If the selection of Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward by the Steelers in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft surprised you, it shouldn\’t have. As I mentioned in my post way back in mid-March, I pointed out the Kevin Colbert drafting style in relation to best player available and warned those that were locked into the Steelers drafting a cornerback or tackle to be prepared.
As the draft unfolded Thursday night you could see that indeed there was a run on quarterbacks along with several trades and a reach. In addition, Clemson defensive end Da\’Quan Bowers fell right down the board because of a bone on bone issue. The run on quarterbacks allowed players like Gabe Carimi, Muhammad Wilkerson, Derek Sherrod and Heyward to fall to the bottom of the round. Carimi and Wilkerson were selected with the 29th and 30th overall selections and the Steelers were left with Sherrod, Heyward and Texas cornerback Aaron Williams as possible selections. While cornerback is certainly a need for the Steelers in this draft, Williams is really more of a second round talent as I concluded in my final mock draft.
Heyward is a high character guy, has a solid NFL bloodline and fits another need the Steelers had coming into the draft, defensive end. If not for the elbow injury he suffered against Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, Heyward would likely have been a top 20 selection. He was not able to work at the combine because he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery, but did participate at his Pro Day and passed the entire medical test according to Colbert.
The Steelers could of selected Sherrod, but there seems to be quality tackles to be had in the 3rd and 4th rounds, while 5 technique defensive ends drop off quick. Sherrod likely would have been the pick had Heyward also been off the board and the Steelers stayed put with the pick. Drafting Williams or Miami cornerback Brandon Harris would have been a reach and Colbert knew it.
The Steelers needed depth on the defensive line even though they drafted Ziggy Hood in the first round two years ago. Left defensive end Aaron Smith will likely return for his final year under contract, but he has problems staying healthy. Right defensive end Brett Keisel is 32 and missed 4 games due to quad and hamstring problems last season as well. Backup defensive end Nick Eason is a free agent and likely will not be back in 2011 and backup nose tackle Chris Hoke, who can also play outside in a limited role, is also a free agent. While Hoke likely will be resigned, he is 35 years old and merely a spot duty defensive lineman. The recent drafting of Hood and Heyward now secures the future at the defensive end spot in the Dick LeBeau 3-4 defense.
The Steelers will almost certainly address the cornerback position in round 2 on Friday and there is still plenty of talent to likely be had when the Steelers are scheduled to pick, especially now that Williams and Harris went undrafted in the 1st round. The Steelers brought in several cornerbacks during pre draft visits and it would not surprise me if the pick was one of those that visited. I have Curtis Brown from Texas in my mock draft and it is looking good that he will be on the board. If not, I guarantee it will be the best cornerback available. It will not be a surprise. In Colbert We Trust!