Over at Fansided.com, the writers will be releasing weekly N.F.L. Mock Drafts from now until the epic event in April. Although it is only November, let me just state that I am stoked to discuss and release some of my own Draft Coverage this early. I was “NPC’s” resident “Draft Guy” last season, and I am proud to carry the torch for the site as “Draft Season” nears.
Each week I will be doing a break-down of the pick(s) that Fansided’s writers decided in their infinite wisdom would be great fits with Pittsburgh. So enough of me babbling, let’s get to my breakdown of who was projected to be selected by the Steelers (at Pick #21 of 32) by Fansided’s Josh Hill in the 1st version of his Mock Draft and my thoughts on the selection:
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
If this order stays as is, the Vikings might be able to pull of a trade, because the aforementioned Smith doesn’t fall past the Steelers. Big Ben is currently injured, as he usually is, he turns 31 and the Steelers have no contingency plan, as we’ve so delicately seen. Smith is an RGIII type of quarterback and after the RGIII storm, teams will want another guy like him.
On the surface, the explanation for this pick appears to make some sense as the Steelers appear to have some issues behind Big Ben on the depth chart. To me though, it would truly be a shock if the Steelers actually selected a Quarterback in the First two Rounds of the 2013 Draft. But if you on the “Steelers Must/Will Draft Geno Smith” Bandwagon, allow me to try and explain why the selection of Smith by the Steelers in Round 1 is so difficult for me to believe.
Smith Will Likely Not Fall to the Steelers
This is a Quarterback-driven League ladies and gentlemen, and because of this, any signal-caller who flashes a good deal of potential at the college level will be highly coveted by desperate teams looking to turn their franchises around with one selection. This mode thinking in turn has caused and continues to cause most Quarterbacks in general to be highly sought-after by Quarterback-needy franchises every April.
Granted, the Steelers will likely have a much higher selection in the 1st Round than usual next season (due to Ben’s absence). But some Quarterback-needy franchise in the Top 10 will take a chance on Smith and select him. Thus, there is almost no way that Smith will fall to wherever the Steelers pick in the 1st Round (likely in the 18-22 range), and that is even if the team fails to win a game for the rest of the year.
Don’t believe me that the Quarterback market is and has been skewed as of late? How else did guys like Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Cam Newton, Jason Campbell, Brady Quinn, J.P. Losman, Joey Harrington, Cade McNown, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez etc. to name a few, go as high as they did in the 1st Round?
Teams like Kansas City, Jacksonville, Oakland, Arizona, Buffalo, New York (Jets), should all be selecting ahead of Pittsburgh, and each of them need help at the Quarterback position and could seriously use a player like Smith. As it stands now, there is no conceivable way that all but one of these teams will pass on a Quarterback with the messes they have on their rosters at the position, and will likely be more than happy to gamble on a Quarterback with Smith’s upside. Plus, with the Rookie wage-scale in place, teams will be more than willing to move up the draft boards to take Smith if the teams in front of Pittsburgh somehow pass on the talented Mountaineer.
Steelers Quarterback Depth/Likely Draft Strategy
I do not mean to nit-pick, but what the Fansided article fails to mention is that the Steelers might have recently signed themselves a capable long-term backup in the form of Brian Hoyer. The former Michigan State Spartan is a Quarterback who learned under some of the best at their Coaching and Positional crafts’ (Bill O’Brien and Tom Brady) since 2009. While Hoyer will not wow anyone with his skill-set, he is a heady Quarterback that is accurate, possesses decent mobility, and can make every throw on the field despite not having a laser for an arm. As long as Hoyer impresses and stays, Quarterback will be a position far from Pittsburgh’s minds’ as they have other needs to fill during Draft Season.
But in the event that the Steelers do choose a signal-caller, it will more than likely be a later Round developmental player (Brad Sorensen (Southern Utah) comes to mind) or a talented player that somehow falls to them in the Middle Rounds (3-5). Some of these Quarterbacks Pittsburgh could consider are Tyler Bray (Tennessee) (if he declares & falls a la Ryan Mallett in 2011), E.J. Manuel (Florida State), Mike Glennon (NC State), Landry Jones (Oklahoma), and Zac Dysert (Miami OH). These players would be in a perfect situation to be groomed as the #3 for a year or two until they are ready to compete for playing time or extended backup reps, and the Steelers would have themselves a “low-risk/high-reward” Quarterback on their roster that did not come at a particularly high (1st or 2nd Round Draft Choice) price.
Defense Needs Help & Play-Makers
As far as Draft Strategy goes, I have a hard time believing that the Steelers would use their 1st Round selection on luxury pick like Smith. In fact, even if Smith somehow drops out of the Top 15 to where the Steelers are picking, selecting him would probably not be something that G.M. Kevin Colbert and the rest of the Front Office consider. Why you may ask? Well it is precisely because the Steelers need a massive amount of help and an influx of young, play-making talent on the Defensive side of the ball.
The Steelers definitely need a transition strategy for their Defense as most of their starters are nearing retirement age, and playing like it this season as well. Here are just a few examples of how “old” the Steelers Defense is getting: NT Casey Hampton (36 years old in 2013), OLB James Harrison (35), DE Brett Keisel (35), FS Ryan Clark (34), ILB Larry Foote (33), CB Ike Taylor (33), and SS Troy Polamalu (32).
In fact, only 4 of the 11 starters on Defense will be under the age of 30 when the 2013 season is in full-swing (OLB LaMarr Woodley (29), ILB Lawrence Timmons (27), CB Keenan Lewis (27), and DE Ziggy Hood (26)). What’s worse is that Woodley has dealt with various injuries over the last two seasons, and is likely past his prime in terms of his Sack numbers. Plus, younger players like OLB Jason Worilds, NT Steve McLendon, DE Cameron Heyward, CB Cortez Allen, and CB Curtis Brown are forced to sit on the bench and give up reps to the veterans in front of them despite the fact that some have performed well when given the chance.
Certain positions like Free Safety, Strong Safety, Inside Linebacker, and Outside Linebacker have little to no depth behind them and could definitely use help. To me, a transition strategy for the post-Polamalu & Clark era must be achieved over the next two years, a tandem must be in place when that day inevitably comes, and Safety (or any position on Defense) would be a much better direction to look in than Quarterback when the 1st Round gets underway.
As far as the players and the Defensive positions that the Steelers could and likely will target instead of Smith, I have some thoughts in mind:
Cornerbacks who fit Pittsburgh’s system and the size they like in the position (6’ 200 lbs.+) like Johnathan Banks (Mississippi State), Xavier Rhodes (Florida State) will likely be available. In addition, Jordan Poyer (Oregon State) as well as David Amerson (NC State) should be around too if the Steelers elect to go in the Cornerback direction.
Inside Linebackers like Alec Ogletree (Georgia) and C.J. Mosley (Alabama) will be on the board if they declare as underclassmen as well as the athletic former Safety Khaseem Greene (Rutgers). Outside Linebackers/Pass Rushers like Dion Jordan (Oregon), Sam Montgomery (L.S.U.), and Alex Okafor (Texas) could be in Pittsburgh’s range if the Steelers drop more games down the stretch too.
And don’t forget, this Draft Class should be deep with Safeties like Matt Elam (Florida), Tony Jefferson (Oklahoma), Kenny Vaccaro (Texas), Bacarri Rambo (Georgia), T.J. McDonald (USC) available early. In addition, sleepers like Shamarko Thomas (Syracuse), Phillip Thomas (Fresno State), and Duke Williams (Nevada) will be available down the road so the Steelers could double dip at the position.
Although it would be nice to see the Steelers find a Quarterback to take over in the post-Big Ben era, we still need to remember that Roethlisberger will only be 31 years of age next season. Sure he has had the tar beat out of him over the course of his career, but he should still have at least another two to three years of solid Pro Bowl production ahead of him. And if the Offensive Line investments begin to play better and congeal as a unit (Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Kelvin Beachum), Ben should be more adequately protected during the next half decade.
If the Steelers want to “Reload” instead of “Rebuild,” they are better off shoring up their aging Defense and solidifying that side of the ball early and often in April’s Draft. Plus, the team should at least what it at least has in Hoyer as a backup, and then determine what the best course of action is. Overall though, I do not see Pittsburgh selecting Smith next April, let alone ever having the chance to select him.
Readers: Should the Steelers take Smith? Will he even be available? How bad does the Defense need help? Let me know what you think of my analysis.