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Pittsburgh Steelers mock draft analysis

April 22, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

April 22, 2009
By Donald Starver

With only 3 days remaining until the 2009 NFL draft, fans are searching for any final clues that may help them determine who their favorite team is going to draft.  Traffic at mock draft websites is at an all-time high this time of year.  Fans seem to think that mock drafts may have some insight that will tell them who their team is going to select (they don’t).

With that in mind, I’ve decided to make your lives a lot easier.  Rather than allow you to spend countless hours scouring the millions of mock drafts that are out there, I’ve done the heavy lifting for you.  I’ve studied every mock draft in the HailRedskins mock draft database and the Walter Football mock draft database.  If you haven’t visited these excellent sites, I recommend that you do so.

There is a lot of overlap in the websites that are listed.  However, Walter Football’s database contains 250 mock drafts while Hail Redskins only has 228.  Therefore, I chose Walter Football’s mock draft database as the data source for this analysis.

I have cumulated the results of all of the mock drafts listed in Walter Football’s mock draft database, and am reporting the results for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Some of the mock drafts in the database were eliminated because they were too old to be considered valid.  I immediately eliminated any mock drafts that were done prior to the Super Bowl.  Afterall, how good could a mock draft be if it didn’t even reflect the correct draft order?  Additionally, I eliminated all of the mock drafts that had broken links.  Lastly, Walter Football’s database includes several mock drafts that are clearly intended to be jokes.  Those were also eliminated from my analysis.

Once I had eliminated all of the mock drafts that I considered to be invalid, I was left with 189 mock drafts.  Those 189 mock drafts were the basis for this analysis.  It was a lot of work compiling 189 mock drafts, so I stopped at the 1st round.  Here is what the mock drafts think the Steelers are going to do in the 1st round of Saturday’s draft.

By far, offensive line was the position that the mock drafts thought the Steelers were going to select in the first round of the draft.  126 mock drafts (66.7%) had the Steelers taking an offensive lineman in the first round.  Defensive back got the next highest number of votes with 33 mock drafts (17.5%) predicting that the Steelers would take a DB.

Here is the breakdown by position:

Position/# of votes/% of votes
Offensive line/126/66.7%

Defensive back/33/17.5%

Defensive line/21/11.1%

Wide receiver/7/3.7%

Running back/2/1.1%

Four of the top 5 vote getters were offensive linemen.  This should come as no surprise, given the problems the Steelers’ offensive line had this past year.  The top vote-getters were as follows:

Name/position/# of votes/% of votes
Alex Mack/OL/52/27.5%

Max Unger/OL/22/11.6%

Eben Britton/OL/18/9.5%

Sean Smith/DB/9/4.8%

William Beatty/OL/9/4.8%

Alphonso Smith/DB/7/3.7%

Jarron Gilbert/DL/7/3.7%

Vontae Davis/DB/5/2.6%

D.J. Moore/DB/5/2.6%

Eric Wood/OL/5/2.6%

Darius Butler/DB/4/2.1%

Tyson Jackson/DL/4/2.1%

Phil Loadholt/OL/4/2.1%

Robert Ayers/DL/3/1.6%

Hakeem Nicks/WR/3/1.6%

Fili Moala/DL/2/1.1%

Michael Johnson/DL/2/1.1%

Evander Hood/DL/2/1.1%

Kenny Britt/WR/2/1.1%

William Moore/DB/1/0.5%

Patrick Chung/DB/1/0.5%

Louis Delmas/DB/1/0.5%

Ron Brace/DL/1/0.5%

Troy Kropog/OL/1/0.5%

Jamon Meredith/OL/1/0.5%

Lesean McCoy/RB/1/0.5%

Beanie Wells/RB/1/0.5%

Percy Harvin/WR/1/0.5%

Darius Heyward-Bey/WR/1/0.5%

While 2 mock drafts had the Steelers taking a running back in the first round, I just can’t see that happening.  Rashard Mendenhall was drafted in the first round last year, and the Steelers are very solid at running back with Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, and Mewelde Moore.

In my opinion, all of the other positions that received votes are a possibility.  We all know that the Steelers aren’t going to draft a quarterback or tight end in the first round, regardless of who is available.  We also know that they aren’t going to draft a special teams player (unless it is a wide receiver who also returns kicks or punts).  Beyond this, nobody knows what the Steelers will do.

I have learned over the years that trying to predict who the Steelers are going to draft is nearly impossible.  They play their cards very close to the vest, and they almost never do what fans expect them to do.  Nevertheless, I hope that this analysis may have added some insight into what we are likely to see on Saturday.

Go Steelers!!!!!!

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The offense and the Steelers’ draft (part 3)

April 17, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

April 17, 2009
By Donald Starver

This is part 3 in a series.  If you haven’t read  the previous installments, please click below.

part 1

part 2

BTW guys, if you have a wife or girlfriend who watches the games with you, but doesn’t really understand the game, you might want to have her read this series.  It is meant to be a primer for novice football fans.  I have gotten feedback from several women who have told me how informative they’ve found this series and the previous series “The 3-4 And The Steelers’ Draft“.

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we talked about the offensive tackle and guard positions.  In this installment, we will be looking at the center position.

While  left tackle may be the most physically challenging position on the offensive line, center is probably the most mentally challenging.  The center position consists of more than just snapping the ball to the quarterback.

Centers often act as coaches on the field.  While the offensive linemen must be set prior to the snap, the defensive linemen are allowed to move.  Thus, the center must watch the movements of the defense,  analyze what they are likely to do, and quickly call out adjustments to his fellow offensive linemen.  If the center is unable to coordinate the line’s blocking assignments, someone is likely to get through to the quarterback.

Beyond being intellectually challenging, the center position is also more physically challenging than it may seem.  Centers must possess exceptional quickness.  The center has to successfully execute two motions before the defensive lineman can execute one.  Specifically, the center must snap the ball to the quarterback and then quickly reset himself and get his hands up to block the on-coming defender before the defender can get by the center. 

Because the center  often doesn’t have a man playing directly above him (e.g. if he is facing a 4-3 front), the center must also be able to play in space.  The center must be able to get to the second level and make cut-off blocks to help clear a path for the running backs.  Centers who are able to run and pick off linebackers on screens, draws, or traps are quite valuable.

In addition to intellect and quickness, the ideal center will also have a great base and exceptional strength.  This is particularly true in the AFC where they are likely to face many 3-4 defenses with 320+ pound nose tackles.  Solid college centers like Arkansas’ Jonathan Luigs, TCU’s Blake Schlueter, Penn State’s A.Q. Shipley, Alabama’s Antoine Caldwell, and LSU’s Brett Helms are just not ready to face NFL nose tackles at this point in their development.  They may add bulk and strength later, but expecting them to be able to combat nose tackles during their rookie year is probably asking too much of them.

Because most centers are not able to contribute right away, few centers are ever taken in the first round.  Few teams feel comfortable using a 1st round pick on a player who isn’t going to be able to play right away.  The New York Jets’ Nick Mangold was the last center to be taken in the first round back in 2006.  In 2008, the first true center wasn’t drafted until the 6th round.  The Indianapolis Colts actually drafted 3 centers last year, but they used Mike Pollack and Steve Justice as guards.  Other centers taken before the 6th round like the 49ers Cody Wallace and the Broncos’ Kory Lichtensteiger were also used primarily as guards.

California’s Alex Mack stands head and shoulders above all of the other centers in this year’s draft.  He may even join Nick Mangold as a 1st round draftee.  If he is available, the Steelers may even consider drafting him at pick #32.

Alex Mack

Alex Mack

The Steelers will need to draft a center to replace Justin Hartwig when his contract expires in 2010.  As I mentioned earlier, few centers are able to start during their rookie year, so to find a replacement for 2010, he probably needs to be selected in 2009.

A player like Alex Mack could start immediately for the Steelers at guard (in Darnell Stapleton’s spot), and then move to center in 2010.

The class of 2009 has only one star caliber center, but lots of quality players. Here are a few of the most noteworthy.


Alex Mack (6’4″, 312 lbs.), California.  Mack has all the qualities needed to become a great NFL center.  He has exceptional athleticism and delivers a hard initial blow.  He excels in both pass blocking and run blocking, although he will need to get stronger to handle mammoth NFL nose tackles.

Max Unger (6’5″, 299 lbs.), Oregon.  In my opinion, Unger does not excel as a center.  He is competent, but not exceptional.  In fact, I don’t believe that he is among the top 5 centers available in this draft.  However, Unger’s flexibility will get him rated much higher on some teams’ boards than his skills as a center might otherwise dictate.  Unger started his career at Oregon as a left tackle, and later made the transition to center.  He can also play guard.  This ability to play every position on the line will work to his advantage.

Jonathan Luigs (6’4″, 302 lbs.), Arkansas.  Luigs has excellent quickness for the position.  He may be the best center in the draft at playing in space and getting to the second level.  As I mentioned earlier, he won’t be able to handle larger NFL defenders right away, but he could start right away in a zone blocking scheme.

Eric Wood (6’4″, 304 lbs.), Louisville.  A team captain in college, Wood is an intelligent player who excels at making line calls.  He’s a hard worker who should have a long NFL career. 

Antoine Caldwell (6’3″, 307 lbs.), Alabama.  An aggressive blocker with good athleticism.  He struggled at the Senior Bowl, and will need to get a bit heavier and stronger at the next level.  Better at drive blocking than playing in space.  He has the potential to be a quality center or guard.

A. Q. Shipley (6’1″, 297 lbs.), Penn State.  Shorter and lighter than teams would ideally like to see.  He also has somewhat short arms.  However, he gives tremendous effort, and uses his low center of gravity to maintain leverage.  Shipley is simply a tough S.O.B. who doesn’t let his physical shortcomings prevent him from playing well.  Shipley won the 2008 Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center.

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If I were Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert (Part 4)

March 09, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

March 9, 2009
By Donald Starver

Note: This is the fourth installment in a series.  If you haven’t already read the first part, please click here.  If you haven’t read the second part, please click here.  If you haven’t read the third part, please click here.

We’ve already talked about the Steelers’ free agency situation, and what Director of Football Operations, Kevin Colbert, should do.  Most of our predictions materialized exactly as we said they would.  Now it’s time to look at the upcoming NFL draft.  What positions should Colbert be focusing on as the draft approaches?

When I read most mock drafts, as well as most fan forums, the conversation seems to be pretty consistent.  There seems to be a consensus that the Steelers’ top need is on the offensive line.  After the 2008 draft, many Steelers fans were disappointed that the Steelers didn’t draft offensive linemen in all 7 rounds of the draft (okay, maybe we’re exaggerating, but they definitely wanted o-line in the 1st round).

I understand the rationale behind this line of thinking.  Afterall, Ben Roethlisberger took 47 regular season sacks in 2007.  Most fans thought that Ben wouldn’t live through another season like that.  But Big Ben proved them all wrong, as he survived 49 regular season sacks in 2008.  If we add in post-season sacks, Big Ben has taken over 110 sacks over the past 2 years.  That’s a lot of sacks for any quarterback to take.  But it’s an unacceptable number of sacks for a $100 million quarterback to take.

To put it into perspective, Indianapolis Colts’ QB Peyton Manning took 23 regular season sacks in 2007, and 14 in 2008.  New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees took 16 sacks in 2007, and 13 in 2008.  Moreover, both quarterbacks took over 100 more pass attempts each year than Roethlisberger.  That means they had more than 100 more opportunities to be sacked, and yet, each was sacked less than half as often as Roethlisberger.

Those are mighty compelling reasons why offensive linemen should be the Steelers’ top priority in the coming draft.  Most mock drafts have the Steelers taking names like Alex Mack (C - California), Max Unger (C - Oregon), Eben Britton (T - Arizona), or Duke Robinson (G - Oklahoma) in the first round.  Drafting offensive line in the first round is the obvious answer, and I understand why so many come to that conclusion.

However, if I were Kevin Colbert, I would not rank offensive line as my top need.  Sure, the sack figures that I listed above are worrisome.  Big Ben needs to survive the 2009 season.  I get that.  But in my opinion, the Steelers’ top need going into the 2009 NFL draft is defensive line.  In fact, it’s not even close.

If we look at the players who were on the active roster at the end of the 2008 season (Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons were both on injured reserve), the Steelers offensive line had an average age of 25.  That group will average 26 years old next season.  The only offensive lineman on the roster who is over 30 years of age is center Justin Hartwig.  He will be 31 years old during the 2009 season.  Every other Steelers offensive lineman will be in their 20′s.  That’s a pretty young group of players. 

In addition to their youth, only one of the offensive linemen who started for the Steelers in the Super Bowl had more than one year of starting experience at his position with the Steelers.  Right tackle Willie Colon was in his second year as a starter.  All of the other offensive linemen were in their first year as Steelers’ starters at their position.

Contrast that with the Steelers’ defensive line.  While the offensive line will average 26 years old next year, the defensive line that played in the Super Bowl will have an average age of 32 next year.   None of the starters in the front 3 is under 30.  Aaron Smith will be 33 this season, Casey Hampton will be 32, and  Brett Keisel will be 31.  The key backups were even older.  Travis Kirschke will be 35, Orpeus Roye will be 36, and Chris Hoke will be 33.

The Steelers only have two defensive linemen on the roster who are under 30, Nick Eason and Scott Paxson.  Neither is an important contributor.

Aaron Smith is the senior statesman of the starters.  He is 33.  Smith has been so good for so long, that it is easy to assume that he will always man his post on the Steelers’ defensive line.  But he won’t.  Smith probably only has 1 or 2 seasons left in him.  Moreover, it probably says something bad about the Steelers’ front office if they rely on a 34 or 35 year old lineman for the majority of the snaps.

The Steelers’ defense is very complex, and few players start in their rookie season.  So the Steelers need to draft Smith’s replacement BEFORE he is actually needed.  Give him one year to play as Smith’s backup, and then move him into the starting lineup in 2010.

Nose Tackle Casey Hampton is also coming to the end of his career.  Because of their incredible girth, NFL nose tackles tend to wear down faster than any position other than running backs.  Hampton’s performance has slipped noticeably of late.  Moreover, he has increasing difficulty maintaining his fitness in the off-season as he gets older.

The Steelers are lucky to have an incredible backup for Casey Hampton in Chris Hoke.  When Hoke enters the game, the Steelers don’t miss a beat.  I’ve always felt the Chris Hoke was one of the most under-appreciated players on the Steelers’ roster.  Unfortunately, Chris Hoke is even older than Casey Hampton.  So he is not the long-term solution that the Steelers need.

Brett Keisel is the youngest of the starters, but he is going to be 31 next season.  That’s much closer to the end of his career than the beginning.  Keisel has a few more good years left in his legs, but he is the least dominant of the Steelers’ three starting defensive lineman.  If the Steelers can upgrade Brett Keisel, they should definitely do it.  However, relative to finding replacements for Smith and Hampton, Keisel is the least of the Steelers’ worries.

As I mentioned earlier, Nick Eason and Scott Paxson are the only two Steelers defensive linemen who are under 30 years old.  I don’t think many Steelers fans see either of these two players as the heir apparent to Aaron Smith or Casey Hampton.  That means the Steelers have no successors on their roster.  That’s a problem.  A big problem.

Can the Steelers continue to win with their current offensive line?  There’s a Lombardi Trophy at Heinz Field that proves that the answer to that question is “yes”.  Is the offensive line the best in the league?  No, of course they aren’t.  But because of their youth and limited experience playing together, the offensive line is going to get better.  Time will have the opposite effect on the defensive line.  Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton are going to get worse, not better.  Brett Keisel’s speed will begin to decline as well.  The Steelers need to start grooming their successors now, while they aren’t truly needed. 

So contrary to popular opinion, I contend that defensive line, and NOT offensive line, is the Steelers’ top need.  Hopefully, Kevin Colbert sees it that way too.

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Oh no! The Steelers pick last!!!!!

February 19, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

February 17, 2009
By Donald Starver

I was talking to a friend about the Steelers’ awesome 2008 season, and suddenly he came to a shocking realization.  It occurred to him that winning the Super Bowl means that the Steelers now get the honor and privilege of picking 32nd in the upcoming draft.  That’s dead last.  I could see the look of horror cover his face as comprehension set in.

Firstly, it amazed me that any true sports fan could be unaware of that particular ramification of winning the Super Bowl.  It’s the booby prize that comes with the Lombardi Trophy.   The two are intrinsically linked.  It’s kind of like that pesky burning and itching feeling that you get after a night of sex with Paris Hilton; you can’t have one without the other.

But I digress.

So after he realized that every team in the NFL gets to select before the Steelers FINALLY get to pick, my friend proceeded to whine about how unfair that is, and how the Steelers are totally screwed.  I was quick to remind him that it’s actually a pretty fair trade-off for trophy #6.  Ask any team which they’d rather have, the #1 pick in the draft or a Super Bowl championship.  I’m sure the answer will be unanimous.

But to further put him at ease, I reminded him that the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, and Oakland Raiders always seem to have top 5 draft positions.  Yet despite getting their pick of the best young talent available, they continue to suck year after year.  Meanwhile, teams like the Steelers, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, and Philadelphia Eagles seem to pick in the second half of the draft each year, and yet they remain perennial playoff teams.  So there is more to winning than just having a top 10 draft position.

There will be plenty of good talent available at pick #32.  In fact, the Steelers will probably have their pick from among some of the top interior offensive linemen available, should they choose to go that way.

Here are some recent 32nd picks, along with the team that made the pick.  I’m also including in parentheses a few of the players that were drafted immediately after  pick #32.

2008 - Patriots forfeited pick so Giants select Kenny Philips 31st (Philip Merling was selected next).

2007 - Colts select Anthony Gonzalez (Alan Branch, Paul Posluszny).

2006 - Giants chose Mathias Kiwanuka (DeMeco Ryans).

2005 - Patriots chose Logan Mankins (Brodney Poole, Lofa Tatupu).

2004 - Patriots chose Ben Watson (Karlos Dansby, Chris Snee).

2003 - Raiders select Tyler Brayton (Eric Steinbach, Boss Bailey).

2002 - Redskins picked Patrick Ramsey (Jabbar Gafney, DeShaun Foster).

2001 - Ravens select Todd Heap (Drew Brees, Alge Crumpler, Chad Johnson)

So as you can see, some very good players have been chosen at pick #32.  Moreover, there is usually very good talent available even after the 32nd pick.

We all know that the Steelers had several starters on their Super Bowl championship team that weren’t even drafted.  James Harrison, Willie Parker, and Darnell Stapleton were all undrafted free agents.  That’s proof that good talent can be found, even after “Mr. Irrelevant” comes off the draft board.

So fret not, Steeler Nation.  Picking last is a small price to pay for winning the Super Bowl.  Kevin Colbert is very good at what he does.  He’ll get the Steelers what they need, even if he has to trade down to get it (remember the trades he made to get Troy Polamalu and Santonio Holmes?).

So if you find yourself feeling down because of the Steelers’ draft position, just remember that we could be picking first, like the Detroit Lions.  That would REALLY suck.

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