On the Steelers: Drafting 31st not a concern
Share with others:
The Steelers select 31st in the NFL draft, but there's no reason to believe that will be a detriment to them selecting a good or even great player on the first round.
Kevin Colbert came to the Steelers in 2000 and has never missed with the first pick.
Starting in 2000, they include Plaxico Burress, Casey Hampton, Kendall Simmons, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Santonio Holmes, Lawrence Timmons, Rashard Mendenhall, Ziggy Hood and Maurkice Pouncey. All except Holmes spent his entire career with the team or stayed through his rookie contract of five years. All became at least good starters, if you include Hood. Five made Pro Bowls and a sixth was a Super Bowl MVP. All but three remain with the team and, of those, Holmes was traded and Simmons was at the end of the line with injuries and diabetes.
It is rare for a team to hit on 11 consecutive first-rounders, especially when they are drafting late. But they nabbed Simmons and Miller with the 30th pick, Hood with the 32nd, Mendenhall at No. 23 and Pouncey and Hampton at No. 19. They were picking No. 27 in 2003 when they made a trade to move to No. 16, where they grabbed Polamalu. They were drafting 32nd in 2006 when they traded up to 25 and took Holmes.
So, nearly anything is within reach if the Steelers want to do it on the first round in April. Many good draft observers believe the top three cornerbacks will be long gone and there is not a fourth worthy of the 31st pick, but the Steelers could make a move into the teens if they want one that badly -- and they should want one that badly. Even if they re-sign Ike Taylor, they need another good cornerback. Some teams have three; the Steelers have one. Plus, their No. 3 cornerback, William Gay, also can become an unrestricted free agent.
Colbert has not selected a cornerback in the first round in his 11 drafts. The Steelers most recent first-round cornerback was Chad Scott in 1997.
The ideal example of why drafting late in each round should be no impediment to a good draft came in 1974 when the Steelers had the greatest draft in NFL history and were drafting in the 21st position of what was then a 26-team league. They drafted Hall of Famers with each of their first four picks -- Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster -- and they did not have a third-round pick, having traded it.
The draft is different now because more information is available and much of it is through group testing such as the combine and the individual workouts. The only things not shared are individual interviews with the players and a team's collective opinion of them.
Everyone knows the Steelers need help at cornerback, but what seems to be getting overlooked is their desperation at offensive tackle. Maybe Max Starks will return to his level of play after having neck surgery. He's still in his prime and won't turn 30 until January. And maybe Flozell Adams will play as well at age 36 as he did at age 35.
But what if neither plays up to those levels? The Steelers have plenty of players who can fill in here and there at tackle, as Jonathan Scott did last season, but they have no one who looks like a permanent replacement unless Willie Colon re-signs.
Tackle should be almost as high on their draft priority list as is cornerback. They last drafted a tackle in any of the first three rounds six years ago when they picked Trai Essex, who is now mainly a guard. They picked Starks on the third round the previous year (2004). The only other tackle drafted on the first three rounds since Colbert arrived was Marvel Smith, taken in the second round in 2000.
That's a lot of ignoring one of the most important positions on offense. Many football people subscribe to the theory that if you were building a team from scratch, you'd start with a quarterback and your next player would be a left tackle.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame has been soliciting opinions from its 44 selectors, of which I am one, about various changes they would like to see.
One that seems popular is what they label "transparency" or making public how each voter votes. Those in favor believe that would make the voting more honest. How would that be? Someone who now votes in privacy likely is voting his conscience more than he or she will if their vote is made public.
Another idea is to separate the candidates into various categories -- all players in one, maybe coaches in another, contributors in another. Now they are all lumped together and compete against each other. So an Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films, makes it and keeps a player such as Dermontti Dawson out. Nothing against Sabol, but there should be a different category for him.
Yet another idea proposed is to add voters to the current 44. I began voting after Myron Cope stepped down for the 1996 class and, while I cannot remember the exact count of voters, it was in the 30s then. The problem with having a small number of voters is that each vote carries more weight -- just nine votes, for example, can knock out a candidate. But there is another problem with expanding the board of selectors.
We always meet to debate the candidates and then vote on the day before the Super Bowl. That first meeting for me in 1996 took, I think, about four hours. We started at 8, and the announcement came at lunchtime. In Dallas, that meeting took 71/2 hours. Add more people, and we might have to start meeting Wednesday in order to finish in time for the big announcement on the NFL Network Saturday night.
I have two suggestions that would take care of some of these suggestions. Copy what the Baseball Hall of Fame does. They have more than 500 voters, but the ballot is handled through the mail -- no debates in a room for 71/2 hours while a voter next to you continually complains about the length of the meeting. Plus, you can then expand the voting list to any number you want.
And don't have those voters consider anyone other than players, as they do in baseball. The voters in baseball do not consider managers, umpires, owners or even old-timers. Let someone else pick those.
That's my solution -- 500 voters, mail ballot, only players. Somehow, the Baseball Hall of Fame thrives without holding meetings to discuss the process, as they did Thursday in Indianapolis, or meetings to vote. Just vote. If you don't know if a player should be in the Hall of Fame, you don't need the power of persuasion by a colleague in Nashville to convince you. Just do your homework.
First Published February 27, 2011 12:00 am