Paul Posluszny's dream is to trade the blue and white of Penn State for the black and gold of the Steelers.
"I'd love to play for the Steelers," Posluszny said by cell phone from the airport in New Orleans, where he'd been for a pre-draft interview with the Saints. "I'd absolutely love to."
But Pittsburgh is not a likely destination for the linebacker from Aliquippa. He's visited the Saints, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos. A sampling of mock drafts has him going to Carolina, the New York Giants, Saints or New England, all in the first round Saturday. If the Steelers, who have the No. 15 pick, go the linebacker route, they are expected to look elsewhere. "I talked to them at the combine, a sit-down interview," Posluszny said of the Steelers. "Other than that, at our pro day at Penn State, they had a couple of scouts, but nothing real major.
"Other teams had me talk to their linebacker coaches on the phone, or they'd come to Penn State and sit down and watch film. I'm hoping (the Steelers) know all they need to know."
At Penn State, Posluszny was the consummate leader, leaving with the school's all-time tackle record and multiple All-America recognitions, both athletic and academic, in addition to winning the Butkus Award as a junior and the Bednarik Award as a junior and senior.
Former Steelers and Penn State linebacking great Jack Ham, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, labeled Posluszny as the best linebacker ever to play at Penn State during his junior season.
Yet there is a wide variance in the assessments of Posluszny's pro prospects.
"I know some teams in the league that have him graded in the third or fourth round," said Mike Mayock, the draft expert for the NFL Network, who despite that, expects Posluszny to be selected from the 22nd pick to the 32nd of the first round.
"One of those playoff teams is going to sit there and say, 'Hey, smart, tough, fairly instinctive, clean off the field.' He can come in on day one -- the 4-3 team -- and play the weak outside linebacker and be a good player, but not a great player."
Posluszny had toyed with the idea of declaring for the NFL draft after his junior season, but a knee injury suffered in the Orange Bowl helped guarantee his return to Penn State. He played with varying knee braces last season, although the injury did not require surgery.
"I don't think he's a top-10 pick, but he'll go somewhere between 20 and 30," said Gil Brandt, the former Dallas Cowboys personnel man who analyzes the draft for NFL.com. "He's good, and he'll play a long time."
Brandt mentioned a flaw in Posluszny's game that others have identified -- problems in pass coverage.
"He didn't look good at the Senior Bowl in man coverage, and I asked him about it, and he said they're zone coverage people at Penn State," Brandt said.
ESPN analyst Merril Hoge praised Posluszny's run-stopping skills.
"He's very good in the box, his hands, he gets off (blocks ) well, he's got good feet," Hoge said. "He's not a very good cover guy. He gets beat a lot. That's an area where you can improve, though."
Posluszny plans to spend the first day of the draft at home with his parents and family.
"I'm sure I'll be nervous and live and die with every pick," he said. "I definitely want to keep it low key. But I know I'm going to get a chance. I'm looking forward to that, and I'm going to make sure I do the most with it."
Sam Ross Jr. can be reached at email@example.com or (724) 838-5144.