…Mike Iupati, offensive guard, Idaho.
The Steelers have been making some noise in recent days in terms of player signings. After deciding not to go the franchise tag route with DT Casey Hampton (3yrs/$21.3 million), and signing Ryan Clark (4yrs), it’s obvious the Steelers are not looking to get younger in the areas we thought they were.
At least not in the next four years.
They continued their free agent activity this week by signing safety Will Allen away from the Bucs and bringing in offensive tackle Jonathan Scott from the Bills and familiar face Antwaan Randle El at wide receiver/kick returner.
While the Randle El signing is a bit of a head scratcher considering the emergence of rookie Mike Wallace last season, the Allen deal is a viable upgrade at backup safety and for special teams purposes over the aging Tyrone Carter.
With this recent action in mind the Steelers’ draft pick is a bit of an oddity. For starters, the biggest needs the Steelers have are at offensive line and corner. After that, depth on the defensive line, safety, and linebacker positions become the primary focus.
The pick is an oddity because I am not sure the Steelers can fill one of their bigger needs at the 18th pick with a player that warrants the pick. While Bruce Campbell is still on the board here in this mock draft, he most likely will not be in April. Had the Steelers franchised Hampton, the pick would have been a cinch taking Dan Williams out of Tennessee to be groomed as Hampton’s replacement in the coming season.
With significant money tied up in Hampton for the next three seasons and Chris Hoke under contract as a quality backup the Steelers most likely will not draft a defensive lineman in the first round. Chances are they will wait until later in the second or third rounds to address the defensive line. That said, the Steelers either need to move up or down in the draft to address the needs they have in round one.
If they move up it will be to address corner. Joe Haden out of Florida is still the top cover-corner in the draft even though he had an abysmal combine. After Haden there really isn’t another corner on the board that warrants a pick higher than the mid 20’s. If Haden falls past 12 the Steelers may consider making a move to get him, but I wouldn’t count on it considering the cost it would take to do so.
The Steelers may find it to be the best year in recent memory to trade down in the first round, pick up an additional pick in the second or third round in return, and still get their man later in round one. The Steelers need interior linemen more than anything else, and Mike Iupati out of Idaho and Maurkice Pouncey of Florida fit the bill of exactly what they are looking for.
Iupati is one of the few interior linemen in this draft that are slated to be first round material. At 6’5", 325, Iupati is a large, physical presence on the interior offensive line. He plays with a nasty nature and has shown outstanding power in both run and pass blocking. With above average balance and body control for a man his size, Iupati is known to be a “heavy-handed blocker”, meaning once he gets his hands on a defender it is very difficult for them to shed him.
If he has any weakness, some scouts say it’s his speed. Athletically Iupati is very gifted, and scouts have even tried him out as an offensive tackle as we all saw at the Senior Bowl. However, his lack of natural speed has made that transition difficult and unlikely.
Because of the Steelers woes in the running game and pass protection up the middle, Iupati will fit nicely and be an instant upgrade over what the team has there now.
Maurkice Pouncey on the other hand is the top rated center in the 2010 draft. He is a huge character guy with athletic ability to match. The Steelers biggest weakness on the offensive line is, without a doubt, center, and Pouncey is the type of player that reminds me a lot of a young Dermonti Dawson.
His incredible mobility for a player his size allows him to pull and move laterally as well as vertically which would make him a major asset in the running game.
His strength physically is matched by his mental prowess, and coaches and scouts alike praise his ability to lead on the field making calls from the line and dealing with advanced defensive line play. He is extremely versatile and has lined up at both center and guard during his career at Florida.
With the cluster of corners available in the second round, and the possibility of Terrence Cody and a few other players hanging around the Steelers will most likely go offensive line in round one. Even more so if they can find a trading partner that will allow them to move down on day one.
If the Steelers move down in round one, don’t be surprised if they are targeting Pouncey, but for the pick and the need at No. 18, I have to go with Mike Iupati out of Idaho.
If he turns out to be what a lot of scouts are saying, he has the potential to be a Steeler steal and possibly the best offensive lineman they have drafted since Allan Faneca.
Falcons are on the Clock