Could this be the year the Pittsburgh Steelers make the bold move of trading up in the draft?
Coming off their gut-wrenching playoff loss to Tennessee Titans in the 2002 Divisional Round (and the Oscar worthy flop by kicker Joe Nedney), general manager Kevin Colbert decided it was time to add some athleticism to a slumping, aging secondary. Owning the 27th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, the team pulled a very “un-Steeler-like” move when they traded up to the 16th slot, essentially swapping first round choices with the Kansas City Chiefs, then sending them the 92nd and 200th picks as well. Sounds like a lot to have given up, but ask any Steelers fan and they’ll tell you that what was received with the 16th overall pick was well worth the risk.
The Steelers took safety Troy Polamalu, the rangy, Tasmanian Devil who plays with reckless abandon and could care less about the safety of his opponents, much less his own. The 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, he’s made his fair share of plays, whether it be swan diving over the offensive line to bury Baltimore ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, or taking back a pick-six by his old college roommate Carson Palmer, only to put an exclamation point on the return by trucking Palmer.
He was just what the doctor ordered, an injection of youth and speed to a sagging defense. Sound familiar?
The 2014 Steelers defense was progressively worse that the previous two 8-8 seasons, despite making the playoffs. The run defense showed some heavy signs of improvement late in the year, but the pass defense, as well as the pass rush, both could use some heavy retooling. What better way to kickstart that than adding a potential impact player?
University of Florida standout defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. could be a prime prospect to target for a trade up. At 6-foot-3, 261 pounds, he possesses the ability to play standing up or put his hand in the dirt and get after the quarterback. He ended his collegiate career the best way he possibly could, registering three sacks and terrorizing the East Carolina University quarterback all game long in the team’s 28-20 Birmingham Bowl victory. As we all know, the NFL Combine can be used to catapult a player’s status, and as it stands now, in all likelihood, Fowler will not be available when the Steelers pick at 22nd overall.
Fowler may not even be the defender the Steelers covet the most. That could be the University of Missouri’s Shane Ray, a 6-foot-3, 245 pound game changer, who led the Southeastern Conference with 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss, in taking home conference defensive player of the year honors. He plays with a tenacity and nonstop motor that sticks out on tape. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Shawne Merriman in his ability to be a one man wrecking crew that opposing offensive coordinators have to worry about on any given snap.
“I remember pulling aside Bill Polian and I talked to Mel Kiper about it and I thought he had the chance to be special,” ESPN draft guru Todd McShay said of Ray. “He took his game to another level this year. He can continue to get bigger and stronger, but I love his first step quickness, the way he can bend the edge, the ability to transition speed to power and then the fact that he plays with a non-stop motor. He has a chance to be a really good player at the next level.”
Without a doubt, the 2015 NFL Draft is top heavy with highly-rated edge players, so what better year to pull the trigger and trade up to grab a player who will help put some fear back in opponents? There are no more Greg Lloyds or Joey Porters, and although he had a respectable season, James Harrison isn’t the player he once was. This defense needs the plug-and-play types, and not the 2-3 developmental project kind. Some will say that Ben Roethlisberger’s best years, including last season’s banner year, are being wasted due to the defense not holding up it’s end of the bargain.
Some will argue against the trade-up, citing numerous roster holes including along both lines, the secondary and of course, outside linebacker. However, the middle rounds haven’t been so kind to Colbert lately. The second-rounder of the 2012 Draft, tackle Mike Adams can likely be labeled a bust, or how about spending last year’s third-rounder on a scatback who to this point has shown next to nothing?
If the team sees a prospect as can’t-miss, they shouldn’t be afraid to make a move and go get them. During the 2006 NFL Draft, coming off a win in Super Bowl XL, the team seemed satisfied staying put with the 32nd pick. However, as Santonio Holmes began to slide, the front office pulled the trigger, jumping from 32 to the 25th pick. Although shipped out of town a few seasons ago for off-the-field issues, he was without a doubt a playmaker on the field, culminating in one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history, also being named Super Bowl XLII MVP.
Although the chances of the Steelers staying put at 22 are very good, don’t rule out anything from Colbert.
“When the player’s there that you want … you go get him,” Colbert said after the Steelers took Polamalu. “That’s what we felt we had to do and we did it. And we’re excited about it. Your guy’s there, he’s affordable, you better pull the trigger when he’s there.”