My final installment of this series is going to focus on the 49ers last 2011 outer division opponent. The AFC Champion, Pittsburgh Steelers. This is a team that continues to draft well and rebuild through the drafts rather than spending large sums of money in free agent. And, well it has worked extremely well for them. It is hard to imagine a team that continues to pick towards the back end of each round picking up so many solid players.
I envy the way Pittsburgh runs their war room, how they go about scouting specific players, and are not caught up with the perceived flashiness of some players. Instead, Pittsburgh decides to go for hard nosed, tough and intelligent players via the draft. Their 2010 selections of Maurkice Pouncey and Chris Scott are perfect examples of this.
Today, I am going to be taking a look at their 2011 draft class and give you a brief overview of how I believe they did. Once again, I would have to conclude that Pittsburgh hit yet another home run.
1st Round, 31st Pick: DE- Cameron Heyward Ohio State
CBS Sports Line Ranking: 26 2010 Stats: 48 Tackles. 3.5 Sacks, 1 INT
Analysis: The Pittsburgh Steelers hope that Heyward adds to a strong legacy of impact players they have drafted recently on the defensive side of the ball. A nice amount of the players they have drafted towards the end of each round, where the usually select, have come in an performed at a great level. Ziggy Hood and LaMarr Woodley the most recent examples.
Heyward seems to be a perfect fit for their 3-4 system. He is a space eater that does find opportunities to get into the defensive backfield. As evidenced by the Steelers move of Hood to the 3-4 defensive end position, the Steelers are looking for bulk at that position. With Hood, Hampton and Heyward you are looking at over 900 pounds of bulk in the front three, making it an easier road to the QB for their elite outside linebacking duo of James Harrison and the afformentioned Woodley.
I like the way Heyward plays the game. He isn't going to be the most flash of players, but what he will do is get the job done. Pittsburgh got both value and need with the second to last pick of the 1st round. Grade: A
2nd Round, 63rd Pick: OT- Marcus Gilbert Florida
CBS Sports Line Ranking: 81
Analysis: The Steelers went into the 2011 draft with a glaring need at right tackle and seemed to reach for a prospect that most teams didn't have as high as them. That said, Flozell Adams, at 36, is on his last legs. This was an area that they needed to address. I think that Jah Reid would have been a better value here, but Gilbert has a nice amount of upside
Gilbert is extremely strong in the pass protection aspect of the game, something that Pittsburgh needs with the immobile Ben Roethlisberger behind center. However, Gilbert does struggle in terms of holding down lanes in the running game. With another unproven player, Ramon Foster, manning the right guard position, this could be an issue for Pittsburgh moving forward. Running games tend to struggle when the defense knows which direction the majority of the runs are going to go. With Maurkice Pouncey manning the center position and Chris Kemoeatu playing left guard, it is pretty obvious where the Steelers are going to run. Grade: C+
3rd Round, 95th Pick: CB- Curtis Brown Texas
CBS Sports Line Ranking: 69 2010 Stats: 23 Tackles, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 INT
Analysis: Absolutely love this pick for Pittsburgh. Ike Taylor is a free agent and will probably not be returning unless he takes less money, Bryant McFadden has a solid bounce back year after being acquired from Arizona, but he is nothing more than a #2 corner at this point. After that you are not looking at too much in regards to the Steelers corner back play. However, I am a fan of William Gay and believe he will turn into a solid NFL starter. Five years in, he needs to prove himself this season.
Brown was your prototypical shut down corner at Texas, most teams just decided to avoid his area of th field; hence the pedestrian numbers. He is extremely solid at reading the QB and potential routes the receivers are taking. This along with the fact that he has a good eye and knack to jump on the ball leads me to believe Brown's transition to the NFL will not be too great. I envision a scenario where he takes over as the nickel corner in 2011, only to progress through the season. Really solid pick for Pittsburgh here Grade: A
4th Round, 128th Pick: CB- Cortez Allen Citadel
CBS Sports Line Ranking: 176 2010 Stats: 51 Tackles, 2 INT, 1 TD
Analysis: Check out Fooch's breakdown of Allen as a sleeper for the 49ers here; this was originally posted about a month ago. I agree with Fooch in regards to Allen being a possible sleeper of the 2011 NFL Draft. He didn't play against the top level competition at The Citadel, but sometimes you just have to look past that. At over 6 feet and 200 pounds, Allen has the frame to be an elite player in the secondary. There are rumors that the Steelers plan to switch him to safety, which he could play, but I am not entirely too sure about that.
The word "top developmental player in the draft" has been used a lot; but, what does this mean? Because he was playing in the FCS not Division 1? I think that Allen should be able to come in immediately and contribute on special teams. Once he earns his "wings", watch out. He is physically talented, ultra competitive and a strong cover man. More than that, Allen can knock opposing offensive players on the ground with his superior hitting ability. He is extremely strong in zone coverage and does a great job back peddling and not getting turned around against receivers. Fortunately, I was able to find some film on Allen; and am extremely impressed while he plays the game. Pittsburgh may just have gotten a gem here. Grade: A
5th Round, 162nd Pick: LB- Chris Carter Fresno State
CBS Sports Line Ranking: 93 2010 Stats: 54 Tackles, 11 Sacks
Analysis: Like Pittsburgh needed another OLB that gets to the QB on a regular basis. I am sure that the Baltimore Ravens are not too excited that Carter fell to the Steelers in the 5th round. As evidenced by CBS Sports Line ranking, this was great value for Pittsburgh.
Carter is extremely explosive off of the snap, gets good pressure around the edge, and is consistently in the offensive back field. He will not be a full time OLB in the NFL because of his lacking coverage skills, this is probably the reason Carter fell to the 5th round. But, as a situational pass rusher I see him teaming up with Woodley and Harrison and adding another dimension to the Steelers defense. Grade: A
6th Round, 196th Pick: G- Keith Williams Arizona State
CBS Sports Line Ranking: 192
Analysis: This wasn't a huge need for Pittsburgh, but for a team like them value is everything in the later rounds because their aren't an abundance of need. That said, I am not extremely familiar with how Williams translates to the NFL or how he plays the game. So, I will just attack a snip it from Sideline Scouting
Good length... Solid pass blocker... Reasonably quick... Solid lateral movement and slide... Stays square to the defender... Arms are not especially long but he plays with good extension... Hold up reasonably well to the bull rush... Does a solid job versus stunts and delayed blitzes
Marginal knee bender, plays a little too high in pass protection... Shorter than ideal arm length... Lowers his head too much... Struggles to maintain balance and re-set.
7th Round, 232nd Pick: RB- Baron Batch Texas Tech
CBS Sports Line Ranking: 408 2010 Stats: 816 Rush Yards, 4.6 AVG, 32 Receptions, 226 Yards, 8 TD
Analysis: Watching a lot of Big 12 games, I found Batch to be an extremely underrated player. He won't be much more than a 3rd down back in the NFL, but Mendenhall is going to be getting a majority of the rushes anyway. Look for Batch to come in on occasion and contribute a great deal. I love his receiving ability, which is essential for a 3rd down back, also he does extremely well picking up blocks; another necessity. Grade: A
Synopsis: This is a team that continues to build themselves through the draft. Year after year, they come through big time. Not just with their early round picks, but finding gems in the mid-late rounds as well. Just look what they have done recently in the draft, and you will understand what I am talking about.
2010: Maurkice Pouncey (1st), Emmanuel Sanders (3rd), Chris Scott (5th), Antonio Brown (6th)
2009: ZIggy Hood (1st), Mike Wallace (3rd)
2008: Rashard Mendenhall (1st), Dennis Dixon (5th)
2007: Lawrence Timmons (1st), LaMarr Woodley (2nd), William Gay (5th)
2006: Willie Colon (4th)
2005: Heath Miller (1st), Bryant McFadden (2nd), Chris Kemoeatu (6th),
You are looking at 13 different players the Steelers have drafted since 2005 that are either regular starters, or fill in admirably for starters. That is quite a nice load for a team usually picking towards the back end of each round.
I don't think this year is much different. There first four picks seem to translate well as future starters int the NFL. Heyward should get a lot of reps from day one, Gilbert will need some season, but should be ready by year two, Curtis Brown should challenge for a nickel spot and Cortez Allen has tremendous upside.
I think that Pittsburgh did well once again in terms of the draft and the good keep on getting better. There is a reason that New England and Pittsburgh are always among the NFL elite. Grade: A