The second greatest day of the year for NFL football fans is fast approaching. This is the day when every fan believes their team landed the next set of NFL superstars, that the fifth round pick out of Nowhere State is an undiscovered gem who is going to turn the franchise around.
This is the day when wives around the country wonder why their husbands are glued to the television when it appears that absolutely nothing is happening. Steelers fans dream of a draft to rival the 1974 draft that netted the squad four future hall of famers.
Last year's Steelers' draft was a shocker, at least to me. Almost nobody had the Steelers drafting a running back in the first round nor did I think they would grab a wide receiver in the second round. The year before was a similar story.
Looking like their primary need was on the offensive line, the Steelers drafted a linebacker in the first round...and then again in the second round when they landed the vastly underrated Lamarr Woodley.
How many GMs wish they had him higher on their board...like at the top of it?
This year, conventional wisdom says the Steelers will draft an offensive linemen in the first round. The needs that have largely been identified are the offensive line (both interior and tackle), cornerback (with the loss of Bryant McFadden), and defensive line (with age being the issue), and wide receiver.
I think the Steelers will take the best available option out of these categories that drops to them at the bottom of the first round. My guess is it will be a wide receiver. If the top receivers are all off the board, they will likely go cornerback.
The Steelers are thinner at wide receiver than most people are acknowledging. They have two excellent wideouts in Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, but, unless Sweed takes a huge ste forward, are perillously thin behind them.
And I don't think they are counting on Ward making it through the season without injury issues due to his age. Are they ready to count on Limas Sweed as a starter? I think they are looking for him to play a much bigger role but aren't ready for him to start after a rough rookie season.
The player I think they will jump at in the first round is Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina if he falls to 32. He sounds like the ideal long-term replacement for Hines Ward with great hands, good route running skills and a strong drive/inner toughness.
So, I'm going to guess Nicks for the first pick and I think they will initially use him as the slot receiver. He might not be there if the Ravens or Titans grab him, but there is a fairly decent chance he will still be around.
He isn't the burner who would necessarily fill the void left by Nate Washington's departure. That is the role I expect they will look to Sweed to fill this year. Rutgers' Kenny Britt is also a possibility in the first round, although that might be a bit of a reach due to possible attitude issues.
If they pull off a trade for Buffalo's Roscoe Parrish as rumored, then they won't go wide receiver here and will indeed look for a corner or offensive linemen in the first round.
In the second round, I think the Steelers will draft a cornerback to both add depth, play in dime situations, and serve as their long-term answer as the number two corner.
Unfortunately, the ever reliable Deshea Townsend isn't getting any younger and, even if William Gay eventually becomes the starter, there are still depth issues. This became an area of real need with the loss of Bryant McFadden.
It is also a fairly deep position in the draft, meaning the Steelers are likely to find real value there even at the bottom of the second round. A player like Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore could potentially slip far enough that the Steelers can sneak up a few spots to get ahead of the Titans and grab him. A more realistic possibility may be Oregon's Jairus Byrd.
I think they will address the offensive line in the third round, taking best offensive linemen on the board. Tomlin prefers tackles and they may be thinner there but the better value may be interior linemen.
I thought they would try to upgrade the line this offseason but the Steelers top brass seem to think last year's line will gel and improve this year. Even if this is the case, they have serious depth issues on the line and potentialy near-term contract issues with a few of their starters.
Guessing which offensive linemen they will take is a fool's game. But, I'm going to guess Oregon tackle Fenuki Tupou. A versatile interior linemen that could play center or guard is also a possibility here.
I think they will look for depth on the defensive line in the fourth round, probably a small school prospect who they project to a 3-4 defensive end. The probably with finding a 3-4 defensive end is that they are hard to project since so few people play that role in college.
And there are very few potential 3-4 ends who project to the top rounds in this draft.
The fourth round is where they grabbed Aaron Smith, who may be the best 3-4 end in the league. Brett Keisel was a seventh round pick. I think they will take two stabs at defensive linemen in the draft, first in the fourth round and again in the sixth or seventh.
Unfortunately, I don't think they will find a viable 3-4 nose tackle in this draft so hopefully they can resign Casey Hampton.
There remaining picks near the bottom of the draft will likely be spent on offensive linemen and cornerbacks to add depth.
That is how I see it. I expect the Steelers to address the wide receiver and cornerback positions first and then move on to the offensive and defensive line. If I'm wrong and they grab an offensive linemen in the first round, someone like Alex Mack or Max Unger, I will certainly not be disappointed.
I think Kevin Colbert is one of the best drafters in the business and trust he and Tomlin will make the right decisions.