Sunday, April 27, 2008

Steelers: First impressions of Pittsburgh's first- and second-round picks

Guest commentary by Nick Beckwith:

Since the NFL free agency system was instituted the NFL mantra of drafting “the best player available” has been largely a myth. After losing a key player teams almost reflexively draft a college player at the same position, regardless of whether the new player’s talent warrants the spot he is being taken. This is not to suggest that need should not be part of the scouting calculus, it must be. But in recent years it had begun to overwhelm all other considerations. Last year veteran NFL personnel man and former GM Floyd Reese, noting teams’ tendency to “reach” for positions of need lamented “the lost art of scouting.” Yesterday the Pittsburgh Steelers rediscovered that art. And they did it under what must have been trying circumstances.

Round 1
The Steelers' two greatest positions of need were on the lines – offensive and defensive. Offensive line looked like the position to take, with five prospects worthy of the first round ... and certainly five offensive lineman would not be selected before the Steelers picked at number 23. Five weren’t – six were, with another going later in the round. Rather than panic and select an offensive lineman of insufficient talent just to fill a need, the Steelers turned this near crisis into an opportunity. They drafted Rashard Mendenhall and came away with one of the best bargains of the first round.

Round 2
If Mendenhall was a bargain, Limas Sweed was an absolute steal. This is an extraordinary value pick. Despite missing most of his senior season with a wrist injury, some analysts still considered him the best overall wide receiver in the entire draft. And refreshingly, he is not a diva. Think Hines Ward and Marvin Harrison, not Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson.

It is hard to see how the Steelers could have done better yesterday; they skillfully turned a draft that was breaking against them to their favor.

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