When we look back at this draft in five or 10 years…we might view it as one of the worst we’ve seen in some time. – Anonymous N.F.L. executive (4-24-13)
While I will agree that the 2013 draft class is not as “top heavy” with elite talent as the “Class of 2012,” “worst” is definitely not an adjective that I would use to describe this year’s crop of players.
In fact, I believe that that year’s draft class could be ripe for the plundering in the middle rounds for teams and scouting departments who can take advantage of the depth that this year’s class has to offer. While the talent at a position like quarterback is not necessarily “elite” by any stretch of the word, this year’s draft class possesses a solid amount of depth at other positions which the Steelers will need to address over the coming seasons.
Don’t believe me? Here are just a few examples:
I would like to call Day 2 of this weekend’s draft “Safety Day” because six to ten safeties might go off the board during Rounds 2 and 3. If Kenny Vaccaro does not make it to #17 overall, or the Steelers simply aren’t that interested in him, Pittsburgh shouldn’t fret. In fact, they might be better off to wait for some players who have the potential to flourish in their defensive scheme.
As long as Phillip Thomas’ once-injured leg is good-to-go, I would be happy to see the Steelers draft him as a potential strong safety late in Round 2 or early in Round 3. A terrific ball-hawk with some decent tackling skills, Thomas recovered from his broken leg in 2011 to post some terrific numbers last year.
Shamarko Thomas of Syracuse could be in play as a late Day 2 or early Day 3 selection for Pittsburgh as well. Although small in stature, the former linebacker plays with a combination of tenacity and speed that reminds me quite a bit of former Pro Bowler Bob Sanders. If Thomas’ height causes him to slide, I would love to see the Steelers take him to fill their need at strong safety.
Another post-Round 1 favorite of mine is D.J. Swearinger of South Carolina. While Swearinger does not possess blazing speed or significant size, he more than makes up for those deficiencies with terrific instincts and the ability to de-cleat anybody, at any time, and anywhere on the field.
If the Steelers elect to go the “developmental route” at safety, I hope that they have their sights set on J.J. Wilcox of Georgia Southern. While Wilcox is definitely inexperienced as a defensive back, the raw athleticism and instincts are there for the former slotback. A year behind Polamalu and Clark and under his position coach Carnell Lake would benefit him greatly, and the Steelers could always take advantage of his kick and punt returning abilities until he is ready to see the field on defense.
As I pointed out a couple of months back, the Steelers might be wise to wait on an inside linebacker on “Draft Weekend.” Make no mistake, if Pittsburgh acquired Arthur Brown early, I would be downright stoked. But if Colbert & Co. play the “waiting game,” there will be a large number of guys available for them to take on Day 2 and early Day 3 to groom behind Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons.
Of all of the projected post-Round 1 inside linebackers, Sio Moore is probably my favorite due to his versatile skill-set. Although Moore was an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, he was used in many different capacities at Connecticut. Moore can not only hold play the run well, but he can also pass-rush effectively and has the ability to hold his own in pass coverage.
Like Moore, Khaseem Greene of Rutgers could also be an option for the Steelers in either Round 2 or Round 3. A bit on the shorter side, Greene is a former safety who would definitely give a team like Pittsburgh some much needed help in sub-packages in pass-coverage.
If the Steelers are looking for help at weakside-inside linebacker, they could take a chance on either Zaviar Gooden of Missouri or Jelani Jenkins of Florida. When healthy, both Jenkins and Gooden were productive players for their respective programs, and both will likely be be available for the Steelers to take late on Day 2 or early on Day 3 of “Draft Weekend.”
With Larry Foote likely at the end of his Steelers career though, Pittsburgh could take a chance on a more physically imposing inside linebacker like DeVonte Holloman of South Carolina or Jonathan Bostic of Florida. Holloman, a former safety, has a surprising amount of athleticism for a player of his frame,. Bostic on the other hand is a tackling-machine who should fit in well on the strongside in a 3-4 scheme.
I know that most members of “Steeler Nation,” including myself, would like to see the team address their wide receiver needs in Round 1. While opinions differ on which wide receiver would be the best fit (DeAndre Hopkins, Cordarrelle Patterson, Keenan Allen, Justin Hunter, etc.), the team needs to find another weapon for Ben Roethlisberger, and I’m not sold that two-thirds of the self-dubbed “Young Money Crew” will do anything spectacular this season.
Luckily for the Steelers, this year’s draft class will feature a large amount of wide receivers who should be available for them to select in Rounds 2-5. Moreover, this group of pass-catchers are pretty diverse when it comes to their skill-sets and how they can help a passing attack.
If the Steelers are looking for a deep-threat to replace Mike Wallace, they might want to target Markus Wheaton of Oregon State or Terrance Williams of Baylor. If they would prefer to add a more well-rounded pass-catcher with a high football I.Q. and solid route-running ability, Robert Woods of Southern Cal might be a solid choice in Round 2. If Colbert & Co. would like to invest in a player with a similar skill-set to Anquan Boldin, Chris Harper of Kansas State could be an option in Round 4. Or if the team would rather see Emmanuel Sanders at the “X” position this year, slot guys like Ryan Swope of Texas A&M, Josh Boyce of Texas Christian, Stedman Bailey of West Virginia, or even Tavarres King of Georgia could players for them to target.
As I stated before, the Steelers could very well go in the “wide receiver” direction in Round 1 tomorrow. But I for one will not lose too much sleep if Colbert & Co. elect to wait to fill their need, because the “wide receiver cupboard” is definitely not “bare” once Round 2 begins.
I’ll be the first one to admit that this year’s draft class is one of the weakest in the last decade regarding the “elite” talent near the top, or lack thereof. But you know what, readers? It’s the same draft class for all 32 franchises. In fact, I will guarantee that at least two to three teams will make out like bandits this year, exploit the market inefficiencies on Days 2 and 3, and the proceed to collect and develop some mid-Round gems who can make their teams better.
As I have explained at length over the last four months, if there was any draft in which the Steelers should trade back in Round 1 to stockpile picks later on, it would be the upcoming one. If Colbert & Co. can stay patient and reamin confident in their draft board, talent will find them on Day 2 and early on Day 3. While some teams could be fretting, reaching, and making mistakes, the stage could very well be set for Pittsburgh’s veteran front office to take advantage of this year’s underrated talent pool.
At least, I hope that the Steelers’ brass can take advantage. Otherwise, the rebuilding process could continue for an even longer period than most of us anticipate at the moment.
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