The draft always represents a time when teams focus on needs and replace older players or those who leave during free agency.
The Steelers have made their name in the draft—the Cower era was paramount as an example of what teams can accomplish by evaluating talent and picking players that fit a system rather than blowing millions on superstar players that may or may not pan out for a new team.
The Steelers have a major focus for the 2008 draft: offensive line.
The 2007 edition was a porus group that failed to live up to expectations, and were part of the reason the team was sent to the offseason with a first-round playoff loss to Jacksonville.
All-Pro guard Alan Faneca was not given the "Franchise Tag" and will not re-sign with the team, and that leaves a huge hole on a line that already had plenty of questions. After the line the Steelers also have to address the corps of linebackers and corners on the team in terms of both age and ability.
This being said, this is a "mock" draft of sorts for the Steelers in the 2008 draft...
1st Round: OT Jeff Otah (6’6” 341 lbs.)
University of Pittsburgh
The first-round pick for the Steelers in 2008 is a no-brainer—Go big.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line was far from elite last season, and with Alan Faneca’s bags packed it goes without saying that the team needs offensive linemen to protect Big Ben and effectively run the football.
Otah was a two-year standout at Pitt despite not playing football in high school and having limited Division I experience. Teams love his size as a tackle prospect, but Otah has a long way to go to prove he can play left tackle and protect the blindside of a franchise quarterback.
Drafting Otah also gives the Steelers flexibility on the line. Moved to tackle last season, Willie Colon could move back inside to his more natural guard position, and if he plays well it could make the loss of Faneca less catastrophic than it seems at the moment.
Furthermore, with Max Starks’ future with the team in limbo, the team could be looking at two holes to fill on the depth chart before the April draft. Monday morning quarterbacks were quick to tab the Steelers line as one of the worst in the league after last season, but with a great first round addition of Otah at pick No. 23, the Black and Gold could be on their way to creating a dominant offensive line once again.
2nd Round: CB Charles Godfrey (6’, 207 lbs.)
University of Iowa
With all the attention being paid to holes on the offensive line, the Steelers would be remiss to not take steps to improve their aging secondary. Godfrey is a solid second-round pick and physically he is a first-round pick—rare height for a corner, track-star speed—but he made the switch from safety to corner before his junior season, so his full potential at either position has yet to be realized.
His versatility makes him a valuable selection for the Steelers. He can contribute at free safety to push or replace Anthony Smith or eventually work back to the corner spot where the Steelers currently have a 33-year-old Deshea Townsend, a perennial underachiever in Ike Taylor, and a still unproven Bryant McFadden and William Gay.
Godfrey is excellent in zone coverage, which immediately puts him on the short list for the Steelers 3-4 zone scheme, and is aggressive in run support with great open-field tackling ability. Godfrey is a hard-worker and team leader, just the type of player the Steelers have been drafting for years now, and he would be a huge asset for Mike Tomlin to pick up in the early rounds.
3rd Round: WR Adarius Bowman (6’4” 220 lbs.)
Oklahoma State University
A hidden gem in this years draft class may be the answer to Big Ben’s cries for a tall receiver. With a large amount of receivers going in the early rounds, the Steelers may have the chance to grab Bowman in the third round.
Bowman transferred to Oklahoma St. after an off-field incident led to his dismissal from North Carolina and a late-season knee injury cost prevented him from putting up bigger numbers (67 rec., 1,006 yds., 8 TDs) and getting a larger pay-day on draft weekend.
By all accounts, Bowman has learned from his early indiscretions and has become a physical specimen because of tireless off-field workouts. He is a quick learner and someone who can handle Tomlin getting in his mug every once and a while.
Adding Bowman to the Steelers roster would pay huge dividends in the end for the team. His large frame would make him a great target for Ben and his ability to get downfield on defenders makes him the deep target that could bring a dynamic element to an offense.
All signs show that he is great out of breaks and uses good leverage and center of gravity to break on routes and find cushions in a defense. His frame enables him to break press and get up field and he is also a good blocker in the running game—something the Steelers will need to replace when Hines Ward calls it a career.
The addition of a tall receiver will also take pressure off of Ward and Santonio Holmes. They will see less double teams and defenses will have to be careful when they stack the box to stop the running game with a weapon like Bowman on the field.
4th Round: OLB Marcus Howard (6’2”, 245 lbs.)
University of Georgia
The Steelers are quickly aging in the linebacker position. In 2007 the team drafted Lawrence Timmons, and LaMarr Woodley in the first and second rounds respectively. Timmons’ progress was slowed by a nagging groin injury, but Woodley came on strong at the end of the season and looks like a player who will push for a starting role in 2008.
Following that trend, Marcus Howard is an ideal pick for the Steelers in round four. The long-time policy for the Steelers has been to replace free-agent veterans with fresh legs in the draft, and this case is no exception. Clark Haggans’ contract is up, and with the influx of new talent on the team and the emergence of James Harrison, the Steelers would be best fit to move in a new direction.
Howard, not unlike Godfrey, is a bit of a project. Originally recruited to play linebacker for the Bulldogs, he was switched to defensive end in 2005 and did not start until this past season. He did put up good numbers: 41 tackles, team-leading 10.5 sacks.
Dominant as he was this season, his size won’t allow him to stay on the line in the NFL. He has been tabbed as a player with the tendency to follow fakes and misdirection.
That aside, Howard’s upside is represented by his ability to move quickly up the field, and he possesses good size for an NFL-caliber player at his position. The thing that would work out best for the Steelers is that with players capable of starting now ahead of him, Howard could be used as a pass rusher early in his career while making the transition to linebacker for the Steelers.
5th Round: C/OG Kory Lichtensteiger (6’2”, 305 lbs.)
Bowling Green State University
Lichtensteiger has flown under the radar because he plays in a mid-major conference, but he is a solid linemen prospect for the Steelers. A four-year starter at Bowling Green, Lichtensteiger initially played guard, but was switched to center before his junior season.
His career blocking percentage (85.45 percent) is the highest mark of any active NCAA center. He was incredibly consistent during his years at Bowling Green, only being flagged three times and logging one quarterback pressure against him.
The main concern for scouts looking at Lichtensteiger is his quickness after the snap. Bowling Green ran a spread offense and most of his snaps came out of the shotgun. He may be best served to play guard at the start of his career and his familiarity with both positions would give him the flexibility to do that.
With Faneca departing Pittsburgh, Lichtensteiger would immediately be a solid back-up for the team and could push for playing time if he was impressive enough in camp. If the concern over his quickness after the snap was proved wrong, Lichtensteiger could once again find himself at center for the team, possibly a starter but more likely a back-up.
6th Round: DT Carlton Powell (6’3”, 300 lbs.)
The Steelers last projected selection in the 2008 draft should be Carlton Powell. For years, Casey Hampton has been the anchor of the Steelers 3-4 defense, taking up blockers to free up linebackers to make plays at the line, rather than the play coming to them.
Powell already has the frame to fit the Steelers nose tackle model and played in a similar system at Virginia Tech. Playing in the shadows of more high-profile players on his defense, Powell was dominant at his position. His tackles resulted in minus-13 yards for the opposition over his career, the only active D-I player to reach such a feat.
Powell would add depth behind Hampton and would have the chance to learn from one of the best at their position in the game. He would add another stable body to the rotation of Hampton and Chris Hoke.
Powell can still improve in areas like pad level and getting off cut blocks, but as a late round selection he represents value in terms of ability and depth—something that every team looks for in rounds four through seven.