Get Your Draft Boards Ready - By Mark Mihalko

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

In a little over 13 days the Steelers will be on the clock in the 2004 edition of the NFL Draft. With parity setting in across the NFL, the draft has become even more important to the success of every franchise in the league. Especially for the Steelers, who will always be cautious in the free agent market.

Coming off of a dismal 6-10 season, the Steelers may not be that far removed from a return trip to the playoffs. They return a solid core group of veterans and are also aided by playing in arguably the weakest division in the NFL.

With the first part of the offseason behind them, the Steelers have made some solid moves. While the signings of RB Duce Staley and DE Travis Kirschke provide improved depth at certain positions, the re-signing of players such as Mike Logan, Clarke Haggans, Dan Kreider and Chukky Okobi should not be overlooked when reviewing this offseason.

The Steelers are sitting in a great position in this year's draft. By having the 11th selection they should be able to land an impact player on either offense or defense.

While the Steelers have a few glaring needs that must be addressed, I think it is critical that the Steelers take the 'best player available' (BPA) on their draft board, regardless of his position on the field. Every team rates players on their ability to perform in THEIR system and stack their draft board to reflect that ability. The New England Patriots excel at taking the BPA that fit their system instead of drafting specifically for need and they continually have solid drafts. While cornerback and right tackle jump out as the most glaring weaknesses for the Steelers today, that may not be the same in a week. The quick decline in production from veterans such as Jason Gildon, Dewayne Washington and Chad Scott demonstrate the reason the team should focus on the BPA. In some cases the Steelers have started to address their future, like the drafting of Alonzo Jackson in the second round last year. Unfortunately that may have been one year too late. The Steelers activity this offseason, while minimal, does allow the team some flexibility during the draft.

Who will the Steelers select with the 11th pick in the draft? Most fans have differing opinions. I have heard the names Phillip Rivers(QB), DeAngelo Hall(CB), Shawn Andrews (OT) and Ben Roethlisberger(QB) mentioned as possible selections.

So as we try to decipher the Steelers pick in the up-coming draft, first we must figure who will be available. In researching possible players the Steelers could select, I used three different print magazines and about five different websites. I gathered the projected first round mock drafts and compiled the results. Of coarse this information will likely change leading up to draft day as it does every year. However, with such a deep draft at multiple positions this year could be one to remember.

1. San Diego Chargers (QB Eli Manning) - The Chargers may trade this pick and move down inside the top ten. In the end Manning goes number one, either to the Chargers or their trading partner.

2. Oakland Raiders (WR Roy Williams) - The Raiders are a little harder to figure out; Owner Al Davis is never far away from controversy and is the wild card on draft day (Sebastian Janikowski). The Raiders could select a quarterback, an offensive lineman, or a wide receiver. While I personally think Larry Fitzgerald is the best wide receiver available, I see the Raiders selecting WR Roy Williams from Texas. Al loves speed and Williams is faster then Fitzgerald. Like San Diego the Raiders might trade down inside the top ten, especially with a team that covets a book-end left tackle like Robert Gallery from Iowa (see Cleveland).

3. Arizona Cardinals (WR Larry Fitzgerald) - The Cardinals may be the easiest team to place. If Larry Fitzgerald is available he is the pick. That being said if either San Diego or Oakland select Fitzgerald ahead of the Cards, don't be surprised if they select QB Ben Roethlisberger.

4. New York Giants (OT Robert Gallery) - They have been rumored to be in love with QB Eli Manning and may very well trade up with the Chargers to get him. If they stay here they could go one of two ways. Either a QB (Roethlisberger) or OT (Gallery). Living in the Northeast I would think the offensive tackle would make the most sense for the Giants who struggled even more then the Steelers with their offensive line last season.

5. Washington Redskins (TE Kellen Winslow) - The Redskins only have three picks in the upcoming draft and are prime candidates to trade down. However, owner Daniel Snyder loves to make a splash with big name players and he stays put to select TE Kellen Winslow. While the team may have bigger needs Winslow is a perfect fit as an H-Back in Head Coach Joe Gibbs passing offense.

6. Detroit Lions (S Sean Taylor) - The Lions are a lot like some of the teams selecting ahead of them with a strong desire to trade down to obtain more picks. The logical pick here would be S Sean Taylor from the University of Miami but the Lions have all but announced they covet RB Steven Jackson from Oregon. If they are unable to find a trading partner, they will finally select Taylor. Adding him to free agent acquisitions Dre Bly (2003) and Fernando Bryant (2004) giving the Lions an effective secondary.

7. Cleveland Browns (QB Ben Roethlisberger) - The Browns would love to trade up for OT Robert Gallery and in the end they may do so. If they are unable to pull the trigger to move up they will select QB Ben Roethlisberger. Newly signed free agent QB Jeff Garcia is 34 and his four-year contract is set up more like a two-year deal. Making this selection pretty easy.

8. Atlanta Falcons (DE Kenechi Udeze) - The Falcons are a team in transition and could go multiple directions with their selection. New Head Coach Jim Mora will return the Falcons to a base 4-3 defense in 2004 making the defensive line an offseason priority. However, their offense could also use another weapon on the outside. Although they will be tempted to grab WR Mike Williams, the defensive minded Mora grabs the best defensive end in the draft to help solidify his defense.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars (WR Mike Williams) - The Jaguars jump on Williams with this pick giving QB Byron Leftwitch a big possession receiver to mature with. The Jaguars could select CB DeAngelo Hall or DE Will Smith to help their defense, but in the end select Williams to replace the aging WR Jimmy Smith.

10. Houston Texans (CB DeAngelo Hall) - After addressing the offense with their top draft choices during their first two drafts, the Texans look to improve their defense early this year. Either CB DeAngelo Hall or DT Tommy Harris would fit their 3-4 system. In the end they go with Hall, who instantly upgrades their secondary and special teams.

With rumored players QB Roethlisberger and CB Hall off the board the Steelers could go many different ways. QB Phillip Rivers, who many believe will be the selection, if available. Rivers has been an impressive college quarterback, but that doesn't always translate into NFL success and his ratings are all over the board due to his awkward throwing motion. If the front office is looking specifically at need they could select CB Dunta Robinson, who is rated only slightly lower then Hall. Or the front office could look at the future and select the best player available which is DT Tommy Harris. Harris is big enough to play defensive end in the 3-4 alignment and could eventually replace DE Kimo Von Oelhoffen. General Manager Kevin Colbert may also attempt to trade down a few spots, which may not be a bad idea. So with the 11th selection:

11. Pittsburgh Steelers (QB Phillip Rivers) - In the end both Colbert and Head Coach Bill Cowher regret passing on QB Chad Pennington during the 2000 NFL Draft and attempt to make amends by selecting Rivers. With cornerback being one of the deeper positions in this year's draft, the Steelers should be able to pick a good one with their second round selection (#44).

While this wouldn't be my selection in the draft (see Tommy Harris), I can understand the teams thinking. Tommy Maddox isn't getting any younger and back-up QB Charlie Batch will be a free agent after the 2004 season.

The Steelers selection may also lend some insight into Coach Cowher's mindset. I am sure everyone has read about his contract situation and a pick like Rivers would lead me to think that a contract extension is forth coming. While a selection like CB Dunta Robinson or reaching for a player such as OT Shawn Andrews would imply that Cowher has to win now to save his job.

While we will all have to wait until April 24th to see how things pan out for the Steelers, it is always fun to play G.M. and build the Steelers 'YOUR WAY'.