What the heck, let's talk 2014 draft
It’s been a popular refrain this week in the locker room. Players are saying they can still turn the season around and make the playoffs, however far-fetched that idea might be. Teams that start the season 0-4 haven’t accomplished the feat very often. The last team to do it was the 1992 San Diego Chargers. If the Steelers want to hang onto the notion that they can become the second team in 21 years to do it, that’s fine.
The more likely scenario at this point is the Steelers will finish with a top-10 pick in the draft next April. And for a team that has struggled to replenish the roster with quality players when drafting later in the first round it’s the perfect opportunity to an impact player.
The Steelers have been so good for so long that it’s been more than 13 years since they had an opportunity to draft in the top 10. The previous time was 2000 when they had the No. 8 overall selection and took Plaxico Burress. It was the only time in the past 24 years the Steelers had a top 10-draft pick.
The other instance was 1989 when they picked running back Tim Worley with the No. 7 overall selection. The Steelers had two first-round selections that season. The other was offensive lineman Tom Ricketts. Worley was out of the NFL by 1994 and Ricketts by 1991, which goes to show choosing high in the draft guarantees nothing.
Should the Steelers finish near the bottom of the league again, let’s look at a very early primer for the 2014 draft. The top 10 prospects according to Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples are as follows:
Louisville QB Teddy BridgewaterSouth Carolina DE Jadaveon ClowneyUCLA LB Anthony CarrMichigan OT Taylor LewanTexas A&M OT Jake MatthewsTexas A&M WR Mike EvansOregon RB DeAntony ThomasGeorgia QB Aaron MurrayAlabama OT Cyrus KouandjioTexas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
Assuming the Steelers will not take one of the quarterbacks it’s a draft that sets up well for the Steelers. There are three quality left tackles that have the potential to step in right away and solidify a trouble spot for the franchise. The Steelers could also use a receiver if Emmanuel Sanders opts to sign elsewhere after this season. Evans is 6-5, 225 and could be that big receiver Roethlisberger has been wanting since Burress left after the 2004 season. If not Evans, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins is listed as a top 10 pick by others. And then there is Clowney, who at 6-6, 275, is said to be a player capable of playing equally well in the 3-4 or 4-3 in the NFL. He projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker. If he is available that would be an interesting decision for the Steelers, who are apparently set with LaMarr Woodley and Jarvis Jones. Up until his recent decision to skip a South Carolina game with a rib injury the Gamecocks did not consider serious, Clowney had been considered the top talent in the draft. No worries, that above big board is likely to change 100 times between now and April. There is plenty of time to ponder the options, but rest assured if the Steelers lose Sunday at the Jets, that top 10 pick is looking more likely.
*Here is an interesting note. The only players from the Steelers 2006 draft class still playing in the NFL are playing for the Jets – Santonio Holmes and Willie Colon. The other seven selections from that year are no longer playing, including second-round pick Anthony Smith and third-rounder Willie Reid.
*The 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2002 classes are still represented with the likes of Heath Miller, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Larry Foote and Brett Keisel.