Steelers must work to make most of top pick in draft

| Saturday, Feb. 24, 2007

Like finding a needle in a haystack.

Somewhere, among the 300-plus college players attending the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, is the Steelers' first-round draft pick.

That much we do know. Along with what we don't know.

In fact, what we don't know right now is more than what we do know.

We do know the Steelers need help at several positions, mostly on defense.

A fire-breathing, pass-rushing defensive end such Clemson's Gaines Adams or Arkansas' Jamaal Anderson would be nice, but both will be gone before the Steelers select with the 15th pick. If the Steelers want to draft a defensive end in the first round, they might have to dip down in the talent pool for Florida's Jarvis Brown or Nebraska's Adam Carriker.

But since the Steelers don't often draft so high in the first round, they shouldn't reach for a player to fill a specific need, especially when they have other needs, and there are enough quality players in the draft who can address those needs.

If the Steelers don't select a defensive end in the first round, their next best option might be to take an athletic outside linebacker who can pressure the quarterback, drop into coverage and stuff the run. In other words, a smaller but more talented version of those top-of-the-line defensive ends who will be off the board at No. 15.

Make no mistake, the top-rated defensive ends will be taken before the best outside linebackers in this year's draft. That could result in the Steelers choosing between Florida State's Lawrence Timmons and Penn State's Paul Posluszny.

Both players' 40 times at the Combine will be monitored closely. Timmons, who has a greater upside than Posluszny, is generally considered to be the top outside linebacker in the draft. Posluszny may be the more cerebral player, but Timmons' big-play potential and Florida State's recent reputation for producing NFL linebackers makes him more valuable and more attractive to the Steelers.

The Steelers have other first-round options, which include the offensive line, but the Steelers should draft a lineman only if mammoth Penn State tackle Levi Brown is available. Brown is a projected top-10 pick who would trump any defensive needs the Steelers may have.

Wide receiver is another first-round option for the Steelers. It is one of the deepest positions in the draft. That's good news for the Steelers, who are targeting a tall, big-play pass-catcher.

However, with the exception of Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson -- who will be long gone before the Steelers make their selection -- there isn't a receiver talented enough for the team to overlook a position of greater need. No matter. There will still be plenty of good receivers available in the second round.

Don't expect the Steelers to draft a cornerback like Pitt's Darrelle Revis in the first round. Taking Revis doesn't make sense for the financially prudent Steelers, who signed cornerback Ike Taylor to a long-term contract last year and are expected to re-sign Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu this offseason.

With Taylor and Polamalu in the fold, it's unlikely the Steelers will pay first-round money for a rookie cornerback coming to a team where rookie cornerbacks traditionally play very little. Not to mention the fact that it's a weak year for cornerbacks.

Besides, the Steelers need a defensive end or outside linebacker more than they need a cornerback, even if he is a local kid.

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