Harris: Steelers likely will seek value

| Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The memory still lingers from two years ago, when the Steelers bypassed other positions of need in the NFL Draft to select defensive end Ziggy Hood with the No. 32 — and final — pick in the first round.

Why take Hood with linebackers James Laurinaitis and Rey Maualuga, cornerback Alphonso Smith, tackle Eben Britton and center Max Unger still available?

We all know the spiel by now: The Steelers spend their draft dollars wisely. They don't yield to public opinion, and they don't believe in paying first-round money to a player who doesn't have a first-round draft grade.

The Steelers drafted Hood in the first round because he filled a need, and his grade justified their selection.

Two drafts later, expect the Steelers to follow the same blueprint with their first-round pick April 28.

"The Steelers want a kid from Macy's while shopping at Wal-Mart," said Dave-Te' Thomas, director of operations for Scouting Services Inc., a company used by 27 of the NFL's 32 teams. "If they can get good value on a first-round pick, they'll do it. If they don't find good value on the board, they won't hesitate to trade their first-round pick for a couple of picks."

Nearly everybody wants the Steelers to draft a cornerback in the first round next week. They probably won't.

They need cornerbacks, sure (emphasis on the plural). But when was the last time a rookie cornerback started for the Steelers?

The answer is Chad Scott, in 1997.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's schemes are too complicated to absorb in only one year. It takes time and patience for Steelers cornerbacks to learn the game — and for their coaches to feel comfortable enough to play them.

Complicating matters for the Steelers is this year's cornerback class isn't strong at the top of the draft. According to Scouting Services Inc., two cornerbacks have first-round grades — LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara.

"Unless something happens and the Steelers are able to move up in the draft for Amukamara or end up with Peterson, you're better off waiting because none of the other cornerbacks are worthy of a first-round pick," Thomas said. "If you do go for a cornerback in the first round (such as Texas' Aaron Williams or Miami's Brandon Harris), you're going to end up taking a second- or third-round guy with a first-round pick."

So, if the Steelers plan to spend their draft dollars wisely, they're unlikely to select a cornerback in the first round.

Speaking with reporters at last month's owners meetings in New Orleans, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin minimized the importance of selecting cornerbacks early in the draft.

"Defensively, it starts up front," Tomlin said. "You look at how players are drafted, and it bears that out. Big people go first.

"If you're applying pressure to the quarterback, you don't have to cover. If you're stopping the run, you don't have to cover."

The Steelers haven't selected a cornerback in the first round in their past 13 drafts. During that span, they've drafted three wide receivers, two guards, two defensive tackles, one quarterback, one running back, one safety, one center, one tight end and one linebacker.

The Steelers haven't drafted a tackle in the first round since 1996, and they haven't selected a tackle in the second round since 2000.

Tackle is one of the team's biggest needs. Willie Colon is a free agent who missed last season because of an Achilles injury. Max Starks missed most of last season with a neck injury. And Flozell Adams turns 36 next month.

There are several players at positions of need with first-round grades who could fall to the Steelers at No. 31.

Ranked by grade, according to Scouting Services. Inc., they include Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod, Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, Baylor guard Danny Watkins, Temple defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson and Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward.

"People continue to say the Steelers are going for a cornerback in the first round. Where• Find me one after Peterson and Amukamara you want to take," Thomas said. "They have to go offensive line in the first round. ... If you can get value, you've got to go for value."

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