the level of in-the-trenches-play in the Big 12 (DeCastro) vs. the Big 10 (Zeitler); and (2) the historical pedigree of offensive linemen coming out of Stanford (so-so) vs. those coming out of Wisconsin (strong).   

It remains to be seen how the respective careers of DeCastro and Zeitler will play out.  DeCastro almost certainly returned to the field too soon last year. He looked pretty good at times. He also looked very shaky at times. No doubt he got pushed around in late season games vs. San Diego and Cincinnati, among others.

One thing is sure. Zeitler had the better rookie season.  Not only did he start all 16 games for the Bengals, he showed polish, power and technique early in the season and got better as the season progressed. 

Here's a Pro Football Reference write-up from early November 2012:

While many criticized the Bengals for passing on a chance to draft David DeCastro in the first round, instead trading back, gaining an extra pick and taking Zeitler, whom they had coveted the whole time. Zeitler is a mauler in the typical Wisconsin mold, but his pass blocking prowess has been a pleasant surprise.

Against the Steelers (Week 7, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2012), Casey Hampton sometimes shaded to Zeitler’s inside eye. Zeitler was able to blow Hampton off the ball with little or no help from Faine, including a block that was almost singlehandedly responsible for a 4th-and-2 conversion.

It would not be unreasonable to expect Zeitler to become a perennial Pro Bowler with his weekly development as a blocker. He is extremely polished for his experience level and packs a monster punch upon engagement. His footwork is outstanding. Many young linemen rely on their brute strength, being used to playing inferior college competition. But Zeitler anchors well and keeps his weight centered.

Outside of A.J. Green, Zeitler is becoming one of Cincinnati’s best draft picks in recent memory.

Revisiting the 2012 Second Round Choice
Let's be clear: Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls really don't have a problem with the Steelers selecting DeCastro over Zeitler.  

Unlike almost everybody else, however, Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls weren't crazy about the Steelers selecting tackle Mike Adams (Ohio State) over tackle Kelechi Osemele (Iowa State, 2nd round to Baltimore).

Mike Adams
Adams may turn out to be a great player -– we’re not writing him off –- but Osemele had caught our attention before the 2012 draft, and we wanted the Steelers to nab, somewhere.  Osemele went maybe a little higher than he was projected by most observers.  That didn't deter Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome from selecting Osemele at No. 60 overall, four picks after Mike Adams.

Adams shows promise, and he was named the Steelers' rookie of the year. He started six  games, appeared in 10, and his run blocking was particularly strong.  His pass-blocking remains a question mark, though, and he clearly struggled with speed-rushers in pass protection for the team’s $102 million quarterback.

There is no question, however, who had the better rookie season, and that was Osemele.
Kelechi Osemele
Osemele started all 16 regular-season games at tackle for the Ravens.  Because of a late-season injury to starting guard Jah Reid, the Ravens moved Osemele to guard and inserted Bryant McKinney at left tackle for the wild-card playoff  game vs. Indianapolis. This move, with the corresponding move of Michael Oher to right tackle, solidified the offensive line for Baltimore during their playoff run and, of course, the Super Bowl.  At the very least, Osemele proved he has positional flexibility and is a solid NFL starter with plenty of upside.

Arguably, the difference between the relative productivity DeCastro/Adams vs. Zeitler/Osemele is that the latter two stayed healthy all year.  DeCastro/Adams combined for nine starts, and Zeitler/Osemele combined for 32 starts in the regular season, plus four playoff starts and, for Osemele, a start in the Super Bowl.  Both played at a high level and improved as the season progressed.

We can hope for similar results from DeCastro and Adams in 2013.  

At the very least, however, it appears the Steelers picked the wrong Samoan (Alameda Ta'amu instead of Kelechi Osemele).

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