Robinson: Steelers have no room for error in '13 draft

Alabama's Eddie Lacy runs for a touchdown against Notre Dame Fighting in the first quarter of the BCS title game on Jan. 7, 2013, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Alabama's Eddie Lacy runs for a touchdown against Notre Dame Fighting in the first quarter of the BCS title game on Jan. 7, 2013, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Photo by Getty Images
| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 9:38 p.m.


Eddie Lacy might be everything the Steelers want in a running back. Powerful enough. Fast enough, Maybe even big enough — he's somewhat reminiscent of an in-his-prime Barry Foster.

Even if, as the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Lacy acknowledges with a remorseful look that says he's been enjoying mama's cooking since the season ended, “A pound or three” overweight.

It hasn't affected his elusiveness.

As the Alabama star ended his NFL Scouting Combine news conference, the No. 1 running back on the draft board sidestepped questions about the Steelers' interest in him. He wouldn't mind playing in a Ben Roethlisberger-led offense but, then again, he said, “I wouldn't mind playing in anyone's offense.”

He dodged all the pertinent questions as easily as he shed Notre Dame's defenders.

“I'm good at avoiding,” he said, laughing, as an NFL-appointed handler escorted him away from the few reporters still trailing him.

In a few short weeks, the Steelers might not be able to avoid drafting a running back — and maybe very, very early in the draft. If they decide that a running back is their No. 1 priority, they might not be able to avoid drafting Lacy.

The April 25-27 draft is shaping up to be the most difficult to handicap in years regarding the Steelers, if only because they have across-the-board needs: A running back, a backup quarterback, more help on the offensive line, a deep-threat wide receiver, a pass rusher, inside and outside linebackers who can play soon, another safety who might soon replace aging Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.

The list is too long to be addressed in a single draft, or in one free-agent class, by a team with precious little wiggle room financially.

So is this their most important draft since perhaps the start of the Bill Cowher era more than 20 years ago? Quite likely, it is.

General manager Kevin Colbert won't begin to call this a rebuilding or retooling mode; he and the Steelers are gambling their 8-8 record in 2012 was an injury- and adversity-fueled anomaly that won't repeat itself in 2013.

Regardless, they simply cannot miss in this draft. It might determine whether the Steelers remain the Steelers, or whether they begin an uncharacteristic but unavoidable backslide that occurred because they simply didn't replace all the stars who finally became too old, too unproductive, too undependable.

They need a game-changing player or two, not just a complementary piece here and there, and that's what Lacy could be.

While it helped he played for the nation's 33rd-best football team (and, given the state of the Raiders, maybe the 32nd), Lacy could be a force in the NFL. He ran for 1,322 yards, a 6.5 average and 17 touchdowns in the nation's toughest college conference, and he tore up Notre Dame in the BCS title game. He could be just what the Steelers need to re-energize a running game badly in need of a back who causes worry to opposing defensive coordinators.

“If I hadn't done so good (running for 140 yards and a TD against Notre Dame), I don't know if I'd be in the position I'm in,” Lacy said.

And if the Steelers had drafted better, their running game might not be in its current crisis state.

Lacy might be one of multiple good options for the Steelers on the night of April 25. Some others as the NFL Scouting Combine winds down and all the information gathered during America's only nationally televised job interview is evaluated:

• Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee. Virtually no one knew about him a year ago, after he transferred from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College. But he quickly developed into a deep-threat receiver who could prove to be the natural replacement for Mike Wallace. He's also a kick returner, which might be a bonus for a team that recently shed Chris Rainey. He has great speed but lacks experience and polish, something new wide receivers coach Richard Mann could supply. Asked to identify his three biggest assets, he said, “Speed. Catching. Scoring.” Can't ask for much more than that.

• Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia. Looking for James Harrison's replacement? He might be the guy. Jones had 14 12 sacks last season, and he might be a top-five pick if it weren't for a spinal issue that has some teams concerned.

• Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia. A DUI raised doubts about his judgment. There's no doubt he can play. It's a slip-up that could cause him to slip to the Steelers.

• Xavier Rhodes, DB, Florida State. If the Steelers can't re-sign Keenan Lewis, this position takes on a much-higher priority.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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