The 2011 NFL draft is just less than three weeks away and it will be the first hint of action since the offseason began.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will be looking to reload with young talent to help reach the Super Bowl for a second consecutive season.
The last two drafts following Super Bowl appearances, the Steelers traded up to draft Santonio Holmes in 2006 and stood pat and selected Ziggy Hood in 2008.
Neither player helped Pittsburgh make the playoffs the year following their Super Bowl victory, but both became integral pieces to the team, including Holmes' game-winning touchdown reception and MVP performance in Super Bowl XLIII.
Unlike the previous two drafts following a Super Bowl, the Steelers have a very specific need in this year’s draft: to draft a highly rated cornerback.
But just because Pittsburgh needs a major upgrade at the position, it does not mean that they will get one in the first round. However, if they can, it could be just what the defense needs to help shut down the elite passers in the league.
With the elite corners already off the board and a good chance that Brandon Harris is also already selected, the hot pick for the Steelers is Aaron Williams. However, they will pass him because at this point of the draft, they can find better value at defensive or offensive line.
For the second consecutive season, the Steelers add help along their line with Nate Solder.
A three-year starter at left tackle for Colorado, Solder was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2009 and 2010 and was a consensus first-team All-American as a senior.
Over his career, Solder has been very durable since converting from tight end and has only given up five sacks.
At 6'8", 319 pounds, Solder has room to grow and he will need to so he can match up better with the bigger players in the NFL. However, his quickness will allow him to succeed against speed rushers in the NFL, particularly while playing the left side.
Solder does have upside at left tackle, but could start his career at right tackle for a year or two before shifting sides. He could start in his first season.
The trio of Texas cornerbacks will be popular selections in mock drafts after the Steelers visited their pro day, but none are true playmakers. Ras-I Dowling does have that potential.
Standing at just over 6'1", Dowling is a big cornerback with very good speed who can shut down the bigger receivers in the league and has the ball skills to make plays on the pass.
Dowling had eight interceptions in his first three seasons, but was shut out in his senior season, which was cut short due to injury.
With a history of injuries, there is some concern placing the hopes of the defensive backfield on Dowling. His potential, though, more than makes up for the risk, especially considering the Steelers are getting first-round talent in the second round.
While he may not be able to start as a rookie, there is no doubt that Dowling would immediately be able to contribute and eventually grow into a star role in the Steelers defense.
Casey Hampton is another year older and another year closer to the end of his career. The two-down player is coming off of a very good season for Pittsburgh, but he cannot play forever and it is time that the Steelers bring in a young nose tackle to develop behind Hampton.
Jerrell Powe would be a great fit. Standing at nearly 6'2", 335 pounds, he is the perfect size to be a rock in the middle of the Steelers defensive line.
In his two years of starting for Ole Miss, Powe was named as a back-to-back second-team All-SEC player.
Powe would have time to learn behind one of the best 3-4 nose tackles in the league in Hampton, as well as his excellent backup, Chris Hoke.
Pittsburgh needs a stout man in the middle for its defense to survive and Powe would ensure that position is filled for years to come.
Chimdi Chekwa is an athletic cornerback who has the speed (running a 4.40 40-yard dash) to keep up with the fastest in the NFL.
The 6'0" corner also has good size, which aids him with his physical nature of play. This will fit in nicely with the Steelers defense as they expect their cornerbacks to contribute in run defense.
Chekwa’s three years of starting experience should help him transition into the NFL and his six career interceptions show that he has limited playmaking abilities.
Pittsburgh should be able to groom Chekwa into the nickelback role.
Matt Spaeth has not shown enough, particularly when thrust into the starting role this season, and the Steelers could look elsewhere to find a backup.
Lee Smith was a second-team All-Conference USA selection this year after making 38 receptions for 358 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite his numbers, Smith’s receiving ability is limited to short and intermediate routes as he lacks the speed to stretch the field. But standing at nearly 6'6", he does pose potential matchup problems with defenders.
Smith is also known as a very good blocker—one of the better blockers in this year’s draft class. A good blocking backup tight end would allow Miller to run pass routes rather than stay in and help the offensive line.
Pittsburgh has a very good all-around back with Rashard Mendenhall and a developing power back with Isaac Redman.
With Mewelde Moore being a free agent, the only other running back that the Steelers have is Jonathan Dwyer, who did not show much as a rookie.
Pittsburgh will need to bring in another running back to compete for a roster spot and Scott would be a very good change-of-pace option.
Scott ran a 4.34 40-yard dash, making him the fastest running back at the combine.
It is that speed that will allow him to make an NFL roster, as his game has too many holes to fill a starting role—such as a fumbling problem and the lack of power to succeed in the short game.
Scott was limited in his career at Maryland due to a number of injuries, but with averages of 5.6 yards per carry and 10.4 yards per reception, he could be a dynamic playmaker.
Though the Steelers appear to have a deep receiving corps with the emergence of Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, they could still use depth with Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El aging.
The young receivers could also use some healthy competition so they can keep that edge that propelled them to solid rookie campaigns.
Armon Binns averaged 14.65 yards per reception on his 131 receptions over the past two seasons. He had 21 touchdown receptions over that time period.
The 6'3" receiver would add size to the Steelers receiving corps, but he lacks the consistency needed to play a major role in the NFL and he could have trouble making a roster spot if he continues to drop passes, as he has shown in his pre-draft workouts.
The first three rounds would provide the Steelers with future starters at their three biggest areas of need: offensive line, cornerback and defensive line. The later rounds are pure depth picks with the hopes that these players could one day find a role on the team.
How do you feel about these selections? Did I make a mistake not selecting a cornerback in Round 1? Which selections would you change? Did this draft address all of the Steelers needs? Please let me know your thoughts.
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