Texas' Williams likely Steelers 1st pick
The Steelers need a cornerback and have for a long, long time. They have a good one in Ike Taylor and they had an acceptable twosome when he paired with Deshea Townsend.
This, however, has become a game of three cornerbacks with all the passing that goes on in the NFL and, right now, the Steelers aren't even sure they have one.
Taylor, 30, is an unrestricted free agent. Their other starter, Bryant McFadden, was picked on often last season. He returned to the Steelers after the Cardinals gave up on him after one season. Their starter in 2009, William Gay, was demoted to No. 3 last season in favor of McFadden. And, in two years, Keenan Lewis has not shown enough to get much playing time.
Not only is cornerback the Steelers' No. 1 need, it might be their No. 2 need as well, particularly if they do not sign Taylor. Kevin Colbert, their director of football operations, said Monday that, for all intents, Taylor will not be considered on the team as they enter the draft tonight.
Complicating matters, as usual, is the Steelers' draft position. They are scheduled to pick at No. 31 (and with the draft starting at 8 p.m., their turn might come about 11:30 p.m.). Good cornerbacks are hard to find that low. Also, the Steelers have another obvious need at offensive tackle and a looming one in the next year or so at defensive end.
There is the value the Steelers put on each position, too. Asked last month why cornerbacks usually do not go high in the draft, coach Mike Tomlin was quick to answer.
"I think defensively it generally starts with the men up front," Tomlin said. "I think you look at how players are drafted, it bears that out. Big people go first. If you're applying pressure to the quarterback, you don't have to cover. If you're stopping the run, you don't have to cover."
The Steelers' success also bears that out. While they have had any number of Pro Bowl linebackers and defensive linemen, they've had none at cornerback since Rod Woodson. And even with their situation at cornerback, they've been to three Super Bowls in the past six seasons and won two of them.
So maybe the Steelers will go for the big man again -- few are bigger than 6-foot-3, 338-pound defensive tackle Phil Taylor of Baylor (whose college career began at Penn State) -- or an outside linebacker, where they've produced more Pro Bowlers through the years than anyone.
There also is the matter of their possibly tenuous position at offensive tackle. Their two preseason 2010 starters were lost to injuries/surgeries, Willie Colon (Achilles) and Max Starks (neck). Flozell Adams is 36, and Trai Essex is a free agent. Surely, adding a top-flight tackle is high on their list.
A tall wide receiver has to be a priority as well, if not a top one.
One day soon, Hines Ward is going to dance into retirement, and, despite the success of Mike Wallace and rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, a first-class receiver would look good, especially to Ben Roethlisberger. Another running back also has to be considered because Mewelde Moore is a free agent and, if something happens to Rashard Mendenhall, well, you don't want to know.
But this is not a one-round draft, although it will be tonight. They can address other needs later. This is about who the Steelers might draft first, and it's possible their first pick will not be a first-rounder.
The Steelers have been investigating trades that would take them down some notches from No. 31, or up -- something they always look into. Colbert said Monday there were 20 "special" players in this group of prospects and, since they draft at 31, they presumably won't get a "special" player unless they get close to No. 20. But the cost of that isn't cheap. To move a dozen spots might cost them their picks in the second and third rounds. If they are going to move up, it more likely would be only a few spots or so. In 2006, they moved from No. 32 to No. 25, and it cost them their second-round pick to get Santonio Holmes.
Moving down might make more sense. Colbert also said there are 100 prospects in this class who could improve the Steelers. That's about three rounds worth, and the Steelers will have three cracks at that group. If they moved down a little, they could have four.
There are a handful of teams in the top third of the second round which have needs for quarterbacks and, if they don't get one in the first round, might find themselves in a scrum to get him with their next pick. One of those teams could jump ahead of the pack by picking up the No. 31 choice in a trade.
Among those teams are Buffalo (No. 34), Cincinnati (35), Cleveland (37), Arizona (38) and Tennessee (39). Add San Francisco at No. 45, but that might be too far for the Steelers to drop. It also might be asking much for them to swap with a division rival. But Arizona and Tennessee look like good trade partners for them, and, if they can fall seven or eight spots and pick up one of those teams' high third-round picks to do so, it could be worth it, especially if they can still draft the player they were eyeing at No. 31.
Tempting as it is to make such a trade right here, right now, it's not going to happen in this mock draft. Instead, the steady-as-she-goes pick for the Steelers has been the most popular one for them all along, Aaron Williams of Texas.
He is not the fastest cornerback in the group (which is why he will last to No. 31), but he has other attributes including size and unrealized talent that a good coaching staff might bring out in him. Many believe his best position will be at safety, and that's OK, too, because he can help put the finger in the Steelers' cornerback dike for a few years. Then he can move to safety after they find other corners and when either Troy Polamalu and/or Ryan Clark retire.
Cornerback Aaron Williams is the safe pick for the Steelers.
First Published April 28, 2011 1:17 am