First, let’s eliminate all the stars because -- with only six picks, and at least that many holes, as well as a cash-flow problem – the Steelers won’t be trading up. Let’s also eliminate the quarterbacks, tight ends, 4-3 ends, fat defensive tackles, and any receiver or defensive back who doesn’t return kicks.
From there, we’ll start with the 20-1 longshot
, Arizona State center Mike Pollak
, the ideal trade-down target.
, we have the star who could slide down the board: halfback Jonathan Stewart
, we have offensive tackles Chris Williams
of Vanderbilt, Jeff Otah
of Pitt and Gosder Cherilus
of Boston College.
is defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer
of North Carolina.
And the favorite
, at 3-1
, is guard-tackle Branden Albert
Albert of course is the top-rated guard in the draft, but he might also be able to play left tackle in the NFL. He was the team captain at a school, a program, that the Steelers have come to appreciate of late.
Balmer is a 6-4½, 308-pounder who could probably play defensive end in a 3-4. The Steelers don’t normally draft their defensive ends in the first round, but if Balmer has the right mental makeup to become one of John Mitchell’s field oxen, AND the best offensive linemen are gone, the Steelers could make an exception and take him at 23.
The glut of the offensive tackles at 10-1 is not meant to indicate the three have equal ability. Williams is easily the most pro-ready left tackle of the three
, but, of course, that makes him desirable to the 22 teams picking ahead of the Steelers, and thus the long odds. The Houston Texans, picking 18th, will be the big hurdle for Steelers fans who like Williams.
Otah has been quite the rage among national mock-makers this winter, and physically he should be. But mentally? Otah is too raw to logically compete for the starting LT job on a winning team. That makes him a right tackle from the start, and another right tackle is not what the Steelers need right now. So there’s that, and the fact that so many other teams seem so fascinated with him and it adds up to the long 10-1 odds of Otah landing at pick 23.
So, if a right tackle wouldn’t interest the Steelers, why is Cherilus involved? Most of the hardcore draftniks who’ve watched Cherilus’s mediocre play at left tackle this season are asking me that question. But in my opinion, with his frame, Cherilus may have even more upside than the raw Otah. Cherilus could grow into a Jonathan Ogden-sized player and I have not yet ruled him out as a future left tackle. He showed plenty of strength and good feet in both the Senior Bowl and the combine, where the Steelers sat Cherilus down for an interview. I actually want to make Cherilus the slight leader of this tier of tackles, but lumping them altogether was easier.
At 15-1, just maybe to sex this story up, is Stewart, the one offensive skill player. He’s a power back on a team that craves one, and he has enough speed to get outside with good pass-catching hands and blocking skills. Kevin Colbert, at his combine press conference, actually called Stewart a better all-around back than Darren McFadden. But the way running backs slide in the first round these days, it’s entirely possible that Stewart could slip. However, he’s also the type of player for whom another team would trade up to draft.
That brings us to our longshot, second-round prospect Pollak. He’s the top center on the board and the Steelers could really use one. How could they, as a professional organization, justify to their fans that they’re not trying to fix this spot before next season?
Pollak is the man, a player his coach at Arizona State, long-time coach Dennis Erickson, called the best offensive lineman he’s ever coached. If the Steelers don’t trade down for him, they certainly don’t have the cache of extra picks with which to trade up for him in the second round.
I’ll take a closer look at each of these players in the coming weeks as we make our way to draft weekend. Most of my daily reports will appear in my blog, but some will be expanded into stories. And, of course, I reserve the right to change my mind on all opinions between now and April 26. It’s the American mock-master way, isn’t it?
(For those interested in further discussion, tune into Joe Bendel’s sports talk show Monday afternoon, Fox Sports Radio 970 AM. We’ll talk about the draft and establish the tone for my daily draft reports at the station.)