By now you have probably seen all the high grades for the Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 draft class. They are getting lauded almost universally for getting great value and filling needs at the same time. While I would join the pundits and give the Steelers an A for a preliminary draft grade, I think it is more interesting to think about what the Steelers are saying with their draft choices. Here are the messages I think they are sending:
The Offensive Line has to Get Better
Despite a 2010 Super Bowl appearance, fans have been calling for a better offensive line for several seasons. We know Ben Roethlisberger needs to stay healthy and the running game has to improve. The Steelers agreed. For the first time since 1968, the Steelers chose offensive linemen with their first two picks. Somehow, guard David DeCastro, projected to be a top 10 overall pick, fell to the jubilant Steelers at #24. Then, the Steelers chose Mike Adams from Ohio State in round two. Adams has first round talent at the pivotal tackle position, but a positive marijuana test at the combine and subsequent lies hurt his draft standing. Adams personally drove to see the Steelers, his favorite team, and took responsibility for his actions. By agreeing to several stipulations, the Steelers put him back on their board. Combined with C Maurkice Pouncey and last year's second round pick, OT Marcus Gilbert, there are no more excuses. The line has to be a strength and not a weakness.
Big Ben or Bust
The beefed up line reinforces that the Steelers are going to win with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback or go bust. In the offseason they let young Dennis Dixon go. They re-signed Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich (coming off a broken arm). They drafted no quarterbacks. With all due respect to Leftwich, Batch, and Smith the Steelers need Big Ben or they will not contend for a Super Bowl. There is no young, developmental quarterback, just Ben and the two stable, but unexciting, backups. (I think recently signed ex-Raven Troy Smith is just a camp arm.) In Ben they trust.
Young Defenders are Ready to Step Up
The Steelers did choose two defensive players in their top four: Sean Spence - speedy linebacker from Miami and nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu from Washington. However, as normal in Dick Labeau's complicated defense, neither is expected to start right away. They will sit and learn. The Steelers did not address the secondary until the 7th round. That tells me they are satisfied with the development of young corners Cortez Allen, Keenan Lewis, and Curtis Brown. By not taking Dont'a Hightower, the Steelers also showed confidence in Larry Foote and Stevenson Sylvester to fill James Farrior's inside linebacker position. This is typical of the Steelers, though. Players emerge as impact starters after learning the system for a year or more. I'm excited to see who emerges as a new star.
Running Backs Will Rotate
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley used a combination of running backs in Kansas City - pounder Thomas Jones, all-around stud Jamaal Charles, and scatback/receiver Dexter McCluster. With Rashard Mendenhall injured and likely out for the beginning of the season, I think Haley is building a similar approach. Fifth round speedster, Chris Rainey from Florida, is a piece of that rotation. I think he will play the McCluster role, though I hope his impact is more like the New Orleans Saints' Darren Sproles. Rainey should provide the receptions out of the backfield that have been too rare lately. He should contribute in the return game also. In both roles, he will be a real threat to take it the distance.
The Butler Did it
This is more of a prediction than a clear message. I like the addition of undrafted punter Drew Butler from the University of Georgia. I think he will depose Jeremy Kapinos. Butler is a high character player who won the Ray Guy Award as a sophmore in 2009. I have watched him play many times. He has an enthusiasm for the game and comes up with his best punts when field position is most crucial. He was also a holder for the field goal team. He will be a great Steeler.
I was excited to watch the draft, but the Steelers clear messages through the draft have me more excited about the upcoming season. The front office team continues to build a powerful team on the field. Here we go (new) Steelers, here we go!
Sean Durity is a Terrible Towel twirling Steelers fan living in Atlanta. He grew up cheering the 1970s dynasty and appreciates the organization's excellence even more as an adult. Follow him on Twitter @SeanDurity
More from this contributor:
Ed Bouchette "Adams Story a Unique One", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette