Starkey: Steelers should take wide receiver
By Joe Starkey
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 10:12 p.m.
As the 366-day-a-year NFL news cycle winds through Indianapolis via the scouting combine this week, thoughts invariably turn to one of two topics:
• Who should the Steelers draft?
• Will sociologists look back on the combine's consistently boffo TV ratings as evidence of the decay of Western civilization?
The second one's easy: Yes. The first is infinitely more challenging. It came up in conversation the other day when somebody suggested the Steelers take a receiver with the 15th pick. I laughed.
How could a team dying on defense even think about a receiver?
But the more you analyze the state of the franchise, the more it makes sense. I'm firmly on board. Take the receiver. If the offense is the better unit, fortify it. Strengthen your strength. Outscore people.
What's the point of taking a defensive player in the first round anyway? He'll need nine years to learn Dick LeBeau's system. Take the receiver.
If the Steelers are going to win next season, they're going to do it by way of an explosive offense that might be missing only one ingredient: a large, athletic, 21st century, jump ball-winning red-zone magnet.
Strengthen your strength. Don't try to fill one hole on a leak-ridden defense. Use temporary patches there.
Need a free safety? Sign Louis Delmas and his bad knee. He played through it last year. Need a corner? Find one cheap. Ask Ike Taylor to take a radical pay cut. Need one-year fill-ins? Bring back Brett Keisel and Larry Foote. Take a slew of defenders later in a draft some are labeling among the deepest ever.
It's the offense's turn to carry the franchise. The defense did it through most of a decade-long window of opportunity that slammed shut about two years ago. Ben Roethlisberger & Co. can open it again. Give the quarterback the kind of weapon he always has lacked — and I don't count Plaxico Burress, a 6-foot-6 first-rounder who played like he was 5-8 in his early years. (Did Plax ever win a jump ball? The Steelers would have been better off with a possession arrow.)
Strengthen your strength. If the offense is going to do the heavy lifting, give it another set of broad shoulders. This team needs a beast. Beasts are on the board. They should be, anyway, at No. 15.
Texas A&M's Mike Evans (6-5, 225 pounds) and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 234) are names that stand out. I don't pretend to be able to trace their route trees, and I certainly won't draw conclusions based on what they look like running around in shorts. But I love what I saw in college.
Evans seems to have that Anquan Boldin quality of “If it's near me, I will catch it.” Benjamin was a human mismatch at FSU, with a penchant for clutch plays. Both lack raw speed. The Steelers don't need raw speed. If they want to go smaller and still find a big-time playmaker at the position, USC's Marqise Lee might be available. He has risen to No. 2 on several draftnik boards, behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins, who only would be available to the Steelers via trading up.
Think about what already returns from a unit that took on the look of a real point-producing NFL offense late in the season:
• A franchise quarterback who responded wonderfully to increased responsibility. Roethlisberger played the kind of quick-release, heady football his bosses envisioned when they hired Todd Haley — the kind of football they believe will keep him upright well into his 30s.
• A potential franchise running back in Le'Veon Bell.
• A clear No. 1 receiver in Antonio Brown.
• A presumably healthy, high-quality tight end in Heath Miller.
• A presumably healthy Pro Bowl center in Maurkice Pouncey and an emerging star guard in David DeCastro.
The tackle spots could be an issue, but if Mike Munchak is the miracle worker he has been portrayed as, maybe he'll top the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and turn Mike Adams into an adequate pass blocker.
Or maybe scrappy Kelvin Beachum is the answer on Ben's blind side, and maybe Adams or Marcus Gilbert will provide just enough on the right.
I'm sure everyone would love to see a return to dominant defense. It's not going to happen next season. Respectability is the more realistic goal.
In the meantime, there's no rule that says you can't outscore teams. This offense seems poised to do just that. It needs one more piece.
Take the receiver.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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