Mel Kiper says this is the most mysterious NFL draft he has ever seen.
Kiper has been covering and analyzing NFL drafts since the players wore leather helmets and no face masks, so I will take his word for it.
There will be zero intrigue when they start the clock Thursday night. The Jacksonville Jaguars won’t be able to get the card to the podium fast enough. That card will, of course, read QB Trevor Lawrence.
The intrigue could start with the second pick, but the Jets seem pretty locked in to BYU QB Zach Wilson.
Therefore, the intrigue starts at number three. The 49ers traded up, so they are clearly taking a quarterback. Although pairing Florida do it all tight end Kyle Pitts with George Kittle would be a very Kyle Shanahan thing to do. The leader in the clubhouse for the number three pick appears to be Alabama QB Mac Jones. Justin Fields may be better.
I personally like Jones. I like old school, stand in the pocket, and let it rip kinda guys. Jones is just that, and boy is he accurate.
If Fields is still available at four does Atlanta make him aging Matt Ryan’s heir apparent? Or do they draft Pitts, the best overall player in this draft?
The mystery starts early, and it may not end until Saturday evening when Mr. Irrelevant is chosen as the last pick.
Parson talks Parson drops
What about Penn State’s Micah Parson?
He has top five overall physical tools. Unfortunately every time he opens his mouth he shows he has a seventh round head. Parson could go as high as seven, where the mercurial Detroit Lions are selecting, or drop into the twenties. He won’t get past the Raiders at 17. The Raiders love characters. My guess is someone higher in the draft—maybe Dallas at ten or the Giants at eleven—will take a guy that should be quite productive if he just shuts up and plays.
Eagles like to draft receivers
Will the Eagles take another receiver to go with a quarterback they really aren’t sold on?
They may get their choice of Alabama receivers in Jaylen Waddle or Devonta Smith. Eventually they will select the correct receiver.
Maybe Philadelphia will finally announce they are clueless and pass on their pick so they can have more time to gather their thoughts.
Is there a man of steel that will make a difference in Pittsburgh?
Okay, enough about teams that don’t matter. What about the team with the broken down, past his prime quarterback.
*Free agency starts*
Bill Belichick: pic.twitter.com/c894vnuEnp
— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) March 15, 2021
No, no. Not you Bill. You no longer matter.
I’m talking about the playoff game losing, porous offensive line, no running back, brittle to the bone quarterback, standard is the standard preaching Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers have pick number 24, and it is fraught with mystery. Well, maybe not fraught but replete. Laden? Abounding with mystery? Well, it certainly has Steeler fans curious.
Running back. Offensive line.
I’ve written about it for a few weeks now. Last week I gave you Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s draft history. It ain’t all good, but it ain’t all that bad either. They seem to know what they are doing.
Last year I listed three names the Steelers should target, Michael Pittman, JK Dobbins, and Chase Claypool. They chose Claypool. I would have loved Pittman to fall to them, as he seems to have the same skill set but far less drama surrounding him. If Claypool keeps his focus on the field and just plays he will be another draft victory for Tomlin and Colbert.
I will be expecting my call from Kevin Colbert some time this week. Here is the advice I will give him.
Clearly by bringing back Ben Roethlisberger the organization is desperately clinging to the notion of being a Super Bowl contender. That means they must draft either an offensive lineman in the first round and hope to find a running back later in the draft, or draft Najee Harris in the first round and grab some offensive line help later in the draft.
I absolutely love Najee Harris. He reminds me of an upgraded Derrick Henry. Let’s remember, however, that Tennessee hasn’t won anything worth bragging about with Henry. I do think Art Rooney fancies an offensive attack more similar to what the Titans run. He seems to be yearning for the days of Franco, Barry Foster, The Bus, or heck, even Lev Bell.
But does new offensive coordinator Matt Canada share such a vision?
It is so very true that they must limit the exposure to hits their stationary, delicate quarterback endures. One way to do that is to turn and hand the ball to a guy like Harris 25 times a game. Bleed the clock. Grind it out. Rely on that stout defense.
Who is blocking for your new stud running back? Who are the road graders who will allow you to grind it out?
They have BJ Finney at center as of now. They let him walk last year, and the Bengals and Seahawks liked him so much he walked right back to Pittsburgh. David DeCastro looked old last year. Injuries and age are taking a toll on the All Pro. Zach Banner will be back, and the team seems high on him. Remember, Banner is more journeyman than Pro Bowler. Chuks Okorafor is back as well, along with Kevin Dotson. Both have shown promise, but will that promise be realized?
The Steelers have a couple of receivers—JuJu Smith Schuster and Claypool—who are very willing blockers. Can either play tight end? The Steelers don’t have one tight end that qualifies as a blocker.
Obviously, you can draft a running back. Tomlin loves to run star running backs to death. With that offensive line will there be anywhere for the back to go? More importantly, will Brittle Ben last half a season with a questionable front line?
The Steelers signed Tomlin for three more years(more on that in my Final Thought). Maybe they aren’t in win right now mode as much as we think. Sure, sending Ben out as a winner would be cool. Maybe, though, the Steelers and Tomlin are thinking more short term future than the immediate future.
Of course, finding the next quarterback will be the biggest determining factor of the short term.
For now, the Steelers draft appears to be down to a running back or an offensive lineman.
The NFL world we live in has de-emphasized the running back position.
Look at the Steelers roster. Are you telling me the Steelers, and new OC Matt Canada, aren’t going to utilize Dionte Johnson, JuJu Smith Schuster, Chase Claypool, James Washington, and even Eric “drops” Ebron?
So when Colbert checks in with me, I’m going to suggest drafting an offensive lineman. My choice right now would be Teven Jenkins. Jenkins out of Oklahoma State is known as a mauler, and the Steelers could use more of that.
The Steelers do need to grab a running back later in the draft. Maybe in round two Javonte Williams from North Carolina is available. It could be North Carolina teammate Michael Carter in the third round.
What none of us know is where the Steelers have certain guys on their board. We don’t know where they think certain players will be taken. Do they think they can get Najee Harris in round one and a guy like OL Liam Eichenberg from Notre Dame in round two. Or maybe OL Alex Leatherwood or center Landon Dickerson, both from Alabama, will be available in round two. Maybe they like a guy like center Josh Myers from Ohio State, who can be had a bit later in the draft.
We just don’t know. These are they mysteries we all try to unlock.
We watch which pro days the coaches attend. We look at their draft history. The Steelers do draft a lot of Buckeyes, if you think that means anything. These are the tea leaves we all try to read.
I won’t complain a bit if the Steelers grab Najee Harris in round one. I think he will be a star.
Taking an Alabama running back in the draft usually works out pretty well. Shaun Alexander had a storied career in Seattle at the start of the century. Derrick Henry is arguably the best running back in the NFL right now. Josh Jacobs would be in the group right behind him. Kenyan Drake is decent, as is Damien Harris in New England.
It is simply my personal opinion that the offensive line should be fixed first. It is what will improve the Steelers the most, not just this year, but for the next stretch of years.
It has been proven time and again that you can win without a big time running back. Tampa Bay won a Super Bowl with a guy many thought was washed up in Leonard Fournette. Kansas City won the Super Bowl two years ago with a hodgepodge of guys in the backfield.
No offensive line. No chance.
What I think the Steelers should do
Last year I gave three names the Steelers should target in round two. This year when Kevin Colbert comes calling, I will expand my thoughts.
In round one I would target these players, with my stated objective of finding offensive line help first:
- Teven Jenkins OL Oklahoma State
- Landon Dickerson C Alabama(if they are comfortable with his injury status)
- Najee Harris RB Alabama
Jenkins is a mauler and would start from day one. He would be a good pick and a safe pick.
Dickerson could be your next great center, which the Steelers love. Unfortunately he has suffered a plethora of injuries in his career. Some teams have supposedly even taken his name off their board. He would be a guy worth taking a chance on. If you could get him in round two that chance wouldn’t seem so risky.
As I already stated, I would be perfectly fine with the Steelers taking Harris.
Hey, maybe you get a Harris-Dickerson one-two punch in this draft. Who knows?
Later in the draft I would love to see the Steelers target the following players:
- CB Benjamin St. Juste Minnesota
- TE Hunter Long Boston College
- S Talanoa Hufanga USC
- WR Tyler Vaughns USC
- OL Alex Leatherwood Alabama
- C Creed Humphrey Oklahoma
- RB Javonte Williams North Carolina
- RB Michael Carter North Carolina
What I think the Steelers will do
I think the Steelers are taking Najee Harris at pick 24.
Travis Etienne and Javonte Williams are likely to be gone before the Steelers pick in round two. The running back prospects after that have holes. In some cases lots of holes.
Offensive line is a bit deeper, and the Steelers may still find help at that position in round two. That may even include Landon Dickerson.
I think this is the way the Steelers will go. They have become much more confusing to figure out, so stay tuned.
However it shakes out, the one position other than OL and RB that the Steelers really need to address is tight end. After that, secondary depth might be a nice thing to have.
The mystery surrounding much of this draft would make Sir Arthur Conan Doyle proud.
We are all just trying to play the role of Sherlock Holmes and unlock the clues. While I don’t have all of the answers, one thing seems clear.
What’s elementary my dear Watson is the Steelers have more needs than this draft can fill.
Two Cent Takes
~If you would have told me two months ago that the Pittsburgh Penguins would be leading the East Division with 7 games to go in the regular season, I would have called you crazy. Yet there they are, and have gotten there with one key injury after another.
~Mike Sullivan is coach of the year. Period.
~The acquisition of Jeff Carter has been a nice plus for the Pens.
~Can the people who keep saying Sidney Crosby isn’t as good as this guy or that guy please shut up.
With his goal today, Sidney Crosby joins Wayne Gretzky as the ONLY players in NHL history to average a point-per-game in each of their first 16 seasons in the #NHL.#LetsGoPens pic.twitter.com/XCKEhb3APs
— NHL on NBC Sports (@NHLonNBCSports) April 24, 2021
~You either love Fernando Tatis, Jr. or you hate him. I’m pretty sure there is no in between.
FERNANDO TATIS JR. CANNOT BE STOPPED.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 25, 2021
~One thing is for sure. Tatis is good for the game. Just ask the guy he showed up after hitting two home runs.
"I'm all for it. I think it's important that the game moves in that direction and we stop throwing at people because they celebrated having some success on the field." @BauerOutage on Fernando Tatis Jr.'s celebrations. pic.twitter.com/RdLMAWhQVD
— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) April 25, 2021
Trevor Bauer is also good for the game.
~How do you get an umpire to call the game for weather? Here’s an idea.
Lucas Sims was pitching in the freezing rain so he proceeded to throw out every ball the ump gave him… absolute legend 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/4qxaXl3oPv
— Kent (@RealKentMurphy) April 22, 2021
~If you saw anything better than this last week I don’t believe it.
This moment ❤️ pic.twitter.com/SWFj8Aikee
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 24, 2021
~Neil Walker retired this week. The Pittsburgh Kid did a lot to return his hometown team to respectability. Here is an idea. Put him in the TV booth, and for the love of Bob Prince, get rid of Michael McKenry.
~The Pittsburgh Pirates are 11-11, and I admit I am shocked. They have done so without Ke’Bryan Hayes, who is still on the IR. The bullpen has been great, Colin Moran is off to his best start, and Bryan Reynolds looks like he is back to his old self(or at least close).
~To put a little restraint on the Pirate jubilation, it is worth noting that there are a lot of not very good teams in Major League Baseball. There are currently 20 teams at .500 or worse. Of the teams that Pittsburgh has played, the Cubs, Reds, Tigers, and Twins are rotten. Just some perspective.
~Bryce Harper is hitting .338 with 6 HR and 10 RBI, yet the Phillies are 10-11. Again, Harper is great. He just will never justify that ridiculous contract unless he can win a World Series or two.
~Andrew McCutchen is 34, and it is showing. Since leaving Pittsburgh after the 2017 season, he hasn’t hit above .256 and actually had a negative WAR a year ago. He is the number one Pirate player of the last 25 years, but appears to be in a steady decline. My fantasy team(and Joe Girardi) is hoping he finds his former self.
~Need another reason to believe in Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton?
Florida State graduated TEN players on Saturday.
An incredible feat in a day and age where the importance of an education continues to be less valued.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) April 25, 2021
~The NFL voted to lift restrictions on numbers that each position is allowed to wear. Maybe for the first time, I agree with…*gulp*…Tom Brady.
I would like to speak to the manager please… https://t.co/482q4ysoia
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) April 22, 2021
~The NFL is also broadening instant replay for certain plays. Basically, the new provision will allow the replay official in the booth to consult with the referee on the field for more plays. Things like possession, reaching a yard marker, and down by contact are under the scope of what the replay official can rule on. The replay official has access to TV views of plays that the on field officials do not. This should be a good thing, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
~Thankfully the league did not consider the proposal to allow teams one play to make 15 yards rather than try an onside kick. They did tweak the onside kick rules ever so slightly. As I’ve been saying all along, the league acknowledged the onside kick should be difficult. The team that is ahead earned that status, so it shouldn’t be some 50/50 proposition.
A Penny For My Final Thought…
This past week the Pittsburgh Steelers extended Mike Tomlin’s contract for three years. He will be the Steelers coach through 2024, barring a disaster.
I guess I had this all wrong.
Two years ago, I wrote the Steelers season was Super Bowl or bust for Tomlin. At the time Tomlin had been great, but was on a run of playoff failures and underperformance considering the talent on the team.
From 2014 through 2017 the Steelers made the playoffs every year. Yet they only made the AFC Championship one time(2016), and in that game were humiliated by the New England Patriots. In 2017 the Steelers suffered an even more embarrassing playoff loss to Jacksonville.
I truly thought 2018 had to be a Super Bowl season for Tomlin. Making the playoffs is a worthy accomplishment, but never getting to the Super Bowl was not the standard.
In 2018 the Steelers not only didn’t get to the Super Bowl, but they didn’t even make the playoffs. All of that talent, and it just fizzled. AB, JuJu, a healthy James Conner, TJ Watt, Joe Haden, a great offensive line, and a Hall of Fame quarterback.
Tomlin indeed returned for 2019, and promptly did one of his best coaching jobs. With Ben Roethlisberger hurt for most of the season, and a combination of an overwhelmed Mason Rudolph and some guy named Duck taking all the snaps, Tomlin managed to get the team to 8-8.
In case you haven’t heard, Tomlin has never had a losing season.
Last year, as we all know, went from 11-0 to 12-4 in the blink of an eye. Feeling like they had righted the ship late in the season, the Steelers were feeling pretty confident heading into the playoffs against the hated Browns. A fumbled snap and four interceptions later, the Steelers slunk off the field as humiliated losers.
After losing the 2010 Super Bowl, the Steelers have gone through ten seasons of disappointment. All with a Hall of Fame quarterback. A potential Hall of Fame wide receiver. Pro Bowl offensive lineman. The point is that the Steelers weren’t exactly bereft of talent.
Looking forward, the Steelers are in a transitional period. Ben Roethlisberger, one would think, is in his final season. As stated in the main column, they are in need of more pieces than one draft can bring. There is still talent, and the Steelers don’t believe in rebuilding. Yet, it is hard to see this team as a Super Bowl contender. With a changing of the guard at quarterback coming, it is hard to see this team as a Super Bowl contender in the near future.
Thus, it seems like a weird time to extend the contract of a guy who has won all of three playoff games in ten years. Three wins with a Hall of Fame quarterback.
Some view Tomlin as lacking discipline. I’m not sure I buy that theory. This video shows how Tomlin deals with his players.
— BlitzburghUSAVideos (@sdextrasmedia) April 21, 2021
That is Markese Pouncey, too, not some special teamer.
No, I don’t think lack of discipline is a major issue. The team just hasn’t performed to a level commensurate with its talent level.
Look, if Bill Cowher is a Hall of Fame coach then I find it hard to believe Tomlin won’t be. Plus, he has many more years left to pad his resume.
Many fans have been hard on Tomlin. I gave him every benefit of the doubt up until 2018. Then he resurrected my confidence in him in 2019. After last season, that confidence drifted like a Jordan Berry shanked punt.
Again, it seems like a strange time to extend Tomlin’s contract.
I wrote about the “Steeler Way” a few weeks ago. Stability is a hallmark of the “Steeler Way”. I guess the question is what type of stability do you want.
Mike Tomlin has many interesting turns of phrases, but the most famous is, “The standard is the standard.”
For most of my life, the standard in Pittsburgh was Super Bowls.
Apparently the new standard is not having a losing record.
Someone nudge Art Rooney II and see if he is awake, or at least make sure he knows he isn’t in Cleveland.