Steeler Needs:
1) Linebacker
2) Tight End
3) Strong Safety
4) Wide receiver

1st Round draft probability

Steelers - Pre-Draft Analysis - 2002

The Draft is where the Steelers have traditionally built their teams. With notable exceptions such as the trade for Jerome Bettis (1996), and the Free Agent signings of Jeff Hartings (2001) and Dwayne Washington (1997), the Steelers rely on the Draft to find long-term players. Of last year's 22 starters on Offense and Defense, 16 were drafted by the Steelers.

Steeler Draft Strategy
Most overlooked by those who try to predict the Steelers draft is the team's run-first Offensive scheme, and particularly, it's 3-4 Defensive scheme. For example, since the Steelers have a run-orineted Offense as opposed to a pass-oriented West-Coast style offense, they ask their Wide Receivers to do more blocking than actual catching. Thus, the Steelers like big wideouts who can block safeties and sometimes even linebackers and D-linemen. WR smurfs who are 5'10" 180 pounds - no matter how fast - just don't cut it. On defense, because the Steelers employ the 3-4 (3 down linemen and 4 linebackers), they ask linemen to be responsibe for 2 gaps and to absorb blockers for the linebackers. Thus, the traditional college defensive end at 6'4" 260 pounds is way too small to play D-line for the Steelers, and almost always too slow to play linebacker. It's amazing how many prognosticators, year after year, make off-base predictions becasue they don't know Steelers football!

The Steelers have recently looked to fill immediate holes on their team in the early rounds (1st and 2nd) and look for players to develop in the middle and later rounds (3rd-7th). This year's draft is no exception. The Steelers pressing need as of March 25 is only an inside linebacker to replace Earl Holmes. While the "Big E" may have lost a step by the end of last season (see Jim Wexell's excellent article), the Steelers would be wise to keep him, if they can sign him for a reaosnable price.

There are not many, if any, decent prospects to come in and start for the Steelers next year at Holmes' ILB spot. To expect or hope for another Kendrell Bell is delusional. Napoleon Harris (6'3" 250 ponds) is this year's best pure linebacker prospect, but it is unlikely that he will last until the 30th pick when the Steelers select. Besides, he is reportedly not strong enough to be a run-stuffing Levon Kirkland type which the Steelers need if they want to do better than John Fiala or Earl Holmes. He may be better in the Steelers' scheme as an outside linebacker which he played last year at Northwestern. But if the Steelers want an outside linebacker, then Dwight Freeney (6'1" 260 pounds) of Syracuse is their man. He was the best pass-rusher last year in college with 18 sacks and and 27 tackles for loss. His speed is amazing for someone that big. He has run as low as 4.4 in the 40 and his 10 yard time is faster than many wide recievers at 1.5 seconds. This is important becasue it's about 10 yards from the OLB spot to the quarterback in a 5-step drop. While the Steelers do not have an immediate need for an OLB, he would be the eventual sucessor to Jason Gildon who has about 2 more good years left, or he would replace Joey Porter who is an unrestricted free agent next year. He would not be a good fit at ILB becasue his quickness would be wasted and he doesn't have the point of attack strength to take on centers or guards. If the Steelers got him, he would be an amazing addition to the punt and kickoff coverage teams which need immeiate help!

Tight End
When Tight End Mark Bruener got injured last year, the running game suffered. This was particularly evident during the AFC Championship game when the Steelers couldn't run the ball with any consistentcy. This, in my opinion, is why the Steelers lost the game. Jerame Tuman is a nice receiver, but not able to replace Bruener's blocking (few people can). Tight End is a deep position in this year's draft and the Steelers are virtually guaranteed of getting one in the Draft, if not on Day 1 (rounds 1 or 2).

The best prospect for the Steelers and my hope for a 1st round selection is Colorado's Dan Graham (6'3" 248 pounds) who was the best all-around tight-end last year in college. He was Colorado's leading receiver and he reportedly is an active blocker, although not yet in Mark Bruener's category. He runs a 4.6-40 and would work very well into the Steeler bootleg plays for Kordell Stewart. His speed would also present matchup problems for linebackers which would prevent opposing safeties from doubling Plaxico Burress on the outside of the field. As a bonus, he was team MVP last year, and his father is a former NFL linebacker for the Broncos.

The Seahwks who pick 20th are said to be in the market for a tight end, but apparently prefer Miami's Jeremy Shockney who is supposedly is better than Green Bay's #1 pick last year, TE Bubba Franks. Shockney is more of a receiver and less of a blocker than Graham. However, the Giants are rumored to also like Shockney and they pick 15th. If the Giants take Shockney, the 'Hawks may take Graham and foil my plans. C'est la guerre!

Strong Safety
Lee Flowers is a good Strong Safety for the Steelers. He plays the run well, he is vocal, he works very hard and he is one of the team's best leaders. However, Lee is not good in pass coverage where his speed is so-so. In addition, his contract is up next year. The Steelers could vastly improve the secondary with a fast, hard-hitting safety that could also blitz effectively. Myron Bell is old, a free agent and no better than Flowers. The Steelers need help here.

Roy Williams (6'0" 220 pounds) of Oklahoma would be the perfect fit, but at least 20 other teams ahead of the Steelers think so, too. Edward Reed (5'11" 205 pounds) of Miami is a great football player and not just a fine athlete who was the leader of Miami's outstanding secondary. Unfortuantely, Reed is thought of a Free Safety where the Steelers already have starter Brent Alexander and dime safety Mike Logan signed through 2003. I don't know if Reed is big enough to play SS for the Steelers, but he played strong safety in '99 and '00. In either case, he would vastly improve th Steelers Special Teams. Another possibility is SS Michael Lewis (6'1" 210 pounds) of Colorado. He is a ferocious hitter while not great in coverage which is why he shouldn't be picked in the first round, but possibly in the second round by the Steelers.

Wide Receiver
The Steelers' wide receivers last year were great. Burress and Ward are a great combination of deep and intermediate threats, and should be productive for a while longer. Beyond them, there's not much besides development projects. Troy Edwards should get cut June 1st and Bobby Shaw is unsigned. Most important for the Steelers is to find a wideout with speed to stretch the middle of the field on 3rd downs and who can effectively return kickoffs and punts. Besides Amos Zeroue, no one on the roster can retrun kickoffs. The Steelers could take a WR on the first round but it would be a big surprise. Imagine the headlines, "Third time in 4 years Steelers take WR in Round 1."

The best wideouts that fill the Steelers needs are two track stars: Andre Davis (6'1" 195 pounds) from Virginia Tech and Javon Walker from Florida State (6'2" 210). Both receivers have the speed (sub 4.4-40) and the size that the Steelers covet, but neither of them were particularly productive in college considering their great speed. Also, neither are known to be very good at catching the ball. Both players would have to work hard to become polished, starting NFL receivers, but the Steelers don't currently need a starting WR. However, the Steelers offense desperately needs speed to stretch the field and to provide better field position on kickoffs. Other possible WR's with great speed who will be available after round 1 are Tim Carter (5'11" 190) of Auburn and Cliff Russell of Utah (5'11" 185 pounds)

Steeler First-Round Draft Probability:

Daniel Graham - 2:5
Dwight Freeney - 1:3
Edward Reed - 1:5
Andre Davis - 1:20
Napolean Harris - 1:50
Michael Lewis - 1:100
Dan Marino - 1:1,000,000,000,000



2002 Steeler 1st rounder?

Colorado TE , Dan Graham

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©Mark Berger,