The Pittsburgh Steelers' 2011 draft has not been easy to figure out, and most of us writing mock drafts will be more wrong than right. Mock drafters sometimes guess, sometimes do in-depth research, look for needs, quotes by coaches and sometimes base their drafts on collected opinions. I am not afraid to say I use all these methods. And I still will probably be more wrong than right.
In 2010 I did my very first realistic Steelers mock draft before the compensatory picks were given out, so I only choose one player in each of the seven rounds. And I was lucky enough to get two of the first four players picked correct.
So this year I have put more of everything into my decisions and probably will be lucky if I match that result when I post a realistic one in the next couple weeks. Because let's face it, picking at the end of each round is tough when trying to figure out in advance what players will be left on the board to choose from.
The Steelers have been so good for so long because they have not let need purely guide their drafts. Usually the Steelers select players in the first three rounds based on a combination of BPA at a position of need, even though that need could be two years in the future.
The problem the Steelers have now is that the evolution of the NFL spread offenses has left them a little behind in their style of defense. Yes, the Steelers have one of the best defenses in the NFL, thanks mainly to the Steelers' wise choices at picking and developing impact players at the core positions of their team.
But as we all know, in the salary cap era, teams can't keep all the top talent they need at every position. In the past, the Steelers have not needed above-average nickel and dime CBs because they always got enough pressure on quarterbacks to keep coverage time to a minimum.
To beat good quarterbacks who are in spread offenses in big games, the Steelers have to be able to do two of these three things:
1. Have CBs that can cover better and take the ball away in press man coverage and stop the other teams offense.
2. Run the ball more and play keep the ball away from the other offense. Plus, don't turn the ball over.
3. Improve their offense and outscore the other team. Mmm, maybe another good TE or tall big-bodied WR in the third round? Well, that is another fine mess I just brought up.
The Steelers' biggest need this year is at CB and safety. While some of you will argue against that, it is a fact, even if Ike Taylor and William Gay are re-signed. If they are not re-signed you will be looking at Bryant McFadden, Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler as the Steelers' back secondary.
In a recent interview, Mike Tomlin said he "still had confidence in Lewis' and Butler's future in the upcoming training camp. But that does not mean that they would not have competition in camp."
This comment leads me to wonder, what round or rounds will the Steelers use to draft a CB? At this time, it looks like the Steelers' best chance to get a better, talented CB is in Round 2. But let's face it, the 63rd pick at the end of Round 2 is unlikely to yield a better talent level at CB than they have picked in Round 3 other years.
The Steelers need to improve their talent level in the defensive backfield because of the evolution of the spread offense against them. The Steelers had to take safety Ryan Clark off the field in some passing situations during the Super Bowl and simply did not have enough interior CB talent to stop the spread offenses, which is hard to do against QBs like Aaron Rodgers.
Because the NFL is a copycat league, more teams will use some form of spread offense against them.
Though they have drafted three mid-round CBs in the last two drafts, they have not chosen well. They had to bring McFadden back last year because Gay had a bad year as McFadden's replacement. Will he be the Steelers' best choice to replace Taylor if Taylor is not resigned?
Lewis, in my opinion, was drafted to play one of the outside CB spots (probably Taylor's). But while there is still hope for him, Lewis continues to make too many mistakes on the field. Lewis in 2010 seemed to have problems staying focused and playing smart.
Second-year nickel CB Joe Burnett was beaten out by rookie CB Butler in training camp. The Steelers seem to have have a lot of hope for Butler in the future, possibly for one of the interior CB spots. But they had the same hopes for Lewis and Burnett just one year ago.