By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Some fans believe the Pittsburgh Steelers should strengthen their offensive line, while others want the club to bolster their defense.
But one thing is certain when the Steelers select 24th in the first round during the NFL Draft late Thursday night, the club’s 2012 No. 1 pick is going to be a major contributor for the team in the next couple years. Sure, there are hits and misses in the draft, but not in the first round for the Steelers since General Manager Kevin Colbert has been in charge of personnel.
“As I’ve said many times, you canât miss on one, two or three,” Colbert said. “Those are premium picks. You shouldnât miss on a first-rounder. To me that is a given. The two and three, if you miss on one of those, it sets you back, and you better hope that you got lucky in a later round to compensate for that.
“So, the higher the pick, the better chance of him being an impact player. That, to me, is a given. If you’re picking 24th, then you should have 24 guys evaluated correctly. If we didnât, and you know, we miss like everyone else, but again, we’re going to keep score by where we stand at the end of the year.”
There are plenty of good choices for the Steelers this season, whether they pick inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower from Alabama, an O-lineman like Kevin Zeitler from Wisconsin, David DeCastro from Stanford or Cordy Glenn from Georgia, if either were to fall.Â The Steelers might even go for nose tackle Dontari Poe from Memphis.
Hightower could make an immediate impact if the Steelers take him, since they released veteran James Farrior, a defensive captain with the club for about a decade. Larry Foote and Stevenson Sylvester are in line for the spot next to Lawrence Timmons, but Hightower would be coveted if available at No. 24.
“We look at pedigree and talent, and let that be the first and foremost from a what you see on tape standpoint,” Tomlin said. “Obviously character, work ethic, and things of that nature weigh heavily on the process, but just in terms of what you see on tape, it’s just about the talent.
“(And) I think that winning is valuable, but not only in the highest level in terms of guys from Alabama or LSU, but also guys from North Dakota State, guys that have won regardless of where they have played. I believe that winning is contagious, (and) there’s a certain mindset associated with winning.”
If the Steelers take an offensive lineman or inside linebacker in the opening round, nose tackle could be addressed later with a guy like Jerel Worthy from Michigan State or Alameda Ta’amu from Washington, the best three-four tackle in the group. He certainly could be a late-round choice.
The Steelers believe that Casey Hampton should recover from knee surgery, while Steve McLendon should continue to improve. But since there’s some uncertainty with Hampton and Chris Hoke retired, depth is needed there. Sure, Ziggy Hood could play there in a pinch, but he’ll be a starter at defensive end from the outset this year since Aaron Smith has retired as well.
The Steelers’ offensive line has been in flux the past few years, but the club addressed it the past two with center Maurkice Pouncey taken in the first round in 2010 and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second round last spring. So, another O-lineman could come after the opening round.
The Steelers have 10 picks during the seven rounds this year, with extra seventh-rounders added as compensatory picks. Those can’t be dealt, but the Steelers still consider trading up or down in the first round or moving around in other areas if the situation presents itself.
“As always, we’ll make all the calls,” Colbert said. “We’ll know who’s interested and who wants to trade up or down. We’ll weigh the cost of doing business with each of those teams.
“If we want to trade up and get a player that we think is in that top-10 or top-15 (range), we have to weigh the cost of the players that we could potentially lose on the back side of it.
“If teams come to us, sitting at number 24,” Colbert added, “we have to weigh the player that we’re going to pass up for what we would potentially get in return. So, we’ll definitely be open to either.”
And even if it happens in the first round, the Steelers should secure an impact player for their roster for years to come.
FIRST ROUND PICKS UNDER COLBERT
2000 – WR Plaxico Burress
2001 – NT Casey Hampton
2002 – OG Kendall Simmons
2003 – SS Troy Polamalu
2004 – QB Ben Roethlisberger
2005 – TE Heath Miller
2006 – WR Santonio Holmes
2007 – LB Lawrence Timmons
2008 – RB Rashard Mendenhall
2009 – DE Ziggy Hood
2010 – C Maurkice Pouncey
2011 – DE Cameron Heyward
— 2012 draft picks: (10) 24th, 56th, 86th, 119th, 159th, 193rd, 231st, 240th, 246th, 248th
— Steelers have their most draft choices since they had 10 in the 2000 draft
— Under Colbert, the Steelers have drafted 7 offensive players,Â 5 defensive players in the first round
— Under Colbert, Steelers have moved up in the first round twice and moved back once:
In 2001, Pittsburgh traded their 1st round selection (No. 16) to the New York Jets for their 1st round pick (No. 19), 4th round pick (No. 111) and 6th round pick (No. 181). By dropping down three spots, Pittsburgh selected NT Casey Hampton
In 2003, Pittsburgh traded their 1st round pick (No. 27), 3rd round pick (No. 92) and 6th round pick (No. 200) to the Kansas City Chiefs for their 1st round pick (No. 16) as Pittsburgh moved up 11 spots to draft Troy Polamalu.
In 2006, Pittsburgh traded their 1st round pick (No. 32), 3rd round pick (No. 96) and 4th round pick (No. 129) to the New York Giants for their 1st round pick (No. 25) as Pittsburgh moved up seven spots to select Santonio Holmes.
— Since 1978, Steelers have only drafted one linebacker in the first round (Lawrence Timmons, 2007 draft)
— The last offensive tackle the Steelers drafted in the first round was Jamain Stephens in 1996