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The Steelers’ strange ‘07 draft, and what it means for ‘08

By James Pete | April 19th, 2008

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The biggest question in Pittsburgh this April is what are the Pittsburgh Steelers going to do with their first round pick, the 23rd pick overall. Will the Steelers do what’s expected and select a much needed offensive lineman, or will they take a different road early, knowing that there is offensive line depth in this year’s talent pool. With the Steelers potentially needing to address cornerback, defensive line, wide receiver, special teams and running back, there are several directions the front office may take.

For a better look on the mentality of what the Steelers may do, it may benefit to take a look at what the Steelers did on draft day in 2007. Mike Tomlin had been hired in January of that year, and brought major scrutiny to who the Steelers, with a new head coach, may draft. Tomlin, a defensive coordinator at Minnesota, had a history of running a 4-3, cover-2 defense, learned and perfected from his mentor, Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy. Would Tomlin begin to reshape the team in that image, or would the Steelers remain the 3-4 Blitz-scheme that had been so successful over the years.

The major needs coming into last season’s draft were very similar to this year. Many figured that Pittsburgh would take a cornerback early, with the potential to pick up players at running back (no clear back-up to Willie Parker), wide receiver (Hines Ward seemingly starting to break down), offensive line (see this year) and linebacker (Joey Porter leaving). Most experts focused on cornerback Darrelle Revis as the Steelers best choice, with Michigan corner Leon Hall and Texas corner Aaron Ross both being solid alternatives. The rumors were flying across the board, with outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, Penn State offensive lineman Levi Brown, Arkansas defensive end Jamaal Anderson, Auburn guard Ben Grubb, and Miami linebacker Jon Beason all being potential picks.

With that said, let’s take a look at the Steelers 2007 draft, and its implications on this season’s draft:

Round 1, Steelers select: LB Lawrence Timmons

This pick wasn’t a surprise, nor something that really got many people all that excited. Pittsburgh addressed a need, picking Timmons as a potential replacement to the departing Joey Porter. It gave the Steelers some depth at the position, and a player that most agreed had the raw talent to be a fantastic, versatile player in whatever defense Tomlin would ultimately use.

Timmons was an outside presence, with incredible speed and could get after the quarterback. Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert both told us not to make comparisons to some other greats, but Colbert couldn’t contain himself, and started comparing him to Greg Lloyd.

Timmons strained his groin in training camp, and really never recovered. He could never crack the starting lineup throughout the season, and really was an afterthought, with another rookie stepping up at the position. He had a grand total of 11 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries, and a bunch of early “bust” thoughts. This season, Timmons has been moved to the inside, with visions of him taking over for James Farrior, who is going to be 33. He still could make an impact on the outside if given a chance.

PICK: NEED and DEPTH

Round 2, Steelers select: LB LaMarr Woodley:

There was talk of potentially going defensive end here, with Texas DE Tim Crowder or Notre Dame DE Victor Abiamiri, but I had focused on C Ryan Khalil from USC. I know that Pittsburgh had signed Sean Mahan to a long-term deal, but Khalil seemed to be a guy that might follow in the mold of what Pittsburgh had before at the center position, and would give them an answer long term. Mahan could be moved to guard if needed. There was also some speculation that Pittsburgh may draft cornerback Eric Wright here, although I didn’t think it would turn into a good pick.

When Pittsburgh selected LaMarr Woodley, it was a bit of a surprise, although it wasn’t a bad pick. Woodley was a defensive end in college during his freshman and senior seasons, and a linebacker during his sophomore and junior seasons. His senior year, Woodley moved back to the defensive end position, but was considered by many to be a classic tweener. He was too big to play linebacker, and too small to play the line. Still, he won the Lombardi and Ted Hendricks awards as being the top defensive lineman in the country. I was baffled that they picked a linebacker here, figuring that since they had already drafted Timmons, they would wait and pick up someone later in the draft.

Woodley is all that he appeared to be. This kid is going to be a good one. Remember watching ILB Levon Kirkland running around the field like a lightweight? This kid has all those attributes as an OUTSIDE linebacker. You are looking at your next great Steelers’ linebacker.

PICK: Depth first, with Timmons drafted, not as much need, although they did need a couple of linebackers.

Round 3, Steelers Select: TE Matt Spaeth:

I was ecstatic here. The rumbling was how good running back Tony Hunt could be. Here was a kid that was talented, and completely in the mold of what the Steelers seemed to need. He was a big back, and was skyrocketing up from the original 4th and 5th round projections. Many thought he could go in the 2nd round, or early third. He didn’t, and was sitting there for the Steelers to take with their third round pick. Not only was Hunt there, but there were several other potential wide receivers, cornerbacks and defensive lineman available.

That’s when Pittsburgh drafted Minnesota Tight End, Matt Spaeth. I had heard rumors that Pittsburgh acquired about possibly moving up to take Arizona State tight end, Zach Miller if he slid to the bottom of the 2nd Round. He didn’t. Perhaps that made them nervous. Bruce Arians came from an Indianapolis system that preached multi-tight end sets, and I don’t think Jerame Tuman fit his bill. Enter Spaeth.

It fits Arians system, but most figured Spaeth would be around at least until the 5th round, if not later. This really seemed to be a reach pick, and TE wasn’t even a true need for the team. Arians was happy though.

Spaeth started off with two touchdowns early, but not much after. I still think this is a wasted pick, although I’ll change my mind if he has 10 TD’s this season.

PICK: Want–thanks to Bruce Arians.

Round 4, Steelers select: P Daniel Sepulveda:

I had a feeling Sepulveda would go in the 4th or 5th round, and I was hoping that Pittsburgh would take him. At the same time, I don’t think it would be a lie to say I wasn’t surprised when they took him. I was irritated all night long about Spaeth, and this seemed to irritate me more. As happy as I was that the guy that never had a punt blocked was gone, as were his 25 yard punts, I still thought Pittsburgh could have grabbed an impact player here. I was hoping Pittsburgh was going to address their cornerback needs here with Tarell Brown, from Texas. They didn’t.

Sepulveda hasn’t been all that great, although a dramatic improvement over ‘He who has never had a punt blocked.’ He was top 20, with 42 1/2 a punt, and was top 15 with a 38-yard average. Not all that great for a 4th round draft pick. He also seemed to shank too many punts for my taste, when he the least needed them.

PICK: Need, although too early. Pittsburgh pushed the panic button when Jacksonville to Podlesh earlier in the round.

Fourth Round, Steelers select: DT Ryan McBean:

This was the guy that I wanted here, and seemed to be a steal at the time. He was a versatile player, who could play tackle or end, was a gap-filler, but certainly a project. He didn’t do a thing last season, but I didn’t think he would. Pittsburgh realized when they picked him that he hadn’t played for long, and would be a project. Call him the defensive Roethlisberger, not coming to the states from Jamaica until high school. Look for Pittsburgh to continue to develop this kid, and for him to be ready in another year to make an impact.

PICK: NEED, but a project.

5th Round, Steelers Select: OL Cameron Stephenson:

I wanted an offensive lineman here, because we hadn’t drafted one yet, even though they should have drafted Khalil. It still ticks me off, especially since now we have the guy that Khalil knocked out of a job in Carolina. Pittsburgh took Cameron Stephenson with this pick, and I thought it was fine at the time. They thought he was a guy who could pull, but like McBean, he wasn’t a guy that was around all that long, being from Australia. Before camp was over, he was gone. Funny, both McBean and Stephonson were projects, and neither made any kind of impact. That’s why they are projects…eh? Of course, when you need impact now, it doesn’t make all that much sense to take a project, does it.

PICK: NEED

5th Round, Steelers select: CB William Gay:

Again, here was another position that should have been addressed much earlier. I really had no reaction to this one. They needed a corner, and they drafted one…

…too late.

Oddly, Gay was projected as a nickel and dime guy, and you could see that as the season progressed, that he was filling in that role. I want to see this kid make it, even if it is in a limited role. I don’t know that they could get anything better this late in the draft, unless you are Kreskin.

PICK: NEED, but a dollar short.

Round 7, Steelers select: Dallas Baker, WR Florida:

Baker seemed to be a monster value that late in the draft. Many had him going in the 5th or 6th round, and he seemed/really…seems to have a bunch of untapped potential. He’s 6′3″, and 210 pounds, and can be a game breaker. With Wilson gone, Baker will probably have a shot to make some plays this year.

PICK: NEED

So what does all of this mean for 2008? With the first pick, Pittsburgh picked a need and depth. With the second pick, depth and need. With the third pick, it was strictly a want. The fourth pick was a need, but too early. The fifth pick was a need, but too much of a project. The sixth and seventh picks were both needs, but too late. The eighth pick was a project, and a need.

It seemed like the Steelers started off with a map that they may have abandoned a bit. Timmons was high on their board, but I believe when Revis went, they took Timmons as their backup to Revis, even though they coveted Woodley. When Woodley was still there, they took him, although they may have been better suited to take a corner early, then go with Woodley and a linebacker project later…if they truly did covet Woodley. In the third, they really stretched taking Spaeth. They traded up in panic mode to get Sepulveda. I’m not critiquing, but it’s the truth. They took two projects in McBean and Stephenson. Stepenson is gone, and McBean is still a project. They took a nickel corner in the fifth, and another project in the 7th at WR.

To be honest, it scares me a bit, wondering what the Steelers may do. Will they address team needs early, or will they react to the draft board, and ignore the needs of the team? The potential is there for both to happen.

Hold on Steelers’ fans, it should be quite the ride.