Pittsburgh Steelers fans love Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti. Any doubters of that affection need only to do a cursory Internet search to find the Steelers Nation blogosphere crowded with pro-Mauti propaganda.
And the admiration isn't without merit. A defensive co-captain at Penn State, Mauti is a proven leader and producer. The Nittany Lions named him their 2012 MVP. He was also CBSSports.com Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season.
Mauti's work ethic embodies the blue-collar ethos that Pittsburghers reward with eternal endearment. It’s as if the steel-mill gods forged his character in a blast furnace and then dipped it in the Monongahela River for invulnerability.
Unfortunately, the gods must have held him by his knees when they submersed him into "the Mon" because his anterior cruciate ligaments have the durability of string cheese. Indeed, he has had three ACL tears in five years.
As the saying goes, once is an accident, twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend. And the trend for Mauti is breaking downward toward a career full of knee surgeries and extended time on the injured reserve.
This is not hyperbole. Research shows that younger age and previous knee surgery increase the risk of future operations. Furthermore, an ACL injury to a linebacker decreases his likelihood of playing in the NFL.
Should the Steelers draft Michael Mauti?
Perhaps I'm reading too much into things, but Mauti seems to be the poster boy for that demographic. In other words, he's not worth the risk.
True, any player can suffer a freak knee injury (see: Sean Spence). But drafting a player with a proven red flag is a fool's game that Pittsburgh is best not playing.
Right now, the team is ultra-thin at linebacker, especially with the departure of James Harrison and the return of the aforementioned Spence in doubt. The Steelers don't have the luxury of seeing if Mauti can beat the odds. They need reliability.
Look, if I were in a bar fight with a group of Baltimore Ravens fans, I would want Mauti in my corner. However, the NFL season is a series of 16 hyper-intense bar fights lasting 60 minutes each. In that arena, science shows that Mauti's knees probably won't survive the war of attrition.
You see, love may be patient and kind, but it can also be blind. Steelers fans must remove those love blinders and see the ugly truth. And the truth is that Mauti is great football player with lousy knees.
Hopefully the organization sees that truth, too. It will save Steelers Nation from a lot of heartbreak.