This year's was a predictably austere but encouraging draft by the Steelers, one that putatively addressed an array of team needs, from shoring up the secondary, adding a possible starting interior lineman, providing much-needed depth to the receiving corps, picking up a bruising short yardage back, taking another shot at drafting a kick returner and, inexplicably, another tight end.
In the days leading up to the draft, Steelers fans were greeted with the auspicious news that Hines Ward agreed to a four-year extension that will practically ensure he retires with the team and that the Steelers signed Keiwan Ratliff to bolster the secondary depth (eh, well, he is marginally better than Fernando Bryant). Hines more than proved last year that he has a few more seasons of productivity left in the tank and his leadership is going to be immeasurably beneficial regardless of output. Now hopefully the same can be done with Heath Miller and Casey Hampton before the start of training camp.
As for the picks:
1. Ziggy Hood (DT/DE - Missouri) A best talent available situation that addresses a need on the horizon. Having Alex Mack or Eric Wood fall to 32 would have been nice, but this lessens anxiety with an aging D-line. Depth there was already an issue, as we saw when Aaron Smith went down near the end of the '07 season.
3a. Kraig Urbik (OG - Wisconsin) Described as a versitile Max Unger type (I thought they might have taken Unger at 32 but in a lot of ways he versatility seemed to be praised to mask a lack in standout talent) I wouldn't be at all surprised if he can challenge Stapelton for the starting job in training camp.
3b. Mike Wallace (WR - Mississippi) Pushes Dallas Baker a bit further down the depth chart, though by no means pretties the picture at the position. As Limas Sweed has fully illustrated, rookie receivers aren't always apt to make an impact right out of the gate. That said, the team could still benefit from nabbing a veteran after cuts within the next few months. Tomlin, though, does acknowledge that Wallace will at least get a look at kick returning duties. The risk of Willie Reid 2.0 aside, it can't be much worse than Gary Russell/Carey Davis and Mewelde running kicks back to the 25.
3c. Keenen Lewis (CB - Oregon State) I've seen a lot of places make the Ike Taylor comparison as a larger physical cover guy, which could serve as a nice contrast to the more diminutive William Gay.
5a. Joe Burnett (CB - Central Florida) Looks more likely to contribute as a nickle or dime guy, presumably Deshea Townsend insurance for the next few seasons. Could also be in the mix on return duties.
5b. Frank Summers (RB/FB - UNLV) Easily the most buzzworthy of the Steelers picks, evoking as he does Bus-style power running. And why not? Goal line offense dogged the Steelers time and again this past season. If they had a decent short yardage game, the Super Bowl wouldn't even have been close. Of course, that had as much to do with blocking as the backs themselves, but a huge bruising back certainly makes the proposition a little easier. The most intriguing aspect of this pick is what it means for the back situation. With Summers, the team has six fullbacks or halfbacks: FWP, Mendenhall, Mewelde, Carey Davis and Sean McHugh. If pressed, my guess is that the Summers' selection could spell the axing of Davis or McHugh. I'd actually prefer Davis to go between the two of them. Carey's not much of a blocker. Tomlin has always seemed enamored of his pass catching abilities, though that has yet to translate into big plays in the passing game. The playoff game against San Diego stands out when they tried to get the ball to Carey in space and he got brought down short of the sticks on 3rd and 3.
6. Ra'Shon Harris (DE - Oregon) Another projected solid 3-4 defensive end. Kirschke, Smith and Keisel all 30 or older, it was a must to address this position sooner rather than later.
7a. A.Q. Shipley (C - Penn State) As popular a pick as Summers for the Penn State ties, Shipley gets dogged for being undersized but the team has plenty of huge maulers who are short on talent. Good to have someone who can excel at the position through technique. Will be a useful reserve this year.
7b. David Johnson (TE - Arkansas St.) Steelers with a surfeit of tight ends? Why not? But it's no secret that, much to our consternation, Arians and Tomlin love the multi-tight end sets. This guy is supposed to be a good blocker, which Matt Spaeth most assuredly is not. May get a shot at 3rd string tight end for use in running packages.