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Robinson: Steelers' draft grades well ... for now

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 11:45 p.m.

Judging which team earned an A grade or an F grade for the NFL Draft immediately after it occurs is much like trying to predict a World Series winner right after spring training.

You know what you just saw, but you don't what it really means. Yet.

For every Peyton Manning, there is a Ryan Leaf. A John Hannah is canceled out by a Tony Mandarich. A Dan Marino falls inexplicably and people still wonder why 30 years later; a Huey Richardson moves up the board and gets drafted in the first round and, 20-plus years later, the fans in Pittsburgh still wonder why.

The Steelers' draft of 2013 illustrates why post-draft analysis is nebulous at best and baffling at worst, and is a perfect example of why a truly accurate post-mortem can't be done for years.

The Steelers' 2008 draft is evidence. The Rashard Mendenhall-led class was largely praised at the time but, five years later, gets a D-minus at best and avoids an F only because Mendenhall twice ran for 1,000 yards.

This draft appeared to address most of the Steelers' primary weaknesses, almost in order, from outside linebacker (Jarvis Jones) to running back (Le'veon Bell) to wide receiver (Markus Wheaton) to safety (Shamarko Thomas).

Jones, easily the best pass rusher in major college football, looks to be a perfect fit. Bell will be judged, in part, on how he performs compared to Eddie Lacy, whom the Steelers could have drafted but didn't. Wheaton looks to be a third-round steal whose skills match perfectly with Todd Haley's offense; Thomas might have gone higher if he hadn't had a couple of concussions last season.

And what if Landry Jones turns out to be not just a younger backup to Ben Roethlisberger, but one to whom the offense can be trusted should the now-in-his-30s starter get injured? And what if linebacker Vince Williams' Senior Bowl performance is indicative of what his NFL career will be?

Then again, what if some or all of the above turn out to be the next Limas Sweed, the next Bruce Davis, the next Tony Hills?

Pro Football Outsiders did an interesting breakdown of the post-draft analysis from national outlets such as ESPN, CBS Sports, the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo! and USA Today. It revealed a great disparity in grades; the Steelers got a solid A from the Sporting News but only a C from Yahoo.

Overall, the Steelers ranked 10th but still trailed two AFC North rivals that drafted after them; the Bengals (No. 2) and Ravens (No. 3). The 49ers were judged to have the best draft, yet even they received a couple of Bs.

Of course, one way to judge a draft isn't just by what a team added, but by what it didn't add.

The Jaguars graded out a very good No. 8, yet Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne are 1-2 on the quarterback depth chart — and that doesn't suggest a quantum leap forward from last season's 2-14 record.

The Falcons still badly need an offensive tackle. So do the Lions. The Saints are in dire need of an outside linebacker. The Jets still need to trim a couple of quarterbacks from the five they're still carrying even after shedding Tim Tebow.

(Factoid: Tebow completed all of six passes last season, or four fewer than he completed against the Steelers in the playoffs the preceding season.) The Jets, already burdened by Mark Sanchez's inaccuracy and the Tebow mess from last season, added yet another potential huge distraction in Geno Smith, who is seen by some as a underappreciated star in waiting but by others as a skill-deficient and badly overrated draft bust who will only bring more chaos to a team that could use a lot less.

Oh, and the Raiders, who lost both of their defensive tackles since the season ended? They passed up Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd to take cornerback D.J. Hayden, who was No. 12 overall on nobody's draft board.

Class of 2014 watch

With the draft over, perhaps it's time to look ahead to ... the NFL Draft 2014?

Much could change, of course, but the Steelers almost certainly will need an inside linebacker, a wide receiver (especially if Emmanuel Sanders leaves) and a defensive lineman.

So who might be on the board when they draft? Here's a few names to remember during the still-far-off season:

• UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, who is 6-foot-4, 235 pounds and equally adept against the run and the pass.

• Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosely, who decided to stay in school for one more season even though he could have a been a first-rounder.

• Texas defensive lineman Aaron Lynch, who had 5 12 sacks as a freshman at Notre Dame before transferring.

• Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans, a rising sophomore who helped turn Johnny Manziel into the Heisman Trophy winner.

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

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