With the draft just one week from today the question continues to be raised: With the 24th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft the Pittsburgh Steelers.....
This question usually comes with a simple answer: The Steelers always draft the best player available (BPA). Although this is the easy answer and one the Steelers front office routinely gives when asked who they will draft it does not hold true, and how could it to be bluntly honest. If a team was to put together their big board prior to the draft and select the highest player still available with each pick then how would they fill any of their needs? It is likely a team that went by this equation could end up with 7 linebackers in the same draft; they could argue they were just drafting the BPA.
When the Steelers needed a tight end in 2005 they took Heath Miller; the following year the traded up in the draft to select Santonio Holmes to fill a glaring need at wide receiver. In the 2008 draft the Steelers selected Rashard Mendenhall to be their new feature back. A year later they passed on two top safeties that fell in the draft, Louis Delmas and Patrick Chung, and selected DE Ziggy Hood to give them much needed depth on the defensive line. The following year the Steelers used the #18 pick on Maurkice Pouncey to fill a large void in the middle of their offensive line.
The Steelers do pick the BPA, but not the overall BPA. They pick the best player still on the board that also fills a need for the team. Saying the Steelers will draft Coby Fleener based on the idea that he will likely be the BPA on the big board doesn’t make much sense. Tight end is one of the positions of least need for the Steelers especially after signing Leonard Pope in free agency. It’s possible the Steelers are looking for a replacement for Weslye Saunders, who will serve a four game suspension at the beginning of the 2012 season, but they have many tight ends already on the roster to compete. During the off-season the Steelers have signed Pope as well as West Virginia-alums Wes Lyons, who is now listed as a tight end, and Will Johnson who is listed as a FB/TE. These three players join Saunders, Heath Miller, and FB/TE David Johnson on the roster. It would be no surprise if the Steelers add a tight end in the draft, but any earlier than the fifth round would be a potential mistake.
The Steelers have two glaring needs right now a nose tackle replacement for Casey Hampton, who is coming off an ACL tear and is nearing the end of his career, and offensive line help to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright in 2012. The issue with the #24 pick is that the top offensive lineman will likely be gone and there are no true nose tackle prospects slated to be around in the second half of the first round. This leaves a big question: what will the Steelers do with the pick?
If they value a player highly they will take him. Also, if a top offensive lineman such as Georgia’s Cordy Glenn or Stanford’s Jonathan Martin falls to #24 they will, likely, be the pick. These scenarios are, however, highly unlikely. Hightower seems a logical choice as the Steelers love linebackers and may not be set on turning over the reigns of the defense to a 33 year old Larry Foote and unproven Stevenson Sylvester. They could also look for a replacement at outside linebacker. James Harrison is also aging quickly due to his late start in the NFL and his cap number weighs heavy against the team. A player such as Nick Perry of USC, who is listed as a defensive end, could make the switch to outside linebacker and provide the Steelers depth and a future replacement for Harrison. This of course is only in the case Jason Worilds has fallen out of contention for that spot.
Linebacker, however, whether inside or outside are positions that provide value even into the later rounds. There are players with starter potential being mocked even into the sixth round of the draft. The only real certainty surrounding the Steelers #24 pick is just how uncertain everyone is about what they will do with it.
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