I will discuss the Pittsburgh Steelers 2008 draft choices, and how the new players will impact the team in the upcoming 2008 season.By Michael C. Smith
Every year the NFL holds their annual draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and every year there are a few teams who stand out above the rest by drafting the right players that will best fit and improve their team. This year, I believe one of those teams was the Pittsburgh Steelers. Last season, the Steelers went 10-6 under rookie head coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers won the AFC North Division, but proceeded to lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the wildcard round of playoffs. In the off-season, 11-year veteran and 7 time pro bowl offensive guard Alan Faneca, left the Steelers for free agency. Many people thought because of this, the Steelers would draft an offensive guard or offensive lineman with their first pick. Instead, the Steelers chose to go a different route and draft a running back with their first pick.
With the 23rd overall pick in the first round the Steelers selected Illinois running, back Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall is a strong power runner inside the tackles, but also because of his quickness he has the ability to get to the outside. Mendenhall was a back up at Illinois his first two seasons, but in its third year he received the starting job and rushed for 1,681 yards and 17 touchdowns. Many draft experts considered Mendenhall the second best running back in the draft, so the Steelers were really fortunate that he was there at 23. Mendenhall will split the carries with Willie Parker in the backfield which will instantly create one of the best running back duos in the league.
In the second round, with the 53rd overall selection, the Steelers chose wide receiver Limas Sweed out of Texas. Throughout his college career, Sweed had 124 receptions for 1,915 yards and scoring 20 touchdowns. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger requested in the off-season that he would like a tall wide receiver. Sweed at 6’4 and 215 pounds will be a huge weapon for Roethlisberger this upcoming season. Because of his size and long arms, Sweed should also be a devastating threat in the red zone. Sweed now will join a suddenly a high powered offense, that has the potential of putting up some serious points in the 2008 season.
In the third round, the Steelers drafted defensive end, Bruce Davis, out of UCLA. Davis is a strong pass rusher with great athleticism, who attacks the quarterback. He was a two time All-American at UCLA. He ranks second in school history with 29 career sacks and has 42 and ½ tackles for a loss. Davis also has the versatility to play outside linebacker and should fit in nicely with the Steelers 3-4 defense. The Steelers have not had a solid pass rusher since the departure of Joey Porter in 2006. Whether he plays defensive end or outside linebacker one thing is for certain, Davis will be a force to be reckoned with for the opposing offensive line.
The Steelers drafted Texas offensive tackle, Tony Hills, in the fourth round, with the 131st overall pick. Hills has tremendous size standing at 6’6 and weighing in at 305 pounds. Hills also possesses great speed and mobility for his size. In fact, he began his career playing the position of tight end, before switching to offensive tackle. Hills played in 40 games with 24 games as a starter at Texas, while only allowing only 4 sacks and 7 hurries on his quarterback. These are impressive numbers considering that last season the offensive line allowed Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked a league high 47 times. It is no secret that the offensive line was a main weakness of the Steelers last season. Hills should be able to add some much needed help to the Steelers offensive line troubles.
In the fifth round, the Steelers selected quarterback, Dennis Dixon, from Oregon. He played in 39 total games and 25 of those games Dixon was the starting quarterback. During that time span he passed for 5,129 yards and 38 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,208 and 12 rushing touchdowns. It is my belief that the Steelers will convert Dixon in to a wide receiver, much like they did with Antwaan Randle El and Kordell Stewart early in his career. Dixon will most likely be used in gadget plays and various offensive formations as a slot receiver. His skills might also be put to use as a special teams player, as a punt or kick returner.
The Steelers final two picks both took place in the sixth round. With the 188th overall pick they selected linebacker Mike Humpal out of Iowa. He has 197 career tackles, caused 2 fumbles and had 6 interceptions. At the 194th selection the Steelers chose free safety Ryan Mundy from the University of West Virginia. In his college career, Mundy had 86 tackles while grabbing 3 interceptions. Both of these players will have to work a bit if they want to make the roster. If they make the team, these two players will probably work in special teams coverage, while adding depth to the linebacker and free safety positions.
Success in the NFL Draft is one of the main components to building a championship caliber football team. I believe that in years to come, the Pittsburgh Steelers organization will look back on the 2008 draft as a success. They added players on both sides of the ball, which will be immediate impacts once they step on the football field. Now that the draft is over and you look at this team, you have to agree that they have filled many of their needs. We will have to wait and see how successful the Pittsburgh Steelers will be in the upcoming 2008 NFL season, but it appears from players that they drafted they are ready to get back to Super Bowl form.