This week we'll take a look at the potential positives and negatives of the Steelers' draft picks. Today, a look at Rounds 1 -3:
G / C Maurkice Pouncey, 6'4 / 304 lbs, University of Florida, Round 1 (18th overall)
With Pouncey, the Steelers got a player who can and likely will help them in 2010. It's rare for a player to start in his rookie season, but there is precedent at this position with Alan Faneca starting 12 games in 1998 as a rookie (with injuries to Will Wolford and Jim Sweeney accelerating that need). Expect Pouncey to be the Steelers starting right guard by Week 5, with the potential to play center down the road (Justin Hartwig is signed through 2012).
Pouncey has big-school experience with 40 starts at the University of Florida, and his stats are impeccable: over his last 1,793 snaps he allowed one quarterback sack and was penalized only twice. In 2009, he did not allow a QB sack or pressure, nor was he penalized on 919 snaps.
He appears to have an upbeat attitude, intelligence, strength, athleticism for a big man, and he has the experience to shotgun snap as well as play with a QB under center. At only 20 years of age, he also has room to improve in all areas and at multiple positions.
The Steelers were interested in a few of the interior offensive line prospects from last year's draft (Alex Mack, Eric Wood) but they were off the board before the Steelers picked at #32 in 2009. Former NFL GM Charley Casserly said recently on NFL Network that he doesn't believe Pouncey will be as good as either of those players from last year. If that's the case, the Steelers may well have reached for a player at #18. If he's viewed as a guard, Pouncey is the first one to be drafted as high as 18th since the Eagles took Shaun Andrews in 2004. No center has been taken in the top 20 this century.
And, the Steelers passed on some notable talents including the top receiver Dez Bryant and some elite cornerbacks in Kareem Jackson and Kyle Wilson. Yes, they eventually traded for Bryant McFadden, but if Jackson becomes Darrelle Revis then the Steelers indeed will be second guessing this decision.
Pouncey also had shoulder surgery to repair a labrum issue in May of 2009, something to remember at a position that requires a ton of pounding.
OLB Jason Worilds, 6'2 / 262 lbs, Virginia Tech, Round 2 (20th pick of round)
The Steelers certainly had a need for depth at outside linebacker. Previously, if either James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley were injured, the team's response was to move Lawrence Timmons to the outside to fill in. That's weakening yourself at two spots. Now, Timmons stays put inside and Worilds has time to develop while giving a Beamer-Ball special teams effort on coverage and block units. There is no urgency for Worilds to step into Dick Lebeau's defense in year 1, and he most assuredly will not.
The bottom line will be seen in whether or not Worilds can get to the QB when he finally does get his shot. He had 15.5 sacks over 41 games with the Hokies as their defensive end, with 34.5 tackles for losses and 75 pressures. In 2008, his breakout season, he had 8 sacks and 18.5 TFL, causing four fumbles.
If Worilds can make the conversion from DE to a stand-up OLB, he brings run-stopping ability to the position, too. At Va Tech, in 117 run plays, he held opponents to 44 yards or an average of 0.38 yards per attempt.
Worilds is a decorated gym guy, earning Va Tech's strength and conditioning award. He appears to have the proverbial high motor and attitude to develop his skills.
As always, part of the potential negatives come with the players that were passed over. Notre Dame WR Golden Tate looked like a Hines Ward heir apparent, and Penn State and Upper St. Clair ILB Sean Lee looked like a James Farrior of the future. Both were on the board when Worilds was selected.
Drafting defensive ends and turning these "hybrid" players to 3-4 OLBs is always a difficult evaluation. Bruce Davis and Alonzo Jackson are recent failures of the Steelers to achieve this, while Woodley was a huge success at doing so. Can Worilds turn, flip his hips, and run with backs, ends, and receivers? Is he fast enough to beat offensive tackles off the edge? Only time in the NFL will tell.
Also of concern, Worilds' production dropped from 2008 to 2009 down to just 4 sacks his junior season. By all accounts he received more attention from opposing offenses and double teams, but things will get tough in the NFL, too.
Gone are the days where the Steelers can take a chance on a player like this in the late rounds of the draft. With 13 NFL teams playing the 3-4 these days, it's becoming a 2nd round risk pick to find pass rushers and the Steelers are forced to gamble here with Worilds.
Speed and quickness. He ran a 4.41 at the combine and said he ran a 4.36 once. He's elusive and quick off the snap, which nabbed him 98 catches in 2009 with Southern Methodist in their run-and-shoot offense. He also returned punts (13.8 yards per return last year), and averaged 125 all-purpose yards per game.
He's an athlete, a former four-sport letterman in high school who could dunk a basketball at just 5'11 (a 39.5 inch vertical jump). He finished in the top five of all receivers at the NFL combine in the vert, 40, broad jump, and three-cone drills. He has the look of a nice slot man / return man early in his NFL career.
I also think drafting a great athlete to replace Santonio Holmes was important. When the Steelers decided to keep Ben Roethlisberger, they kept an offense where plays often extend for several seconds. This team needs wideouts who can run, run, and run some more, and for 60 minutes.
Ball security could be an issue as he had 3 fumbles in 2009. Height is also a concern for a team that doesn't have an established big man at WR. Playing in Conference USA and in a spread offense makes the projection of Sanders tricky, as well.
Is he physical enough to handle press coverage in the NFL? And what about the other receivers the Steelers took him over, including Eric Decker of Minnesota, Jordan Shipley of Texas, Mardy Gilyard of Cincy, and Taylor Price of Ohio. If they wanted a receiver in Round 2 they passed on Tate, LSU's Brandon LaFell, and Damian Williams of USC.
Other names passed on here by the Steelers included Navorro Bowman of PSU, CB Brandon Ghee of Wake Forest, OT Bruce Campbell of Maryland, and RB Joe McKnight of USC.
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