Monday, April 28, 2008

Draft Leftovers

The feeling here is that the Steelers' brain-trust did an excellent job early on of responding to the realities of the draft (i.e. the rapid depletion of offensive linemen well before pick #23 rolled around). To underscore that point one need only look at the pre-draft rankings by Pro Football Weekly of the top 150 players available. Despite picking late in each of the first two rounds the Steelers were able to get two top twenty players (Rashard Mendenhall, #13 and Limas Sweed, #19).

And as a UCLA alum I am thrilled that the Steelers brought Bruce Davis into the fold in round three -- he is going to make a contribution, including on special teams.

However, three of the final four choices made by the Steelers were of players who are either coming off significant injuries or have had injuries of one sort or another during their respective college careers.

Tony Hills, at 6' 5 1/8", 309 pounds, is a big man but according to Ourlads Scouting Service he is "more athletic than powerful." There are worse things to be, but the knock on this converted tight end has been his poor technique. He may end up as an offensive tackle, but will probably play on the right side. Of course he also broke his left fibula in the game against Texas Tech in November.

Dennis Dixon was one of the most electric college football players to come along in quite awhile. A legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate before tearing up his ACL -- he actually played on that injured knee against Arizona for about a quarter -- he has been compared by some to Vince Young, but Mr. Dixon is already a better passer than Mr. Young. However, as good as Mr. Dixon might become the Steelers could have addressed their offensive line needs with Roy Schuening, a guard from Oregon State who Ourlads rated as the #2 guard available, and who was chosen by the St. Louis Rams with the pick immediately after Mr. Dixon was chosen by the Steelers.

In round six the Steelers made their final two selections -- Mike Humpal, LB, Iowa and Ryan Mundy, FS, West Virginia. Mr. Humpal missed playing time in 2003 and 2006 due to nagging injuries (back and knee sprain), but was productive over the course of his last two seasons (172 tackles in 24 games). Additionally, Ourlads is complimentary of his skills and potential: "Instinctive and hard working . . . [g]ood football intelligence, competitive, and active." Think a younger version of Clint Kriewaldt.

As for Mr. Mundy, his is an interesting case -- he actually played for three years at Michigan, graduated, began graduate studies at West Virginia, and with a year of eligibility left he played for the Mountaineers. He has good size, 6' 1", 215 pounds, and was timed at 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash. However, the problem with this choice is that once again the Steelers failed to address their need at offensive line -- Donald Thomas, an offensive guard from Connecticut (6' 3 3/8", 303 pounds), described as "a good athlete . . . [who] flashes an explosive punch" -- was the very next player chosen after Mr. Mundy.

Despite doing a good job of dealing with the prevailing conditions of the early rounds the Steelers have taken some chances on players coming off of injuries, and missed a couple of opportunities to select offensive linemen. However that could be rectified if the team acquires some undrafted free agents (a la Willie Parker), and with that in mind here are a couple of suggestions.

Eric Young, offensive lineman, Tennessee: Two year starter at tackle who is expected to move inside at the pro level. Pre-draft rankings by both Pro Football Weekly and Ourlads had him as the #8 guard prospect available. Described by Ourlads as a "good athlete that is smart and competitive."

Drew Radovich, offensive lineman, University of Southern California: Ourlads says that he "[p]lays with an attitude and aggression." A two year starter at tackle, he projects to move inside in the NFL. Rated ahead of Donald Thomas by Ourlads.

There are others out there, but either of these two young men would augment what was a somewhat risky second day of the draft.

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