Kovacevic: Steelers better be right this time
TribLIVE Sports Videos
They'd better be right.
To put it kindly, the Steelers' brass hasn't earned the benefit of anyone's doubt over the past half-decade's worth of evaluating college talent. So when their turn came Thursday night in the NFL Draft at No. 15 overall, and pretty much the entirety of the football world anticipated a cornerback — the franchise's greatest need by such a margin that there's no real runner-up — the name called was that of … an inside linebacker: Ohio State's Ryan Shazier.
As Mike Tomlin would say, obviously.
And as Tomlin and Kevin Colbert actually did say moments after making the pick at the Steelers' South Side HQ, if anyone thought they'd set out to fill a specific need, then think again.
“You have to put blinders on the ‘need' word,” Colbert said. “What we needed was a defensive playmaker. And he's a defensive playmaker.”
I asked both men if the glaring need at corner — Ike Taylor is 34, and he and Cortez Allen are coming off rough seasons — ever entered into their decision.
Colbert: “Ryan Shazier was someone we valued very highly. We're well aware of who we have on our team. But when we can add a player of quality, it'll override the need anytime.”
Tomlin: “This is a highly productive guy, with about 150 tackles this past season at Ohio State. This guy's going to make a lot of football plays for us all over the field.”
Those are all fair points, if isolated. But a 53-man roster is never built in isolation, least of all one coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons.
Look, I won't doubt a syllable of what the Steelers say about Shazier, even if another inside linebacker, Alabama's C.J. Mosely, had been higher on most draft boards yet went two picks later to the Ravens. Shazier was an absolute beast for the Buckeyes, leading them in tackles the past two years, including a ridiculous 143 in 2013. He's a bit undersized at 6-1, 237, but Lawrence Timmons is 6-1, 234. Patrick Willis, the 49ers' standard-bearer at the position, is 6-1, 240. Besides, as Tomlin stressed, his greatest assets are his “rare air” speed — some scouts had him timed at 4.38 in the 40 — and a “football hunger.”
It sounds wonderful. If Shazier plays mack to Timmons' buck, the Steelers could be set at inside linebacker for years, coupled with maybe being set on the outside with Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones.
All that, plus Shazier comes with a clean record, a psychology major and, for what the snapshot was worth, came across as a pretty cool customer in his brief conference call Thursday: “I know that the Pittsburgh Steelers are known for defense. I know Dick LeBeau's been there for a long time. I couldn't be happier.”
But I'll say it again: They'd better be right. And not just because their pick will be measured head-to-head against the Ravens for the foreseeable future.
Darqueze Dennard, the Michigan State corner many had lined up with the Steelers and who some projected for the overall top 10, was there to be taken. He was passed and went 24th to the Bengals, so we'll watch that play out head-to-head, as well.
Calvin Pryor, the Louisville safety who was the best at his position and another position of need, was passed.
For that matter, a slew of gifted wide receivers, any of whom could have lifted Ben Roethlisberger's offense to another level, all were passed.
Sure, those can still be addressed over the eight picks coming these next couple of days. Corner, in particular, almost must be addressed in the second round, in large part because it lacks depth in this draft.
Moreover, time will tell on the 2010-13 classes. Worilds and Cam Heyward reminded us all last season of the benefits of patience. David DeCastro and Le'Veon Bell could be outstanding. Jones is about to get his chance. And let's not overlook that Antonio Brown is already one of the best sixth-rounders in team history.
Even so, the potential for those classes doesn't exactly feel overwhelming at this stage, and that remains deeply unsettling. A franchise founded on the three principles of draft, develop and extend can't succeed without getting the first of those right. It doesn't take a Mel Kiper to see that the 2008 and 2009 draft classes going poof led directly to these 8-8 seasons, not to mention the blown-up cap and unprecedented run of free agent signings this offseason.
If that doesn't change imminently, new people should be entrusted with the drafting. For all we know, the Steelers have passed that point already.
No pressure, kid.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pitt to play Notre Dame 5 times over next 11 seasons
- Tomlin: Possible Steelers midseason surge won’t come easy vs. Colts
- Moon Area school district eyes solar energy
- 7 in custody after New Kensington drug raid
- Amid struggles, top fiscal executive to leave EDMC
- Judge makes August Wilson center sale official
- Grant to help CMU spinoff start production
- Rossi: Steelers’ season all about going big
- Turnpike accident kills 1
- Hundreds mourn Pittsburgh trash collector killed by gunfire
- Rookie Bryant sparks deep passing game for Steelers in victory