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1. Eric Ebron, TE
2. Calvin Pryor, S
3 (Comp). Jaylen Watkins, CB
4. Justin Ellis, DT/NT
5a. Brandon Coleman, WR
5b. Brent Urban, DE
6. Prince Shembo, OLB
7a. Aaron Colvin, CB
7b. Storm Johnson, RB
The key for Steelers? Picking, hoping
April 24, 2012
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Like a lot of teams in the bottom third of the NFL draft, the Steelers are not always sure which players will be available. And, with the 24th overall pick, they know most, if not all, of the so-called elite prospects already have been selected.
When the draft begins Thursday, that won't change for the Steelers.
If anything, identifying the top player for them might be even more precarious.
"The sure-fire, easy guys to evaluate and pick, there are not as many as there have been in the past," said general manager Kevin Colbert. "Once you get beyond the first seven to 10 guys, everybody is going to be picking and hoping. We are one of those teams."
Picking and hoping is not foreign territory for the Steelers, who are accustomed to drafting each year from near the bottom of each round. Succeeding is something to which they are accustomed, too, considering the quality of No. 1 picks they have made despite picking in the bottom half of the draft in eight of the past 11 years.
And that, Colbert said, is important for a team that relies on the draft, not free agency, to re-stock its talent and remain competitive.
"When you don't get the first-round guy right, that sets you back for probably four years because that is a slot you are going to try to fill at some point," Colbert said Monday at a pre-draft news conference at the team's South Side facility. "Yes, we are not big spenders in free agency and we will never be because we want to keep our own. But if we missed on a pick that we would want to be keeping as our own, it will set us back and distract us from what we need to be doing."
The Steelers would appear to have several immediate needs to address Thursday when the first round will be conducted. And it remains to be seen which position they might consider more urgent:
Inside linebacker, where defensive captain James Farrior was among several veteran leaders released in the offseason? Or nose tackle, where five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton is coming off major knee surgery and is in what is expected to be his final season with the team?
Those are the most likely positions to be addressed with the top pick, and the most likely candidates for those spots are Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower and Memphis nose tackle Dontari Poe -- if Poe is available.
Both players visited with the Steelers at the NFL combine in Indianapolis and their practice facility.
"Need is not a good word," Colbert said. "It's 'want.' We want players. We don't necessarily need. We try to add from within. The subtractions we made were substantial from a leadership standpoint. We talked about that before. That will be replaced -- we don't know by whom or how long [it will take].
"As far as the players released, we will try to replace them from within, the guys we already have. We can add to that with the young guys coming in and trying to compete for that playing time. Coach Tomlin will make a final decision of when a guy plays, but, quite honestly, there are not a lot of players in this draft that can come in and be immediate impact guys for us."
Colbert said one aspect of their draft evaluation has not changed: Wide receiver and cornerback are the deepest positions in the draft. But he added the situation with Pro Bowl receiver Mike Wallace, who has not signed his $2.7 million tender for 2012, will have no bearing -- "Not at all," he said -- on whether the team takes a wide receiver at some point in the draft.
Tomlin said he is not bothered about reports that say Wallace will not sign his tender and play for the Steelers this season. Wallace did not receive any offers from other NFL teams before Friday night -- the deadline for restricted free agents to sign with another team.
"There were reports he was going somewhere every day in restricted free agency and he's still here," Tomlin said. "So we'll deal with it day to day."
Colbert said the Steelers' goal remains the same: To sign Wallace to a contract that will keep him with the team for a long time.
"We said all along that the decision would be ours, and it remains that way. We want Mike to be here for the long haul, and he knows that, and we know that. Hopefully, at some point, we can get that done."