Pittsburgh Steelers: Heading into the NFL Draft

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Pittsburgh Steelers: Heading into the NFL Draft
In approximately 48 hours, the NFL Draft begins at Radio City Music Hall, Saturday, April 25, 2009.

After hosting some 30 draft prospects this past month, the Steelers will have to make the tough decision as to who and what will fit into the 2009-2010 roster.

Steeler philosophy is drafting the best player not addressing needs.

However, drafting a first rounder in the 32nd spot, the Steelers could fall victim to what may fall their way when considering the best player.

It is because of this mindset that we see that most of these draft prospects are considered mid-to-late round picks.

From the type of prospects who have visited the complex these past few weeks, the key focus has been concentrating on offensive linemen, defensive linesmen and tweeners with special teams skills.

The Steelers seem to be in search of a return man for special teams. Three wide receivers and one corner back prospect are known for their special teams skills.

In addition, the Steelers have been talking with the Buffalo Bills about the possibility of a trade for wide receiver/return specialist Roscoe Parrish.

Parrish can be electrifying. He's fast and a considered a great threat whenever he gets the ball.  On the downside, he has poor hands and poor route running skills as a receiver. 

Parrish may be a great punt returner, but in the passing game his hands are suspect, as well as his ability to get open.

The question is, can Parrish be an elite punt returner the Steelers are searching for, or should they consider one of the mid-rounders to develop as a return guy?

Considering the amount of money Parrish is due to be paid as a Buffalo Bill and the amount of playing time that's no longer open to him, the Bills are open for a trade.

The Steelers are known to have success with veteran players.

It should be noted that the majority of the players on special teams is either undrafted or free agents.

Whether the Steelers be willing to trade for him depends on how much it will cost the team to get him.

If not Parrish, the Steelers may consider corner back/return specialist Joe Burnett from Central Florida.

At 5'9" and 192 pounds, Burnett has been considered a superb return man with a career kick-return average of 28.2 yards, and owns the C-USA record for most punt return yardage.

His average 13.6 yards on 96 career punt returns with three scores.

Burnett is known to be quick with a burst to close and recover with terrific hands and ball skills.

It has been noted he is elusive with great vision and above average strength.

Burnett holds the UCF record for career interceptions, and therefore could thrive as a backup corner and return specialist.

Another in consideration could be 5'11", 192 pound wide receiver/return specialist Jason Cherry, Louisiana-Lafayette, who has been timed at 4.22 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Named to the first team All-Conference USA four times, Cherry is considered a very good football player who may not have all of the physical tools that you look for, but on game day, he just makes dynamic plays.

It is possible the Steelers will look for an offensive lineman as the first pick of the draft.

The offensive line should definitely be addressed, as there is no depth, especially in the interior.

Historically, the Steelers like to draft tackles. Tomlin seems to like to draft tackles.

The Steelers like to use tackles and move them to guard or center positions.

It is possible the Steelers could be looking for the best guard available.

So far, 6'4", 310 pound C Eric Wood Louisville seems to be the odds-on favorite over C Max Unger and Alex Mack.

Wood is an explosive interior linesman who plays with a powerful motor.

He has great size and strength. He understands his and his line mates’ assignments and has shown to be a leader on offense.

He plays with a mean streak, dominates up front, and overpowers the opposition during running situations.

He displays good technique in pass protection. He has great awareness and picks up blitzes well.

He’s reliable and works well with the quarterback.

Steeler offensive line coach Larry Zierlein has visited this prospect several times since March.

This would give the impression that the Steelers may be leaning towards Wood as a draft selection.

The defensive line could be the major focus in this year’s draft, as there are 12 teams implementing the 3-4 defensive scheme.

With nine picks at their disposal, it is possible the Steelers could trade up for defensive linesmen such as DE Fili Moala (USC) who is 6'4" and 305 pounds, or DE Jarron Gilbert (San Jose St.) who is 6'5" and 288 pounds.

Moala is a classic 4-3 tackle, considered a freak with his combination of agility and size, and could be coached into fitting a 3-4 end mold.

Jarron Gilbert has the athleticism to cover two gaps with the versatility and burst to line up as a three-technique defensive tackle.

The Steelers also show interest in 6'4", 295 pound DT Evander “Ziggy” Hood from Missouri. 

Hood doesn’t have the bulk to be more than a one-gap penetrator at tackle, but has experience on the outside giving him versatility.

Of the 30 out of town visitors, the Steelers interviewed three local players: LB Scott McKillop and G/C C.J. Davis of Pitt, and C A.Q. Shipley of Penn State.

With essentially no room left under the salary cap, the Steelers may have to make some tough decisions regarding which veterans they sign to multi-year contracts, so the outcome of this draft could be vital to the health of the Steelers going forward.

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