The Pittsburgh Steelers have built a reputation of being successful in the draft year in and year out.
Now more than ever, the Steelers could need a smart draft in order to fill the holes on their team in the short term, while developing players for the long term.
Here are the players the Steelers will most likely draft along with an explanation for why is player will become a member of the black and gold.
For a little extra fun, there are players listed who are not necessarily the number one option but just as wanted and needed by the Steelers.
Finally, there are a few wild cards that may surprise everyone or are the classic draft day moves Kevin Colbert makes so successful.
And now, with the 31st overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select...
For the Steelers, the obvious need is on the offensive line, specifically at the tackle position. The Flozell Adams experiment worked for this year, but the Steelers need to find a player who can fill the hole left for the long term. Sherrod is huge at 6-6, 312 pounds and offensive line coach Sean Kugler seems to know how to get even rookies to excel at NFL game speed.
Other options: Gabe Carimi OT Wisconsin, Brandon Harris CB, Miami (FL)
Carimi is the classic big ten tackle that the Steelers would normally lean towards, however he is a perfect fit for the Colts drafting at 22. Brandon Harris will most likely still be available at the 31 spot, but the Steelers under Colbert value linemen over secondary players and will most likely look to fill those needs later in the draft.
How can the Steelers not be enamored with a player who has the same DNA as an All-Pro rookie center?
The problem is that everyone else in the league has taken notice, too, and the offensive line is a need for Indianapolis at 22, the Patriots at 17 and 28, the Eagles at 23 and the Bears at 29.
The odds of Pouncy falling to 31 are slim to none and if no CBA is signed by draft day, the Steelers cannot trade up to snatch Maurkice's twin. Furthermore, the above mentioned Patriots have a long standing tradition of drafting several Florida players in the draft. If by some gift of fate Pouncy is available, look for the Steelers to almost immediately make their choice and bring the Pouncy brothers to Pittsburgh.
There is no doubt that the Steelers need to improve the quality of their secondary. It is also widely known that Ike Taylor is the classic free agent to be the Steelers usually never decide to pay to stay. Furthermore, William Gay and Bryant McFadden cannot be No. 1 and No. 2 corners simply due to lack of talent.
Dowling's stock has been rising and is the perfect size for an NFL corner back at 6'2", 200 pounds.
Other options: Jason Pinkston, OT Pitt, Marcus Cannon, OT TCU
Both Tackles will more than likely be available for the Steelers at the 62 pick and both are a great value for the pick. The problem is that the Steelers cannot afford to spend their first two picks on the offensive line when their performance has been increasing and the secondary's has been decreasing. Pinkston's draft stock fluctuates enough that some experts have him gone by the third while others still have him available in the fourth if the Steelers want him.
The quiet black hole developing in the Steelers defensive unit is the Free Safety. Troy Polamalu effectively locks down wherever he is playing, leaving Ryan Clark to roam the rest of the field. Clark is playing with the energy and skill of a player in his fifth year, not his (look up).
There is a high likelihood Carter will be available at 62. if the Steelers decide to resign Ike Taylor and believe Clark is finally going to begin dropping off in production, Carter would be a smart pick to begin working with Ryan Mundy as the next generation of Steelers safeties.
It may be a stretch to say that Powe will be available for the Steelers in the third round, however all of the other teams drafting for defensive tackles at this point in the draft are either: a) set for the long term at the 3-4 nose, or b) looking for someone smaller and more agile to fit a 4-3 scheme. Regardless, a talented defensive nose tackle is needed for the Steelers as Casey Hampton ages and at 6'2", 331 pounds, Powe looks to be the fit the Steelers are looking for.
Other options: Niles Paul, WR Nebraska, Quan Sturdivant, ILB North Carolina
Paul is good possession receiver from Nebraska that showed promise during the year but did have some issues with dropped balls. After the Limas Sweed pick, the Steelers have always looked for sure hands in their receivers. Sturdivant would make a good apprentice at the interior linebacker position under James Farrior, but more than likely he will be off the board by the time the Steelers get to draft.
If Cobb isn't picked by the Patriots, who are looking for him as a receiver, the Steelers could use Cobb as a returner. The Steelers played returner by committee last season and Cobb is built like an Antwan Randle El, who before leaving in 2006 was a very good punt returner for the Steelers after adjusting to the NFL. The only downside of Cobb is that he is all too similar to Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. The Steelers do not need anymore speed oriented receivers, they need possession and route runner specialists.
Sheppard is one of those guys who the Steelers are most likely secretly targeting but don't want to raise his stock by talking about him. Sheppard was the leader of a Tiger defense that made key late game stops and is known at LSU as the guy to give the pump up speech before a game. In lay man's terms, he is an avatar of James Farrior. With Farrior aging, the Steelers need another vocal leader and inside linebacker. Sheppard fills both of these needs and is an excellent value for his position.
Other options: James Brewer, OT Indiana, Joe Lefeged, SS Rutgers
Brewer would be a best available and fill a need pick if the Steelers took him with the fourth spot. Brewer is a solid player, but with already drafting a tackle early, it seems unlikely the Steelers would take another with players like Sheppard and Lefeged on the board. Lefeged is a special teams player who happens to also be a top 10 defensive back. He is a sure tackler and made 49 consecutive starts, showing durability and consistency, two things the Steelers could use in the secondary. If Sheppard is off the board, watch for Lefeged to be drafted.
In the third round, Niles Paul is a viable option for the Steelers when looking for a route running receiver. Austin Pettis is less athletic than Paul however he does have better hands. If the Steelers really are worried about losing the dimension of the passing attack that favors Hines Ward's style of play, Pettis may be the fourth-round selection. Ward can take Pettis under his wing and teach him the intricacies of route running, much like he did with Mike Wallace this year. However, the Steelers do have other needs that they should address before wide receiver in this years draft, so Pettis is a long shot to become a Steeler.
Elmore has been a solid defensive end at Arizona, racking up 21.5 sacks over the last two years. Elm ore has continued to show improvement year after year and would be a good fit to help add some youth on an aging line. The only concern is that Elmore has been a strict 4-3 end, and many believe he cannot convert to a 3-4. I seriously think that the Steelers cannot go this far into the draft without adding another end if nothing more than to give some youthful relief to a unit that desperately needs it.
Other options: Jeron Johnson, SS Boise State, Ricky Stanzi, QB Iowa
Jeron Johnson is only on the Steelers' short list if Lefeged is not taken the round before. He is extremely similar only does not possess the return abilities. Regardless if the Steelers have not taken a safety by this time, Johnson is a very likely player because the Steelers need to have a contingency plan with Troy's injuries being far more consistent over the last few years. Stanzi is the prototypical third quarterback the Steelers could use if Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich are not on the team or indicate that they won't be around for the upcoming season.
When looking at Locke initially, he is an undersized college running back at 5'10", 185 pounds. However, when you have timed 40 yard dash of 4.3 seconds, everyone starts to pay a little more attention. Locke would be the perfect counter to Rashard Mendenhall's more bruising style. After the relatively successful Willie Parker project, Locke may be on the Steelers' radar in order to have another viable option at running back if either Mewelde Moore or Isaac Readmen are not able to live up to their performances last season.
So I am sure that I am not the only person shocked by the rapid and almost embarrassing descent of Jeff Reed. The disgruntled and eccentric kicker left the Steelers in such a hole that finding a new long term solution at this position after Sean Suisham's less than average playoff record. Henry has an incredible leg, was reliable for Nebraska, and can also double as a successful punter if Daniel Sepulveda tears another knee ligament.
Other options: Doug Hogue, OLB Syracuse, Noel Devine, RB West Virginia
Doug Houge a classic late Steelers linebacker who will be used on special teams, taught both outside and middle linebacker, and then be observed to see if he can compete. From watching him play, he looks like he could do so. Noel Divine is a lot like Derrick Locke the round before. A speed back who can both return kicks and take carries, the Steelers would not have any reservations selecting Devine at this spot.
How can you not take a good look at the brother of a linebacker you had to scheme for in the Super Bowl? Casey Matthews is undersized for the NFL but what he lacks in size, he makes up for with effort and ethic on and off the field. He has the mentality the Steelers love, but it would be extremely difficult to pass up a need like kicker for a position like linebacker that they already possess depth at and have some more years before they seriously have to worry about adding more players. However, Casey has tremendous potential for a late-round pick and if he is available, Colbert will have a very difficult decision to make.
Brown is a thrid to fourth-round talent whose stock has been falling and will have a chance to stop the free fall at the combine. Brown is 6'5" and can run a 4.5 40 yard dash, but he suffered a broken leg his freshman year and has been nagged by leg issues ever since. The reason I see Brown falling to Steelers and the subsequent pick is that a) Brown is a underclass player with an injury history when many other viable options are available for teams and b) Brown looks eerily similar physically to another Southern Mississippi player from the 70's named John Stallworth. With the next to last pick, why not take a chance?
Other options: Anthony Gaitor, CB Florida International, Dion Lewis, RB Pittsburgh
The reason both of these players are options for the Steelers is because like Brown, their stocks are falling. Playing for a small school doesn't help Gaitor and neither does his small frame and better than average but not great numbers individually. Lewis lost his starting job this season after being injured and returned only to split carries for the remainder of Pitt's disappointing season. Being a local player greatly helps Lewis, especially if the Steelers have not yet picked up a running back and Brown in off the board.
Bruce Ariens loves Antwan Randle El. Randle El provides big play potential as both a quarterback and wide receiving threat thanks to the coaching of the Steelers staff. With Taylor's speed and size, he could very well be the next Randle El for the Steelers system. If, however, he is not able to make the necessary adjustments, the Steelers showed with Dennis Dixon that their staff can take a scrambling/spread option quarterback and make a successful NFL backup. If Stanzi was not taken earlier and both Batch and Leftwich retire/walk, Taylor is the go to guy as a third quarterback and long term project.