Steelers insider: No need for Steelers to rush to draft RB
The Steelers' draft-day need for a reliable, consistent and hard-to-tackle running back might be greater than at any time in the past 20 years, yet the nation's very first NFL draftnik thinks the worst thing they could do would be to target a runner on the first day of the draft April 25.
To Mel Kiper Jr., who launched a cottage industry in the late 1970s with his NFL Draft analysis handbook and, later, his ESPN on-air work, the Steelers shouldn't rush to acquire a running back even as they come off their second-worst rushing season in 40 years.
“I'd say every year — I've been saying it for 35 years — you can find running backs at any point in the draft,” Kiper said. “I would never draft a running back in the first round. … It's one position where you can be just as good as a rookie as you'll ever be at any point down the road in your career, even if you come out as a junior.”
To validate his philosophy, Kiper reeled off the names of a half-dozen current NFL backs who were low-round or no-round draft choices, including Alfred Morris, a sixth-round Redskins pick who ran for 1,613 yards as a rookie last season.
Kiper believes there are a number of backs who will be available in the lower rounds who could reinvigorate the Steelers' running game, mentioning Christine Michael, the Texas A&M runner who visited the Steelers last week; Kerwynn Williams of Utah State; Mike James of Miami (Fla.); Cierre Wood of Notre Dame and George Winn of Cincinnati.
“I think there's a ton of backs that you could say could fall into that category of being that sixth-round steal,” he said.
The Steelers generally follow the same path espoused by Kiper; the only running back they've drafted in the first round since 1989 was Rashard Mendenhall in 2008. He wasn't exactly a bust despite his poor final season for them; he was twice a 1,000-yard back and helped run them into the Super Bowl during the 2010 season.
The Steelers twice successfully reinvented themselves by picking up a running back on the first day of the day: in 1972 by drafting Franco Harris and in 1996 by trading for Jerome Bettis. Not coincidentally, Harris and Bettis are the Nos. 1 and 2 rushers, respectively, in franchise history.
And when they've relied upon the strategy of picking up a serviceable running back in a later round, it hasn't worked well. Many of the 17 running backs (including fullbacks) the Steelers drafted from 1992 (the start of the Bill Cowher era) to 2012 were washouts, and every one was acquired from the third round on.
Those 17 backs totaled 6,007 yards rushing — an average of 353 yards per season. The most prolific was Amos Zereoue, a third-rounder in 1999 who rushed for 1,698 yards in five seasons, even if it can be argued that Bettis would have picked up most of those yards or even more had he been left on the field.
The only runner who came in and made anything resembling an impact was Bam Morris, a third-rounder in 1994 who started 10 games and ran for 1,395 yards in two seasons before running into off-field issues. None of the other 17 ran for even 800 yards during his Steelers career, although Jonathan Dwyer (774 yards in three seasons) could soon achieve that.
Seven of the 17 never carried the ball a single time for the Steelers — remember Frank “The Tank” Sanders? Carlos King? Cedric Humes?
Willie Parker was the steal of a lifetime, but he wasn't drafted at all. The Steelers signed him in 2004 as a non-drafted free agent, and he went on to rush for 5,378 yards in six seasons.
So while the recent track record of NFL teams shows there are plenty of yards waiting to be drafted outside of the first round, the Steelers might want to remember that sometimes there's safety in numbers.
Major League Baseball teams have never been worth more.
Based on Forbes Magazine's annual evaluation, the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox and Cubs are valued at more than $1 billion each. The Yankees' worth is pegged at $2.3 billion, and the Dodgers are valued at $1.6 billion. Even the Pirates, at $479 million, are estimated to be worth 43 percent more than a year ago, and they rank only 27th among the 30 franchises.
Despite this rapid growth, NFL teams are judged to be worth more. Forbes estimated last fall that 23 of the 32 teams were worth more than or just about $1 billion, while even the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars are worth $770 million, or more than all than seven MLB teams. And for all of their history, much of it inglorious, the Cubs ($1 billion) aren't judged to be worth as much as the Steelers ($1.1 billion), even though they play 10 times more games per season in a market many times bigger than Pittsburgh.
The bottom line? There's a ton of money to be made in baseball, but the real money folks are occupying those private boxes every Sunday in the fall.
More hors d'oeuvres, please?
In only a few years, every NFL game might be available on TV — at a cost, of course — without a fan needing to install a satellite dish.
DirecTV executives said recently they are considering allowing their exclusive rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket package to lapse when the current $1 billion deal expires in 2015. If that happens, DirecTV might simply sell the package.
DirecTV has heavily marketed its Sunday Ticket exclusivity and used it to acquire new subscribers, who are often given the package for free for the first season in which they pay for the service. But with rights fees increasing substantially with every renegotiation, DirecTV might reach the same conclusion that some fans do: A Sunday ticket simply costs too much.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter arobinson_Trib.