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Steelers' pick could be obvious

| Thursday, April 26, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
FILE - This Feb. 27, 2012 file photo shows Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower running a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. Hightower is the most surprising of Alabama's five expected first-round picks. His stock seems to have improved significantly after a solid performance in the BCS championship game and strong pre-draft workouts. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

Needs is one of the NFL Draft buzzwords, and it will be said countless times during the made-for-TV extravaganza that starts tonight. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert prefers the term “wants,” but however he frames it, nothing would help the Steelers more than if Colbert is able to turn back the clock.

Ten years ago Colbert presided over the kind of draft every team is tries to pull off, as it provided immediate dividends and ones that are still paying off.

First-round pick Kendall Simmons started as a rookie at right guard and later helped the Steelers win a Super Bowl.

Second-rounder Antwaan Randle El, a receiver, return man and the NFL's equivalent of Inspector Gadget, threw the only touchdown pass in Super Bowl XL.

Third-round pick Chris Hope played free safety at a high level before leaving for big money after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL. Fourth-rounder Larry Foote started on two Super Bowl-winning teams and is slated to take over for James Farrior this season at left inside linebacker.

The Steelers made one of their greatest finds at the end of the draft when they took defensive end Brett Keisel in the seventh round with the 242nd pick. Keisel, entering his seventh season as a starter, has been a core player on teams that played in three Super Bowls and won two.

The Steelers could use the kind of drafting skill and serendipity that dovetailed 10 years ago over the next three days.

They have needs and wants on both lines. Farrior's release and Foote's age translate into short- and long-term questions at inside linebacker. And you can never have enough pass rushers (read: outside linebackers) for Dick LeBeau's blitz-centric defense.

The same can be said for cornerbacks in a pass-happy NFL, and starting safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark have played 19 seasons between them, making reinforcements a priority sooner than later.

If the Steelers can go a number of ways with their first-round pick, No. 24 overall, the same can be said for what will happen in front of them.

“I guess there's less easy picks this year than in a lot of years,” Colbert said.

The one the Steelers should make, assuming he is available, looks obvious. Maybe too obvious.

But Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower appears to be the right player at the right time. The 6-foot-2, 265-pounder did a good Farrior imitation at Alabama, serving as a leader and playmaker on a star-studded defense.

Hightower, the Crimson Tide's leading tackler in 2011, is stout against the run and versatile enough to play outside and rush the passer. A left knee injury cost Hightower his sophomore campaign, but it didn't appear to be an issue in 2011, particularly in the second half of the season.

If his knee checked out medically and another team hasn't taken him earlier, Hightower is the pick for the Steelers.

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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