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Grading the Steelers 2012 NFL Draft

This draft was arguably the most important one for the Steelers in the last 10 years. With so many veterans either already gone or likely to be in the next two years or so, replenishing the roster with quality starters and solid depth was paramount this year. Equally important is the 2nd year players, draftees from last year, who will need to step up and take on a bigger role. For now though we’ll focus on the grades for the Steelers for 2012.

It should go without saying but we’ll say it anyway, you never know how a draft pick will pan out. Sometimes they exceed expectations, sometimes they fall flat on their face. For the purposes of our grading we’ll go with their performance in college and projections based on the Steelers need, and the overall consensus of the Steelers and other draft experts around the league.

So let’s take a look at the team faired the last 3 days. 

Round 1 – 24th Overall – David DeCastro, OG, Stanford: This was the steal of the first round, no question about it, for anyone in the league. Mike Mayock and the NFL Network commentators raved about the Steelers being patient and then jumping on the Decastro pick when he fell to them. He was the top rated Guard in the draft and the Steelers knew the offensive line needed help so he fit the bill perfectly.

He’s a strong, tough, mean player with a great motor and quick feet. The Steelers love Guards that can pull and DeCastro spent a lot of time blocking in space at Stanford. Kevin Colbert said it was a no brainer to take him when he fell into their laps.

There’s no reason to think he can’t come in and take over at either Guard spot and start week 1. I say that because if you look at the players on the roster now, there’s no Guard that is head and shoulders better than DeCastro, so why not? He’s the future, and I like his chances to make an immediate impact. Grade A

Round 2 – 56th Overall – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State: As we all know the Steelers don’t usually take players with significant off the field issues. Toking a doobie before the biggest workout of your life definitely qualifies as a serious lack of sound judgment. Once the test results came back, Adams contacted the Steelers directly and they had a meeting together. The were able to come to an agreement that if he meets their criteria they’d put him back on their draft board. In the end they felt confident enough to do so and took him in round 2. He had first round talent so this was a big value pick in the 2nd round.

Initial plans for 2nd year Tackle Marcus Gilbert include moving him to the left side to take over for Max Starks. They may still be in eventual plan and if it is, Adams will fight it out in training camp with oft injured Willie Colon. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could start in week 1 or by the mid way point in the season. Grade A – You could easily justify a B here, because he is a bit of a risk, but it’s a calculated one with a solid potential to work out with great returns.

Round 3 – 86th Overall – Sean Spence, LB, Miami: There is a definite need at linebacker for the Steelers, depth wise, and Spence fits the bill. He won’t come in and start this year, no linebacker ever does in a Steeler defense but he could work his way into the lineup in the next couple of years. Spence is a fast linebacker, good in coverage; able to run down Tight Ends and Running Backs out in their routes. The Steelers needed to get more speed on the inside and Spence provides that. It remains to be seen if he can hold up vs the run but he’ll have time to work on that this year. He’s also a good special teamer and should contribute in that role right away.

Larry Foote is penciled in as the starter opposite Lawrence Timmons but beyond 2012, Spence will be in the mix for more playing time. Grade B

Round 4 – 109th Overall – Alameda Ta’amu, NT, Washington: With Casey Hampton still recovering from his ACL surgery and Chris Hoke retired, there was a definite need for a future wide body to anchor Dick Lebeau’s 34 defensive line. Ta’amu fits that role perfectly; a monster size player at 6’3″ 348 lbs he’ll occupy a Guard and Center easily and be able to eat up space to free up the linebackers to make big plays.The Steelers felt so highly of Ta’amu that they traded up in the 4th, giving up their 6th round pick to Washington, to move up and get him.  He’ll be a 2 down type of player, like Hampton has been (coming out on passing situations) most likely. However if you listen to his press conference call he said his pass rush is “excellent”. So, if he is stuck out on the field during a no huddle type of offense situation he’ll be at a disadvantage yes, but still could make an impact.

He’ll fight it out with Steve McLendon but even if he doesn’t win the starting job he’ll see significant field time in the defensive line rotation this year. The Steelers have hopefully, and likely, found their NT of the future in Ta’amu. Many experts had him tagged as a late 2nd or 3rd round talent so getting him in the 4th round is great value and fills a huge need. McLendon won’t just roll over and hand him the job though, so it will be a great battle to watch.  Grade A

Round 5 – 159th Overall – Chris Rainey, RB, Florida: This is where you really start to look for value picks, guys who fill a need depth wise and could develop into a quality players over time. Rainey is a speed demon, running the 40 in 4.45. At 5’8″ 180 lbs he’s not going to run many people over but he’s got good hands, runs solid routes, and has some the skills to be a good chance of pace running back for Kirby Wilson’s group. He’s also a special teams ace, blocking 6 punts while in college. He’ll contribute in that role right away if he can make the final roster.

He’ll need to work on his pass protection and develop toughness when the play calls to run inside. Both he and 2nd year player Baron Batch will fight it out in camp for what will likely be 1 roster spot for their skill set. Grade B

Round 7 – 231st Overall – Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado: Clemons is big target, 6’2″ 210 lbs and has some raw talent that could be developed over time. He’s a good blocker and not afraid to go across the middle to make the catch. He had some problems with dropping passes though, a primary reason he dropped so far in the draft. He won’t be in a position to see significant playing time at WR this year, but the Steelers do have a need for depth at this position. He’ll have his chance to fight it out in training camp for that 5th or 6th spot behind Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery. From a value standpoint this is a solid pick. Grade C.

As much as we may like some of these players late in the draft, compensatory picks in particular, it’s hard to give them a true grade just because they a risk for one reason or another.

Round 7 Compensatory Picks

David Paulson, TE, Oregon. 240th Overall: He’ll fight it out with incumbents Wesley Saunders and David Johnson for the backup role behind Heath Miller and newly acquired free agent Leonard Pope. Paulson is a decent receiver and quick feet to get out into his route quickly. He’ll have to improve his blocking and work on his ability to get open against NFL defenses to make the roster as a Tight End for the Steelers.

Terrence Frederick, CB, Texas A&M, 246th Overall: At 5’10” 187 lbs he’s a smaller corner when you put him against today’s big, fast receivers in the NFL. He’s a good zone player and can be effective at throwing off the timing of the route at the point of attack. He doesn’t have good closing speed though and struggled in man coverage. If he can make the team it will be as a special teamer mainly because the Steelers have 3 solid corners already on the roster who will all see significant playing time. He’s a bit small to play Safety but that could be an option as an additional reserve DB.

Kelvin Beachum, Tackle, SMU, 248th Overall: He’s got good size, 6’2″ 303 lbs and actually is a better pass blocker than a run blocker. He’s got a quick first step and is able to stay with pass rushers trying to move to the inside or outside. He struggles in run blocking though and plays soft according to many draft reports. If he wants to make the team as a backup lineman, improving his run blocking will be a big key.

So, after all that, giving the Steelers an A in this draft is basically a no brainer. In the most important draft in years, at least I think so, they hit this one out of the park. How these players will eventually pan out is anyone’s guess but I like their potential.

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