The NFL draft that will take place this week will be unprecedented in many ways, including length and presentation.
Back in the 1970s, the NFL plowed through 17 rounds of the draft in a single day. This week, it will take three full days to cover just seven rounds.
Why? Television. Three decades after TV discovered the draft, the league finally realized the immense popularity of it, enough to put its show for the first time on prime time television, not once but on two nights times two networks.
And this reality show has real talent, unprecedented some believe of any draft of the past decade or two. The prospects available to the 32 NFL teams on Thursday, Friday and Saturday have quality and quantity to offer like few drafts before, according to those who have followed such things.
The PG's preview lineup leading up to the start of the draft:
SATURDAY: What makes a great offensive lineman, a position where the Steelers rarely draft use an early pick, but a position of need for them going into the draft.
TODAY: Ed Bouchette takes a look at one of the most unique drafts in 75 years of drafts. Also: A breakdown of the top prospects.
MONDAY: A look back at the 2000 draft -- Kevin Colbert's first -- and how it impacted the team.
TUESDAY: Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert talk about the draft. • Join Ed Bouchette for a special NFL draft chat at 1:30 p.m.
WEDNESDAY: A look around the district at the fortunes of the top talent coming out of area colleges.
THURSDAY: Ed Bouchette offers his annual mock draft of the first round. Who will the Steelers take?
"It's one of the better classes I've ever seen,'' said Rob Rang, senior analyst of NFLDraftscout.com and a 20-year student of the process. "What's so unique about it, not only is it talented but very deep."
"I think the quality of the draft is excellent,'' added Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations. "It's very deep defensively. Offensively, there may not be as many big-name skill positions, but there are a lot of players. It's really a good draft, it really is."
Colbert often says that before a draft, but many others agree with him this time. And if a team needs or wants tackles -- offense or defense -- this is the draft in which to get them. Tackles, good ones, are everywhere. Not so much the guards or centers on offense, and not so much the outside linebackers on defense, but big, beefy tackles are the rage in this draft.
There's even one who carries the nickname of Mount Cody -- nose tackle Terrence Cody, who is listed at 6 feet 4, 350 pounds, but has been known to push 400. He's judged to be unmovable and always requires two blockers to try.
"The guy at Alabama is strictly a nose tackle, strictly a run-down player,'' said Tom Donahoe, former Steelers and Buffalo Bills executive who will work the NFL draft for ESPN this week. "With all the 3-4 teams, someone at the end of the first round might take him because you can't move him. And he's gotten in a little better shape. He's down to 349."
Heisman Trophy quarterback Sam Bradford of Oklahoma likely will be the first player chosen, by the St. Louis Rams, but then a slew of linemen on offense and defense will ensue as teams jump at the chance to get players who can anchor their offense or defense for the next decade. Defensive tackles such as Ndamukong (King Kong) Suh of Nebraska and Gerald (The Real) McCoy of Oklahoma easily could go 2-3 after Bradford.
"Everyone raves about Suh and McCoy,'' said ESPN's Mel Kiper, who helped popularize the draft with his first draft book in 1979. "Gerald McCoy is a phenomenal talent. To get those guys at pick No. 2 or 3, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will just sit there and take which one is left.''
"For defensive linemen, it's an unusually deep draft," Colbert said. "It was unusual before the underclassmen came out and they just enhanced it."
McCoy, Brian Price, Derrick Morgan and Everson Griffen all are juniors who could go in the first round.
And offensive tackles will dominate the high picks as well. There are a half-dozen outstanding offensive tackles and almost all are left tackles, considered by many the second most important position in football. First is the franchise quarterback, second the guy to protect the franchise quarterback.
"If you get a chance to take a left tackle, you do,'' said Jacksonville general manager Gene Smith, former head coach at Edinboro University.
As many as 10 to 12 of the 32 picks in Thursday night's first round of the draft could be tackles, offense and defense.
"What's so unique about this draft," Rang said, "is it's not only talented but very deep and the talent and depth are at unique positions. There is very good talent at offensive tackle and at defensive tackle -- nose tackle as well as 4-3 defensive tackles.''
The draft is also thick in good cornerbacks, safeties and wide receivers and is unusually good at usually a thin position, inside linebackers.
And when it comes to the Steelers, there's no better time to have so many draft choices. They have 11 of them -- one in each round, plus three extra in the fifth and one extra in the seventh. They have not had that many in 11 years, and the last time they had more draft picks than that was 1992, when they had 14 in a 12-round draft.
They have not had as many draft choices because, for one, Colbert prefers to use some in trade rather than draft so many. He could well do that again this week, but if there was ever a draft to not trade away picks, it is this one.
"It looks like we can get deep into this thing and find players to help a 9-7 team,'' Colbert said.
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published April 18, 2010 4:00 AM