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If I were Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert (Part 5)

March 11, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

March 11, 2009
By Donald Starver

Note: This is the fifth installment in a series.  If you haven’t already read earlier installments, please click the links below

Part 1,

Part 2,

Part 3

Part 4

In our last installment in this series, we talked about what the Steelers’ top priority should be in the upcoming draft.  Most fans probably think that the Steelers’ top priority is the offensive line, and most mock drafts reflect as much.  However, I argued that the Steelers’ top priority should actually be the defensive line.

Having established what the top priority should be, I now want to move on to the Steelers’ second priority in the 2009 NFL draft.

I can hear some of you saying, “finally, he’ll address the offensive line”!  Ummmm, no.  In my opinion, the offensive line is not the Steelers’ top priority in the 2009 draft, nor should it be their second priority.  Nope, that honor falls to the defensive backfield.

The Steelers need DB’s much more than they need offensive linemen.  No, I haven’t been smoking crack.  I’m completely serious.  The Steelers have their entire starting  offensive line from the Super Bowl returning next year.  Every single player will be back.  Moreover, they also have lots of young talent waiting in the wings to challenge the starters for playing time.

Last year’s 4th round draft pick Tony Hills will have a year under his belt, and will actually know what is going on.  Trai Essex looks like he’ll still be around, even though he hasn’t been able to win a starting job after 4 years with the team.  Jason Capizzi is huge, and seems to have potential.  Doug Legursky also shows promise.  As does Jeremy Parquet.

In addition to all of those players waiting in the wings, the Steelers will almost certainly take at least one offensive lineman in the upcoming draft.  So offensive line is covered.  Sure, they’re not world-class, but they’ll do.

Contrast that with the Steelers’ defensive backs.  Unlike the offensive line, the DB’s did lose a starter.  Cornerback Bryant McFadden signed a free agent contract with the West Pittsburgh Cardinals.

We all know that Ike Taylor is the Steelers’ most talented cornerback.  But Bryant McFadden was probably their most consistent cornerback last year, and he was definitely the best in run support.  He will certainly be missed by the Steelers.

Backup cornerback William Gay did get a lot of playing time last season, and Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau feels that he’s ready to step in and replace McFadden.  But Gay is not as good as McFadden.

Frankly, I still question the mental competence of William Gay.  After all, he’s the same guy who wore a NY Yankees cap and Arizona Cardinals colors to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl victory parade.  How smart can the guy be if he can make such an inexcusable (and unforgivable)  faux pas?  (Note to William Gay:  our baseball team is the Pittsburgh Pirates, and our team colors are BLACK AND GOLD!!!).

Deshea Townsend is still on the roster as a backup, but Deshea has never been an incredible talent.  Deshea has remained in the league because he is one of the smartest players on the team.  He’s neither big, nor fast, but he seldom makes mental errors, and he never gets caught out of position.  That is a great asset to have as a backup, but Deshea is in his 13th year in the league, and it’s time to yield to younger, faster legs.

What would happen if Ike Taylor ruptured his achilles tendon and had to miss the 2009 season?  The Steelers would be screwed, that’s what would happen.  They have no other cornerback on the roster who can defend top-tier wide receivers, and they have almost no depth at the position.

The situation is not quite as bad at the safety position, since they didn’t lose a starter.  However, the Steelers did lose depth at the position when safety Anthony Smith was allowed (or should I say, “asked”) to leave.

Troy Polamalu is All-Universe, and Ryan Clark is solid.  Their positions as starters are basically guaranteed.   No worries there.

Tyrone Carter is the only other safety on the Steelers’ roster with any actual NFL experience.  Last years’ 6th round draft pick, Ryan Mundy, spent most of the season on the practice squad after being released during the Steelers’ final cuts.

Tyrone Carter has always played competently when called upon.  However, I have always felt uneasy having to rely on a 5’9″ safety.  Sure, lots of 5’9″ guys flourish at cornerback.  But not many do at safety.

Earlier, I listed a slew of young, aspiring offensive linemen waiting in the wings for the Steelers.  As you can see, we have no such list at defensive back.  We basically have an old man, a munchkin, and a practice squad player.  That is our depth in the defensive backfield.  Does that make you feel either comfortable or confident?  Me neither.

That is why if I were Kevin Colbert, my second priority in the 2009 NFL draft would be defensive backs, NOT offensive linemen.

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23 Comments to “If I were Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert (Part 5)”

  1. While you make some very good points in your analysis, you also make some rather perplexing assumptions. I completely agree that the 3 top priorities in the draft are O-line, D-line, and D-backfield (making the assumption that O-line is your third priority). I disagree with your analysis that D-line is first and O-line is (at best) third. The underlying assumption you make here is that young and bad is preferable to old and good.

    Older players can be more susceptible to injury and it is true that the D-line backups are old as well. Hence, there are no projected starters 1,2, or 3 years down the road. This makes it a priority to inject youth into the line but does not make it the STeelers top priority. This is because:
    1) The overall quality of the D-line is MUCH better than the overall quality of the O-line. Let’s be blunt, Colon and Stapleton are not even starter quality linemen for most teams.
    2) It is also more likey to have an injury among 5 O-linemen than among 3 D-linemen.
    3) In the event of injury, the D-line backups have proven to be capable fill-ins. The O-line backups have proven nothing. I would love it if Hill, Capizzi, or Parquet developed into starters but they have proven nothing on the field yet.

    Ergo, while the D-line needs to be addressed in the draft, it doesn’t have to be in the first 1-2 rounds. The addition of an Unger, Mack, or Britton would improve the stelers O-line far more than the addition of a first round d-lineman would improve the d-line.

    A similar issue arises when comparing O-line situation to the D-backs. While you might not be that high on Gay, he has proven to be capable on the field which is more than can be said of the some of the O-line. Also, while Gay is not currently as good as McFadden, it took McFadden until his 4th year to break into the starting line up - it’s not like he was the second coming of Woodson. Also, what necesarily makes the young but unrpoven Hill, Capizzi, Legursky, and Parquet a better situation than than the young Mundy, Madison, and Lewis?

    OK, I think I rambled on a bit. To summarize, while D-line, O-line, and D-backs are all situations that need to be addressed, the O-line situation of mediocre starters and unproven backups is a higher priority than either the D-line of older but high quality starters and backups or the D-back situation of high quality starters and unproven backups. While we would all love the young O-linemen we have to develop into pro-bowl talent, they have currently shown nothing to justify this.

  2. Are you sure your not smoking crack…Of the current OL, Stark in one a one year deal, Hartwig contract expire and the end of the year, Colon is on a one year deal. And at the time of typing this, Essex ins’t signed and Hill wouldn’t have made the team last year if he wasn’t a third round choice, and Capizzi has been cut 5 times; three by the Steelers. With Roy Lewis and the guy from WVA/Mich (sorry don’t remember his name) but was deal last training camp and FS waiting in the wings DB is the last place I would look in the draft. The Steelers should take the best OL in the second round. DL is top choice in the 1st round. BTW with the Steelers picking 32 their picks this year are going to get (red-shirt) this year anyway, unless they trade up.

  3. Gregory and John,
    Excellent points. I agree with some, but not all of your sentiments.

    I am still not done with the series. I am listing the areas that have the most pressing needs. That is not the same as listing the positions that need to be drafted first. Some positions are much harder to fill than others, and lend themselves to earlier draft spots.

    We definitely need more talent on the o-line, but it is much easier to get a good guard or center in later rounds than it is to get a nose tackle or run stuffing 3-4 DE. Those guys are VERY difficult to find. That’s why Tyson Jackson is more valuable than Max Unger or Alex Mack.

    With more teams moving to the 3-4 defense, it is getting even harder to find the types of players that we need. It’s lucky that we are stocked with good 3-4 linebackers, because lots of teams are going to be looking for them in the draft.

    There are still several more parts to come in this series. We won’t all agree on every point. But then again, if you put all of the NFL GM’s in a room, they wouldn’t all agree either. The draft is not an exact science. That’s why every mock draft has players going in a different order. There really is no RIGHT answer when it comes to an inexact science like drafting players.

  4. In response, I would say that, when all is said and done, we probably agree more than disagree and are simply arguing about relatively minor matters of priority.

    I would add, however, that it’s not necesarily easier to find good guards/centers later in the draft. Smith was a 4th and Keisal a 6th. Kimo V.O. came as a free agent but I don’t think he was a high pick either. Meanwhile, we used a 3rd on Max, a 4th on Colon, a 3rd on Essex, a 6th of Kemoeatu and a few 5th and 6th rounders on people no longer with the team. Out of all of those mid round picks we don’t have much to show for it. I would say that none of them are good and Max is the only one who is even above average.

    Overall, I beleive Jackson, Unger, and Mack are all excellent prospects and, if they are available, I think the Steelers should choose the highest rated one on their board in round one. I just don’t think finding depth on the d-line or for d-backs is a higher priority than getting good starters on the o-line.

  5. John,
    I think you’re right. We probably agree more than we disagree.

    I don’t know if you’ve been following the bloggers’ mock draft that I am in, but when my pick comes up, I think you’ll be surprised at what I do. If Tyson Jackson is gone, then I plan to take Alex Mack. That would probably surprise some people. Max Unger is more versatile than Alex Mack, and he could be used all over the line. But Mack is the best pure center in the draft, and the Steelers need to get back to their history of having an All-Pro caliber center. Webster, Dawson, and Hartings all fit that mold. Mahan and Hartwig certainly don’t.

  6. BLUESTEEL says:


  7. Bluesteel,
    I don’t know if I’d go after a linebacker. That is one of the few positions that the Steelers are stacked at. 2007 first round pick Lawrence Timmons still isn’t a starter (although that should change this year), and we still have last years’ 3rd round pick, Bruce Davis, waiting in the wings. I also like what I’ve seen from Keyaron Fox. Everyone seems to think of him as just a special teams guy, but I like him when he comes in as a backup linebacker as well.

    I would absolutely love to have someone push Ike and Gay. I think we’d have to trade down to get a CB to challenge Ike, but we should be able to pick up one to challenge Gay. Remember how late Gay was drafted. A player of his caliber shouldn’t be hard to find. He played adequately last year, but he certainly wasn’t great.

  8. SUPER BOWL CHAMPS!! I just wanted to write that before I bring up an real problems.
    1. Please explain Colon, I like his attitude, but he’s worth 2 false starts and a few missed assignments every game. I hear people say he would be a better guard, is that true? Has he improved? Is he a legit right tackle?
    2. Don’t forget WR. Hines, one of my all time favorite players, is 33, he has missed time each of the past few seasons. He plays so hard, his health has to be a concern.
    As great as Holmes was in the playoffs, he has yet to have a 1000 yard season ( or play a season injury free.
    That leaves Sweed, Baker, and Nash. I hope that thses guys all take huge leaps but who knows.
    If Ward or Holmes misses multiple games then what?
    The league, check the rules, seems to be biased towards offense.

    I know the D-line needs youth, and the secondary needs depth, and the O-line …….
    The O-line except for Hartwig is young ( and hes only 30) they haven’t even had oner season to gel.
    I feel like a new O-line coach can’t hurt

    Back to my point, don’t forget WR, its more of a need than people think. Can you think of another reason to bring in a 38 year old receiver coming off of injury?
    If the front office was really confident about the depth they wouldn’t have even made a call

  9. Jason,
    If you are a regular reader of Steelers Today, you know what I think about Willie Colon. He is a penalty just waiting to happen. Same with Kemo. But locking those guys up for next year was still important. Did you notice the Steelers only signed him to a 1 year deal. That says a lot, if you read between the lines. They locked Kemo into a long-term deal, and they are working on it with Starks. So why a 1-year deal for “holdin’ Willie”?

    WR definitely needs some help. However, I’m optimistic about Sweed. Also, you forgot to include Martin Nance as another backup receiver. He hasn’t done anything as a pro, but he was Big Ben’s favorite target in college.

  10. Don’t rule out the fact that Hartwig could always be retained and moved to guard. I believe that is where he used to play. So the Steelers could actually upgrade 2 positions by picking a great center and keeping Hartwig as a guard down the line

  11. Just wanted to say that this is the best offseason discussion that I’ve seen on the Steelers. Some quality stuff.

  12. Shane,
    I agree with you. Moving Hartwig to guard may be a possibility. Additionally, there has always been a belief that Willie Colon would make a better guard than tackle. Obviously, the Steelers’ coaches don’t agree, since they’ve kept him at tackle.

    If the Steelers were to take Alex Mack or Max Unger in the draft, I think we’d see one of them take Darnell Stapleton’s guard spot for one year, and then move to center in 2010.

  13. Thanks Chris. Even if readers don’t agree with us, we at least try to explain why we believe what we do. That way, the readers can tell us what part of our logic they disagree with. One of my pet peeves is readers who write comments that say things like “You’re a moron”. I don’t know how to respond to comments like that. I prefer intelligent readers who tell me what they disagree with, and then offer an alternative solution. That gives us something to dialogue about.

    In my opinion, that type of discussion is more stimulating (and more valuable) for all of us.

    One thing that I’ve always felt is that Steelers Today has a very high caliber readership. Just read some of the comments to this article. These readers obviously know what they’re talking about. I love that. Moreover, it humbles me that such intelligent readers choose to read Steelers Today.

  14. I would say forget linebacker completely. I still believe with the 3 need areas being OL, DL, DB, and finally WR. That the Steelers will go for the best player on the board in the first 3 area’s I list in 1st round. I agree with admin that we must have a highend DB and that it is more important than OL. I would predict we will not get out of the 2nd round without drafting a DB. I’d be shocked if they don’t take a DB in first or second round. Does anyone know what the brain thrust of the Steelers really think of Hills. Is it possible he could compete for RT and move Colon to RG. Many people seem to feel Colon would be a great RG? I’m not usually for signing older vet’s, but I have to admit I’ve thought about Pace at a bargin rate. I also agree with admin on why we gave Colon a 1yr deal. He knocks our socks off or become’s next years Nate Washington, “1 year and done”.

  15. Bob,
    I have to admit that I’ve thought about signing Orlando Pace to a 1-year deal. I know that he’s over the hill, but an old, past-his-prime Orlando Pace is probably better than Willie Colon at his best. If we moved Pace to RT, he probably still has some gas left in his tank. He’s probably made plenty of money by now. Maybe the idea of playing for a ring before retirement would be appealing to him. Of course, if he wanted big bucks, or if his health were questionable, I’d have to pass.

  16. I have to say this is THE BEST Steeler chat online, thank you.
    1. Any news on copensitory pick (s)? ( sorry I can’t spell)
    2. Which BD prospects best fit the Steeler’s system?
    I heard Butler ( UConn isn’t a good tackler)
    I heard Davis (Illinois) has poor technique
    Any word on the guys out of Wake or Vandy?

  17. Don,

    I would also like to agree with Chris. This is the first discussion board I have taken part in due primarily to the quality of the analysis and the overall civility of the debate.

    I don’t even bother posting or even looking at the comments on the major sports sites because they are dominated with people insulting each other rather than making a reasoned arguement.

    To follow up on some of the recent comments, I don’t see them going for a WR or a DB that early in the draft. As the interest in Galloway shows, it appears that they are more interested in bringing in some veteren competition for the 3rd WR spot. On DB’s, this draft has few markee prospects but is relatively deep overall. As such, they should be able to find a good player in the 3rd or 4th round that isn’t rated that much lower than those taken in the second round. So, while they will likely draft one of each, they will likely be in the later rounds unless a premier player somehow drops into their laps.

    On Pace, as much as I would like to see him in a Steeler uniform (if healthy) it does not appear the Steelers have any interest in adding veterens to the O-line. FA has been open for a while and they have looked at 0 linemen. I refuse to believe they are actually satisfied with their O-line personnel (although despite my earlier comments, I don’t think it is as bad as some say) so I’ll will have to conclude that they plan to upgrade it through the draft. But we will see. Hey, maybe if no one offers Marvell a contract we can pick him up on an affordable contract and he can take over for Colon at RT and he will make it through the year healthy and…well we can dream can’t we!

  18. Jason,

    The Comp picks won’t be released until the League meetings (March 22-25).

  19. thank you,

  20. Jason,
    What John said. ;-)

    As far as your questions about specific players, I am going to ask you to be patient. After I finish discussing the team needs, I plan to discuss players that Kevin Colbert should be looking at. some of them will be the popular names like Unger and Mack. Others will be players that you haven’t heard as much about.

    If you stick with me, I promise it will be worth your while. You might not agree with all of my points, but we should have some interesting discussion.

  21. John,
    Thanks for the compliment. That means a lot.

    As far as the civility of the discussion, I plan to keep it that way. When people post things that are rude and don’t add anything intelligent to the discussion, I just delete their comments. Free speech isn’t guaranteed around here. If someone is rude, they get deleted.

    I agree with you about going for a WR early. However, I could see them going for a CB in the 2nd round. On my draft board, I see the CB position taking a big drop after the 2nd round. But I’ll discuss that in a later post.

    Lastly, I think it will be interesting to see what happens with Marvel Smith. I think his health the last 2 years will scare most teams off. It will be interesting to see what the Steelers do if Marvel gets no takers, or if he only gets lowball offers.

  22. I remember reading the reports on Starks, the “experts” pretty much agreed that he was physically and mentally slow, lazy and would not live up to his size potential. Colon was supposed to come into the league as a guard because his arms are too short and his style of play would result in penalties if he were left uncovered as a tackle. I think we all heard that Kemo was more than ready to take over for Faneca, and he would be a starter on any other team. Hartwig is at least servicable, however I think he came to us because the Panthers wanted to move him to guard, maybe there was more to the story. As for Stapleton, he played his part, a first year developmental project.

    What I am trying to say is given the schedule, and not having played or even praticed together before being thrown out to the wolves, they improved over the year and brought home a championship. Even through injury they only lost 4 games. If this group is to be the starting OL, and by appearances it is, I think at least by game three, we are going to feel a little better about the group as a whole.

    Do we need better players? Of course we do, but there is no need to push the panic button at this point.

  23. Leonard,

    I don’t think anyone is pushing the panic button. There is just a widespread belief that the O-line is the weakest part of the team and the area that needs the most immediate improvement. (Well, other than punter…but that will be taken care of when Sepulveda returns from injury) Even you spend half your post pointing out reasons why the current O-line isn’t very good.

    I must admit I am perpelxed by the “mulligan” many people seem willing to give the O-line. Yes, they are relatively young and, yes, they did improve through the year but let’s put this in perspective.

    1) The improvement was uneven. Starks and Hartwig improved but Colon and Kemo were making the same mistakes even late in the year. Stapleton improved and played well for an undrafted free agent with only 1 year in the league but that does not make him a quality guard. Not to mention that Stapleton and Kemo were simply abused by Dockett in the SB.

    2) While the weak pass protection is often pointed out, the running game was also weak and uneven - even late in the year after the current O-line had played together for months and Parker was back healthy.

    3) As evidenced in the discussion on Part 3, there is little confidence in the current O-line coaching. The current O-line has young, inexperienced linemen with questionable talent. Good coaching can hellp players reach or exceed their potential. Do we really think the current O-line coaching can do this? Exceptional talent, however, can overcome poor coaching.

    Hence, the feeling from some (including me) that the infusion of high grade talent is the only way to improve the O-line. It isn’t a feeleing of panic, just a feeling that adding talent to the O-line gives the Steelers the biggest “bang for the buck” so to speak.


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