The Steelers 2007 Draft Class: Where Are They Now?
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Thursday, April 17, 2008
By Bobby Oler
Steelers Fever Columnist
Edited by John Smathers
As we begin to fret about what Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin are brainstorming for this coming draft, it is about time to look in the rear view mirror. Granted, a year is hardly enough time for any rookie to fully develop, but the draft style was intriguing, and we could see a repeat at the end of the month.
Round 1: Lawrence Timmons No. 94 - Linebacker, Florida State
Going into the 2007 draft, the buzz about the Steelers was that their secondary was lacking. When everybody was screaming for the Steelers to take cornerbacks Darrelle Revis or Leon Hall, the Steelers decided to fill the depth chart instead. The Steelers needed the next Joey Porter so they took Lawrence Timmons, ranked third in the country among OLBs by nfldraftscout.com. He seemed like he could get in on passing downs and bum rush the quarterback, but Timmons missed nearly all of training camp with a groin injury, and as a result he was only used sparingly in 2007. He finished the season with just 13 tackles, but he also had two big fumble recoveries. One of them came in the big Monday night win against Baltimore after James Harrison popped Ed Reed; the other came in the rainout against Miami.
Timmons should benefit from a quiet offseason in which he can get in even better shape and learn the defense. His biggest obstacle is proving to the coaching staff that he is worthy of significant playing time since there is no weak link in the Steelers linebacking corps at the moment. Rumors have him moving inside once James Farrior leaves, and that would certainly be a new role for a player used to coming off the edge.
Timmons still has potential, but his NFL career has gotten off to a shaky start. Hopefully he will be able to get more playing time this season to build up his experience and be prepared to start some day.
Round 2: LaMarr Woodley No. 56 - Linebacker, Michigan
The Steelers have an odd history of their second-round picks under-performing (Alonzo Jackson, Scott Shields, Jeremy Staat ... the list goes on). Then there are the gems like Marvel Smith or Bryant McFadden, and LaMarr Woodley looks like he is forming into one of the latter.
Woodley played DE in college but Tomlin and Co. are convinced that he can play OLB, and four sacks in limited playing time go a long way to proving it. Woodley is one of the reasons that the Steelers let Clark Haggans walk to where all former Steelers are going these days: the Cardinals. Woodley will start at LOLB on opening day, and he seems set to make an immediate impact.
Round 3: Matt Spaeth No. 89 - Tight End, The University of Minnesota
Spaeth was the first of two puzzling picks by the Steelers in this draft. While most who followed the Steelers agreed that Jerame Tuman was not a receiving tight end, few would have thought to use a third-round pick to find his replacement.
From the minute Bruce Arians was promoted to offensive coordinator, he preached variety. Everything from three tight end sets to four wide receiver sets could be expected, so a tight end needed to be added. Spaeth made a splash in the opener against Cleveland and the next game against Buffalo by catching a touchdown pass in each, but then faded away. His next, and final, touchdown came in a valiant comeback effort in Denver (where Al Michaels called him Tim Spaeth for the better part of ten minutes).
Three touchdowns is still impressive for a rookie, and with Tuman now a Cardinal (surprise), Spaeth is the clear number two tight end in Pittsburgh. He's a huge red zone target and should help out the passing game in that area, so it is reasonable to expect his stats to improve in 2008.
Round 4: Daniel Sepulveda No. 9 - Punter, Baylor University
Sepulveda was the second of two puzzling picks by the Steelers. They traded up to get Sepulveda, something most fans and analysts thought was unnecessary. Sepulveda had an up and down rookie season. He proved that he had a strong leg and deserved all of the Ray Guy awards he won in college, but he seemed to wilt in pressure situations. In the Steelers overtime loss to the Jets he shanked a punt that allowed the Jets to return it all the way to the Steelers 26 yard line, effectively ending the game. Sepulveda averaged a healthy 42 yards per punt so he can be considered an upgrade over his predecessor, Chris Gardocki. Sepulveda is the assumed starter for 2008 and hopefully his clutch kicking can improve.
Round 4: Ryan McBean No. 95 - Defensive End, Oklahoma State
McBean's rookie season was pretty forgettable. He played in one game but did not record any stats. Colbert probably recognized that his defensive line was getting older (as everyone is now painfully aware), and decided to try McBean out. While he is still a member of the Steelers, that status is not guaranteed for long. McBean may find safe refuge on the practice squad in 2008, or if he's lucky the Steelers will be so concerned about their aging line that they'll keep him around just in case.
Round 5: Cameron Stephenson - Offensive Guard, Rutgers
Stephenson never made the final cut and is now on Green Bay's practice squad.
Round 5: William Gay No. 22 - Cornerback, Louisville
This was the Steelers' answer to everyone who thought that the Steelers needed help in the secondary - a late fifth-round pick. I immediately compared William Gay to Anthony Smith because both players made big plays in their first preseason games. Gay was used sparingly in 2007, but he did manage to do work when he was in. He recorded 19 tackles, two passes defended, and a fumble recovery last year.
Gay is an intriguing project for the Steelers. If they can groom him into a solid nickelback, the Steelers' secondary could be set for a few years to come. Steelers fans should be excited if he becomes a big-time player since that would give them a reason to wear that No. 22 jersey so many of them fell for in 2004.
Round 7: Dallas Baker No. 81 - Wide Receiver, Florida
The Steelers were hoping to find another Marques Colston in the seventh round, but so far Baker has never seen an active uniform. Baker is 6'3, certainly the height that Ben Roethlisberger wants in a wide receiver, but he ran a 4.53 40 at the combine (and an even slower 4.6 at his pro day).
Baker is currently on the practice squad, but Cedrick Wilson's departure may open the door for a possible roster spot. In all likelihood, though, the Steelers will draft another wide receiver, and Baker will be fighting for a practice squad spot on the Steelers or some other team.
The Steelers drafted based on need in 2007, selecting based on the depth chart in the first two rounds, then by scheme in the third. Picking Sepulveda was about getting rid of the aging Chris Gardocki (did you know he never had a punt blocked?), something that Cowher probably would have done as well if he'd stuck around.
In 2008, the Steelers need offensive line help and defensive line depth. A sleeper first-round pick could be a corner or free safety if the Steelers don't like the value they see in offensive line prospects at number 23. Deshea Townsend is entering his 11th season, and Ryan Clark has recurring spleen issues. Overall, the Steelers are a team that uses the draft to fill needs more than stock up on the best available player, and that has certainly worked to their advantage over the years.