NFL Draft 2011: Five Under-the-Radar Options for the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers will be making their first round selection of the draft with the 31st overall pick. When you get to that point in the draft order, there are a few options of how you can approach the pick.
Should you simply take best player available or should you address your team's biggest need? How about a less popular option, taking a guy who is off the radar but would be able to step in and make a contribution to your team.
Many fans want the Steelers to draft Mike Pouncey and let's be honest... he is coveted by the fans in Pittsburgh because of his brother Maurkice's immediate success. Realistically, Pouncey will not be available when the Steelers are on the clock, so you will hear the names Jimmy Smith or Aaron Williams thrown out as options.
In this slideshow, I will be focusing on five off-the-radar yet realistic options for the Steelers with the 31st pick.
Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
I have been connecting the dots and see Heyward as a very likely option for the Steelers if he's still on the board. Head coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau both attended Heyward's workout at Ohio State and came away impressed with the defensive end.
As I wrote in an earlier article, Heyward to the Steelers just makes too much sense:
Heyward weighed 295 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.95-4.96 range and had a 35-inch vertical jump. He did not participate in the bench press.
If selected by the Steelers, Heyward would be a perfect fit at the five-technique for their 3-4 defensive front. Injury has been a concern surrounding Heyward, who had Tommy John surgery in January, but he has since been cleared medically for physical activity.
The former Buckeye would bring some much needed youth to the Steelers defensive front. Brett Keisel, 32, and Aaron Smith, 34, are underrated talents who have done an incredible job at the position, however, they are both getting up there in the years and it is time to start grooming young talent.
Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Fans know that Ike Taylor is not getting younger and cornerback could very likely be the direction the Steelers go with their first pick. The names of Texas corner Aaron Williams and Colorado's Jimmy Smith have been two names floating around, but why no mention of Brandon Harris from The U?
Harris may not be the biggest corner, but he excels in man coverage and is not afraid to come up in run support. Harris is very fluid in his hips and has no trouble locating the ball.
Where Harris needs to really improve is his tackling. As mentioned, he isn't afraid to come up in run support but he has to do a better job of wrapping up the ball carrier and becoming a more consistent tackler. Harris could also use some work with his zone coverage skills.
Overall, Harris fits the Steelers defensive personality. He is a fiery player with a lot of passion who is more physical than many would like to believe.
Ben Ijalana, OT, Villanova
Ijalana is seeing his stock skyrocket and could very well hear his name called in the first round. He is an excellent blocker who can play at tackle or guard at the next level. Ijalana was an important piece of the Villanova team who won the 2009 FCS title and returned to this year's semifinals.
In order to become an elite offensive lineman, Ijalana will need to improve against speed rushers. His footwork is a bit sloppy, and that causes him to run into trouble when it comes to the faster defenders.
Ijalana is still a bit raw, but his upside is as great as any offensive lineman in this year's class. His long arms and athleticism allow for him to make up for some of his unpolished techniques.
Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
Paea was once a sure fire first round prospect, but an injury during the Senior Bowl started a slide down draft boards. If Paea can continue his tough, aggressive style of play once he is completely healed, he will become a force along the defensive line in the NFL.
Schematically, Paea may not be the best fit for Pittsburgh but you would have to believe the team can find a spot for a player with his talent and motor.
The former rugby player could possibly develop into a solid nose tackle in the team's 3-4 defensive front with his bull rush and ability against the run if given the time and luckily for him, he would get the opportunity to learn behind Casey Hampton for a few years.
Jason Pinkston, OT, Pittsburgh
If Pittsburgh is going to take a tackle at number 31, it is very likely that a run at the position started midway through the first round and the elite players at the position are gone. That leaves a guy like Jason Pinkston as a very viable option. Pinkston is one of the top offensive tackles in that second tier and the local guy can bring a lot to the Steelers offensive line.
Pinkston, who arguably was the most impressive offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl that featured the likes of Nate Solder and Gabe Carimi, can play either guard or tackle at the next level. Many point out his height as an area of concern, but he has very long arms and uses them effectively. That makes up for any questions about his ability as a tackle just because of his height.
The Pitt product moves incredibly well and is as impressive as a pass protecter as you will find in the draft. His athleticism will also allow him to get to the second level when blocking in the running game.
You will have a hard time finding an offensive line prospect who moves this well and is not named Tyron Smith. Pinkston is a fringe first rounder and keeping him in Pittsburgh would be a genius move.