Monday, March 31, 2008

Is it April 26th yet?

I have tried to be a college basketball fan.

I have tried to be an arena football fan.

It's hard. Yes, so far my prediction of the Tar Heels (who I pull for despite the fact they rejected my college application) taking it all in the tournament is correct. Yes, the Philadelphia Soul are 5-0 despite their quarterback being injured.

But I NEED football. My voice is no longer hoarse after every weekend and when I'm pissed off, I now need a legitimate excuse.

So that brings us to the 2008 NFL Draft - the closest football milestone outside of the Blue-White Game (which is awesome until I realize they're not going to let Devlin do ANYTHING).

Last year's draft for the Steelers was managed well, but not particularly exciting. Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley will be killer linebackers eventually, but weren't expected to (and didn't) make a major impact as rookies.

Matt Spaeth and Daniel Sepulveda (Even though the Sepulverizer didn't live up to his hype, he's got the perfect mindset reminiscent of a throwback Steeler) were perhaps the most visible picks during the season. Again, they were good selections, but not "sexy." On a related note, Mel Kiper nor anyone like him should NEVER call a pick "sexy."

So it's with this in mind that I take a look at the three most talked up candidates for the Steelers to take with the 23rd overall pick.

MOST LIKELY TO BE TAKEN - Branden Albert - Guard - Virginia

Albert is most likely to be taken because he is not only widely considered the top Guard in the 2008 draft, but is a borderline first rounder in many mock drafts, making him available to the Steelers in the early 20's. Offensive line is a glaring need for the 'burgh as in 2007, black and gold clad fans joined me in throwing things at their television each of the 47 times Ben Roethlisberger was sacked. The fact that he is now a 100 million dollar investment and, financially speaking, the most valuable player in Steelers history mandates an improvement of the O-Line. Given that Tackles like Jake Long and Ryan Clady will be gone within the first 15 selections, many draft pundits have the Steelers taking Albert early rather than over-reaching for a second tier talent at Tackle.

Height: 6' 7"
Weight: 315
40 Time: 5.17

PROS: If you talked to me before the Steelers signed free agent center Justin Hartwig (which may allow Most Hated Steeler Sean Mahan to move to his more suited position, guard), when I was fresh off a heartbreaking loss to the Jags, I would have told you that Pittsburgh needs to draft all offensive linemen in the 2008 draft. Albert is the perfect need pick - Alan Faneca has ditched us for a record deal with the Jets and there is a void that needs to be filled. Albert was also a top performer in the 40-yard dash, and has taken snaps at tackle while playing at the University of Virginia.

CONS: He's a pretty boring pick. Albert isn't an elite talent or physical specimen - he's a very good football player who could get to the Pro Bowl with discipline and luck avoiding injuries. In round one, some players swing for the fences - Adrian Peterson was by no means a need pick for the Vikings, but was a remarkable talent that invigorated Minnesota as a franchise. Albert will be a safe choice, but not necessarily the best. Keep in mind though, I'm thinking outside the mindset of Steeler ownership.

ANOTHER WIDELY AGREED UPON CHOICE - Jeff Otah - Tackle? - Pittsburgh

Jeff Otah's name has been synonymous with the first Steeler's pick since the season ended. He is an enormous physical talent that was called "best blocker I've ever coached," by Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt. His size gives him the versatility to perhaps play center at the professional level. He would be the "hometown hero" pick and could be a cornerstone of the franchise. Like Albert, he is a need pick - not only does Pittsburgh need depth at offensive line, but most of the current starters are underwhelming when compared to other linemen in the league.

Height: 6' 6"
Weight: 340
40 Time: 5.64

PROS: Otah has what has been called a "rare frame" that suits the position of left tackle. He has performed well against elite talent like Chris Long and is physically remarkable. In two seasons at Pittsburgh, Otah started all 24 games, grading 81.58% for blocking consistency.

CONS: Is prone to being overwhelmed by speed rushers. Otah also has what I have come to call the JaMarcus Russell stay-puft stigma - draftniks constantly bring up the fact that he could stand to lose a few pounds. Newsflash: fat people like to eat - getting them to slim down is very, very difficult. He is also called inexperienced and cited for a lack of awareness.

This is just a personal thing, but on his NFL draft Q & A, he was asked to list the five most played songs on his iPod, and the one he was most embarrassed about. He only listed three, did not specify the artists of the songs, and did not say whether these were the three most played, three most embarrassing, or a mix of both. Yes, I am incredibly neurotic, thanks for noticing.

ENTERING THE CONVERSATION - James Hardy - Wide Reciever - Indiana

Being a Big Ten football fan, I became aware of Hardy after he absolutely torched Nittany Lion cornerback Justin King. At the time, I was incredibly incensed that our highly touted secondary had no chance of stopping him from getting the ball. Now that he's projected as a borderline first/ second rounder, I see him as the big, physical receiver Big Ben has asked for. When I brought Hardy up in Steelers forums, I was eaten alive - receiver is not seen as a necessity for the franchise. But lo and behold - ESPN's draft preview considered Hardy as a possibility at 23. In conclusion, eat it.

Height: 6' 6"
Weight: 220
40 Time: 4.45

PROS: Antonio Gates-style athleticism. Hardy is the swing for the fences pick - he's a physical specimen that scouts can't quite seem to rank. He finished his career at Indiana by hauling in 191 passes for 2,740 yards (14.4 avg) and 36 touchdowns - pretty good numbers for a team that isn't known as an offensive powerhouse. Hardy is listed as a top performer in the bench press, broad jump, 3-cone drill, and 20-yard shuttle run in the NFL combine. Offers an element to the Steeler offense that has been missing since Plaxico Burress left.

CONS: This year's crop of receivers can't compare to that of the 2007 draft. There are no 'elite' talents, and Hardy is part of a muddled group that doesn't have a clear leader of the pack. As far as off the field goes - he was arrested on May 19 (2006) on charges of domestic battery and interfering with the reporting of a crime, after his girlfriend accused him of hitting her and the couple's infant child. Hitting an infant child? Seriously? Even if you can get past the moral barrier of hitting a child, mister big strong angry football player man, how do you even find the space on an infant to make contact with your fist? Babies are tiny!

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