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Your newest Pittsburgh Steelers: Where they fit

-Affiliate Article- By all accounts, the 2012 draft was a success for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Despite picking 24th, the Steelers were able to fill needs with picks that were actually great values that fell into their laps round after round.  The good fortune came at an opportune time for a Steelers’ team that had just purged numerous veterans for salary cap, injury, and performance reasons.  The Steelers largely followed the draft model that has made them one of the most consistent franchises in sports, namely taking productive players from major programs.  They did gamble on a few players with character questions, however, something the Steelers don’t typically do.  The end result is a draft class that filled needs, has a lot of upside, and should deliver great value.  The newest Steelers and where they may fit into the 2012 team:

1.  David DeCastro, OG, Stanford – Called by many as the best offensive guard prospect in a decade, the Steelers were elated to see David DeCastro slide to them at the #24 slot.  A mauler who will start at RG for the Steelers from day one, DeCastro is not only an elite young player but is also an elite young player at a position of major, major need for the Steelers.  It’s difficult to find a negative on DeCastro, as he is an elite run blocker, allowed only one sack his senior year, plays with an edge, and is fundamentally sound.  The Steelers’ starting OG’s in 2011 were Chris Kemoeatu and Ramon Foster, one of the worst tandems in the NFL, and Kemoeatu was released in March.  DeCastro will start at RG with Foster likely moving to LG, providing a significant upgrade at one of the weakest positions on the team.  Doug Legursky and Trai Essex figure to backup DeCastro and Foster.

2.  Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State – Previously considered a potential first round draft choice, Mike Adams slid to the Steelers late in the second round after an inconsistent senior season, multiple suspensions, and a failed drug test at the combine.  Adams, who grew up in Western Pennsylvania as a fan of the Steelers, played exclusively at LT at this weekend’s minicamp and possesses prototypical size and tools to play LT.    As such, it appears that the plan is to have Adams back up Marcus Gilbert at LT to start the season with Willie Colon assuming the position of RT provided he is fully recovered from the torn biceps that ended his 2011 season in Week One. Things can change though so we have to be careful how much we read into off season workouts, especially early on.  The addition of Adams likely spells the end of any chance of Max Starks returning, and Adams figures to pair with Jonathan Scott as the backups to Colon and Gilbert, at least to start.

3.  Sean Spence, LB, Miami– An undersized tackling demon out of Miami, Sean Spence figures to compete with Larry Foote and Stevenson Sylvester to replace James Farrior at ILB beside Lawrence Timmons.  Spence had a poor showing at the combine, but is a quick linebacker who plays well in space.  Due to his size, however, he will need to get far stronger to be able to shake blocks of NFL offensive linemen.  Rookies seldom start in a Dick LeBeau defense, thus Foote is is a strong favorite to start the season out of the gate.  Foote, however, is limited and aging, thus the Steelers hope that Spence will eventually replace Foote.

4.  Alameda Ta’amu, NT, Washington – Like DeCastro and Adams, most draft pundits predicted that Ta’amu would go far earlier than the middle of the 4th round.  With the retirement of Chris Hoke, Ta’amu will battle with Steve McLendon to back up Casey Hampton at NT.  Ta’amu has the body of a prototype 3-4 NT, weighing in at 350 pounds, possessing mammoth strength (he ripped off 35 reps of 225 on the bench at the combine), and surprising agility for a player of his size.  The knock on Ta’amu is that his production has not matched his potential and his weight has fluctuated dramatically.  With Hampton likely entering his final season as a Steeler, the Steelers would love for Ta’amu to assume the role that Joel Steed and Hampton have ably manned for nearly two decades in Pittsburgh.

5.  Chris Rainey, RB, Florida – The Steelers RB position enters 2012 in great flux, with Rashard Mendenhall unlikely to be ready for the start of the season after tearing an ACL in Week 17.  Isaac Redman will start until Mendenhall returns.  Baron Batch, last year’s training camp sensation that was lost for the season with a torn ACL, will be in the mix, as will veteran holdovers Mewelde Moore, Jonathan Dywer, and John Clay.  5th Round pick Chris Rainey offers something that none of the others do, however – elite speed and home run ability.  New offensive coordinator Todd Haley loves having players like Rainey that can be used in a variety of positions in and out of the backfield, and to get an idea of how Rainey may be used, one should look at Dexter McCluster.

7.  Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado; David Paulson, TE, Oregon; Terrence Frederick, CB, Texas A&M; OG Kelvin Beachum, SMU – The Steelers had four 7th round picks, but most will have an uphill battle to stick on the 53-man roster.  Clemons probably possesses the best chance of making it, as the retirement of Hines Ward creates an opening for a 5th WR.  Clemons, another product of Western Pennsylvania, has one thing the Steelers lack at WR – size.  Paulson is more a receiver than blocker at TE, and his future could hinge on whether the Steelers wait out the suspension of Weslye Saunders.  Frederick will need to star on special teams to make the roster, and Beachum looks like practice squad fodder.
The 2012 draft, on paper, appears to have been a very, very good draft for the Steelers.  It is, however, useful to look back at the 2008 draft class when the Steelers came away with RB Rashard Mendenhall, WR Limas Sweed, LB Bruce Davis, and OT Tony Hills, a group that most observers felt was an excellent class.  Mendenhall has been up and down, 7th round pick Ryan Mundy has been a very good backup FS, and the rest of the class washed out.  I don’t expect a repeat of that debacle, but the true quality of the 2012 draft will be far more evident in 2014 than it is today.

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