Steelers’ draft picks

America’s obsession with the NFL cannot be quenched. Even the NFL draft, the yearly selection of college football juniors and seniors by NFL teams, has become a three-day primetime event. It’s an easy example of our culture’s football overload, but the draft is also a key time for teams to rebuild for their future.

When a team is as old and injury prone as the Pittsburgh Steelers, it is critical to find young, healthy, and productive players in all rounds of the draft. How well a team executes this goal can be the difference between creating a dynasty and becoming the league’s laughing stock. While it’s impossible to know if a player will reach his full potential, coaches and managers can still break down each player and evaluate him on what they believe players’ careers could and should become.

The Steelers came into the draft needing to fill four big holes in its roster: offensive guard, offensive tackle, linebacker, and defensive lineman. In the first four rounds of the draft, the Steelers went right down this list, picking the best possible players.

With their first pick, the Steelers selected offensive guard David DeCastro out of Stanford University.

The Steelers had a lot of trouble last year trying to field a healthy offensive line, resulting in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger getting injured. DeCastro, who is regarded as the top guard in the draft, should be a starter in the beginning of the season to provide the interior protection on the line that Big Ben was missing last season.

In the second round, the Steelers took troubled offensive tackle Mike Adams out of Ohio State University. Adams was considered to be first-round talent until he failed a drug test, testing positive for marijuana.

Steelers managers have several contract stipulations in place to ensure he cleans up his act and to protect the team if he does not. Adams, regardless of his personal issues, is a fantastic player. With him, DeCastro, and third-year center Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers have the young core of an offensive team that could protect Roethlisberger for years to come.

With their third-round pick, the Steelers took linebacker Sean Spence from the University of Miami in order to fill the hole created by cutting linebacker James Farrior. Spence is a versatile linebacker who can play outside and inside linebacker, in addition to having a quick first step.

The main reason Spence fell in the draft is the concern about his size, only measuring 5'11". The Steelers have historically been able to maximize the play from its undersized linebackers with star linebacker James Harrison, who only measures 6 feet.

In the fourth round, the Steelers hopefully found nose tackle Casey Hampton’s eventual replacement in defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu from the University of Washington. Ta’amu is a big guy who routinely took on double teams in college and won. He has some trouble defending the pass, given his lack of speed, but he can completely shut down the running game. Hopefully, Ta’amu will develop under Hampton’s tutelage and take over if Hampton gets injured or eventually retires.

The Steelers spent the rest of the draft creating depth and finding a couple of players who could contribute in small niche roles next season. In the fifth round, the Steelers took running back Chris Rainey from the University of Florida to switch things up in the backfield.

In the seventh round, the Steelers had four picks. First they selected wide receiver Toney Clemons out of the University of Colorado Boulder to eventually become a middle receiver. Next was tight end David Paulson from the University of Oregon. Paulson is expected to compete for the backup job behind starting tight end Heath Miller.

Finally, the Steelers took players from the state of Texas. They took cornerback Terrence Frederick from Texas A&M University and offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum from Southern Methodist University; both Frederick and Beachum are expected to compete for backup roles at their respective positions.

Overall, the Steelers did not move up but stayed put and selected a group of players who can come in and contribute to the team from day one.

This draft class has the opportunity to become the foundation for the future, as well as help the Steelers make another deep playoff push in the upcoming 2012 NFL season.