Kevin Colbert loves value and especially so with his first round selections. Below is a quick history of the first rounders he has drafted since taking over in 2000 and the positional value those players offered. At the end I offer up a few players that fit the mold as both positional values that also fit perhaps a need. This is an exercise of positional value only, so don’t get too upset.
2000 – WR Plaxico Burress – This was the first draft for Colbert and after they selected Burress 8th overall, head coach Bill Cowher said they drafted him because they needed a playmaker. Burress was a top 10 draft prospect that year and the second receiver off the board just 4 picks after the Bengals drafted receiver Peter Warrick with the 4th overall pick. Chad Pennington was perhaps the best player on the board at that time overall, but the Steelers deemed the receiver position as a greater need.
2001 – NT Casey Hampton – There were 4 defensive tackles drafted before the Steelers drafted Hampton 19th overall, but as far as true 3-4 nose tackles went, Hampton certainly ranked in the top 2 or 3 heading into the draft. They reportedly were high on linebacker Dan Morgan and Marcus Stroud heading into the draft, but both players were off the board by the 16th pick so the Steelers chose to trade down 3 spots and draft Hampton. Hampton was the 8th defensive lineman drafted in round 1 that year, but like I mentioned, not many of them fit the mold the Steelers needed at nose tackle.
2002 – G Kendall Simmons – Simmons played tackle at Auburn, but was deemed a guard at the next level and was viewed as the one of the top interior linemen headed into the draft, if not the best. There were 4 tackles taken before him before the Steelers drafted at the #30 spot, but Simmons was the first true interior lineman taken.
2003 – SS Troy Polamalu – Polamalu was the top rated safety heading into the 2003 draft and also ranked in the top 15 overall as far as the draft class went. They certainly knew he was the player they had to have and moved all the way up from the #27 spot to get him after a trade with the Chiefs as they knew there was no way he would still be on the board later in the round.
2004 – QB Ben Roethlisberger – Depending on what rankings list you went by in 2004, Roethlisberger was the 2nd or 3rd rated quarterback in the draft and definitely was considered a top 10 pick in many circles. The war between the Giants and Chargers over Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers enabled Roethlisberger to drop to the 11th spot and the Steelers snatched him up.
2005 – TE Heath Miller – Miller was the top rated tight end in the draft and he certainly fit a need for the Steelers as well. He was a gift at the #30 spot and the Steelers jumped on him. This was cut and dry.
2006 – WR Santonio Holmes – Depending on what you read and where you read it, Holmes was either the #1 or #2 rated wide receiver in the 2006 draft class. He ended up being the only wide receiver drafted in round one as Chad Jackson ended up falling out of the first round altogether. Holmes was the 25th player taken overall that year and the value was top notch.
2007 – LB Lawrence Timmons – Timmons played outside linebacker at Florida State and considered the 2nd or 3rd best linebacker in the draft. The Steelers snagged him 15th overall and then proceeded to move him inside because of his ability. It would have been interesting if Darrelle Revis would have not been picked one spot earlier as the Steelers very well could have had the top cornerback in the draft just as easily.
2008 – RB Rashard Mendenhall – Although Mendenhall was the 4th running back taken in the first round in 2008, the Steelers had to be quite surprised that he fell to them at the 23rd pick. Mendenhall was easily the 2nd or 3rd best running back in the draft and a top 15 overall prospect. Jerry Jones is still probably kicking himself for taking Felix Jones instead.
2009 – DE Ziggy Hood – Although several defensive linemen were drafted before him, Hood was a top 3 prospect as far as 5 technique defensive ends went in 2009 and fit the Steelers defensive scheme to a T. Quite a few players listed as defensive ends in that draft were really outside linebacker types so his value is often clouded because of a positional listing and not a scheme listing, much like the Hampton value was clouded back in 2001.
2010 – C Maurkice Pouncey – Pouncey was easily the top rated center in 2010 and had versatility to play guard as well. He was the 2nd interior lineman off the board as Mike Iupati was drafted by the 49ers just one pick earlier. He was easily considered a top 20 overall prospect headed into the draft.
Now that we have the quick history out of the way, let\’s look at a few top rated players positional wise that offer value that may be available should the Steelers stand pat at the #31 spot. I purposely left off tackles and cornerbacks as I feel four of each might be off the board by pick #31.
DE Cameron Heyward – Although Heyward is rated as the 7th or 8th defensive end in the draft in reality he might be 2nd or 3rd best true 5 technique defensive end. Playing the 3-4 at Ohio State certainly helps his cause. Much like Hood, the type technique defensive end that he is and the system he best fits is lost in the position ranking shuffle. He is considered as one of the top 25 players in the draft, so there is a question of if he will fall to #31.
NT Phil Taylor – Taylor is easily in the top two or three true 3-4 nose tackles in this draft. The Steelers brought him in for a visit, but once again he might not make it past the Jets who pick 30th. Taylor may also be a guy who might be able to play some snaps in nickel situations if needed. Casey Hampton still has tread left on his tires, but Taylor could offer depth over the nose and be the heir to the Hampton throne.
LB Akeem Ayers – Ayers is likely best suited to kick inside in a 3-4 defense and he is currently considered by most a top 3 linebacker in this draft and perhaps the best inside prospect. The Steelers love linebackers and have a future need inside, but you have to wonder if they would use another early round pick on one. New defensive backs coach Carnell Lake knows him well from his short stint at UCLA, so they have plenty of info on him. 2011 will likely be the final year for both James Farrior and Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Just saying.
G Danny Watkins – Yes, I know, too old. Regardless he is the 2nd best interior lineman in the draft and still regarded as a possible 1st round talent. I doubt the Steelers draft him, but value is value so I put him on this list.
FS Aaron Williams – If you deem Williams a free safety then he is the top rated safety in this draft class however free safeties are usually not popular 1st round picks. If there were ever a tweener type defensive back, Williams is it.
TE Kyle Rudolph – Rudolph is regarded by many as the top tight end in the draft class, but may be regarded more as an early second round pick. It would be hard to believe that the Steelers would spend another 1st round pick this soon on a tight end so putting him on this list is a bit of a reach I admit.
This list above is more of a look at value at these positions, so do not confuse this with a mock draft or a definite list of targeted players. It is just an exercise to open up the draft minds outside of just the cornerback and tackle position and look more at positional value, just like Colbert does.