Monday, January 31, 2011

Dan looks down from his ivory tower

FTC's own KillYourFace5000 is now literally mailing in his analysis. He can't be bothered to log into Blogger. Now, he just types up shit and tells me to post it. Between you and me, I think he's forgotten how to use Blogger, and that it's linked directly to Google, for which he has two accounts that he keeps active at all times. Also, if this analysis doesn't have the same panache you're used to from KYF5K, it is because law school appears to have bankrupted his ability to make entertainments. I won't go any further than to say that I have removed all footnotes and citations from this post as a courtesy to you, the reader. My comments appear in italics.

MEMO: Re: AN OBSERVATION, YOU HATERS

The Steelers do not have any meaningful needs heading into the draft this year except for cornerback, guard and offensive tackle.

I need to define "meaningful needs."

No, you do not. Stop being a law school for five damn minutes.

To that end, I would say a meaningful need is a position at which the team is currently starting an unsustainably poor player. An unsustainably poor player is someone who is poor enough at the position to be a concern (reflected in below-average performance or worse) or someone who is so old or whose contract is so likely to terminate without renewal that it can't be said that that player should be expected to start for more than another year or two, max.

Whatever. Get on with it, will you?

I would say that implicit in "meaningful need" is also the understanding that the need can't be filled by signing an undrafted free agent, a very low draft pick or a scrap-heap free agent for the purposes of reasonably effective performance. Also implicit is that we do not currently have some developmental project in the pipe whose actual value will need to be determined before anyone would decide he's not sufficient to meet that need.

JUST SO YOU GUYS KNOW, THIS ARGUMENT IS LEGALLY BINDING FROM A LAWYER-LAW STANDPOINT NOW THAT I HAVE TAKEN TWO FULL PARAGRAPHS TO DEFINE WHAT A "MEANINGFUL NEED" IS.

To wit:

QB: This is a no-brainer. Behind Roethlisberger, we have Byron Leftwich who is theirs as long as they want him, and Dennis Dixon, who is more than capable as a 3rd stringer, is young, and can be retained at a relatively low price.

You can't forget about Chaz Batch. You know who isn't counting out Batch? Ron Cook isn't counting out Batch.

RB: Mendenhall is young. But so are his backups. Isaac Redman is cheap and not going anywhere, and while it's possible we lose Mewelde Moore to age and money, the team still has Jonathan Dwyer on the practice squad with a lot of potential upside, certainly enough ability to be a 3rd string back. Frank Summers is also still on the practice squad but he can also play tailback. I'm sure he's good enough insurance as a backup to your 3rd string running back and may yet prove to have some value if he can stay healthy.

Everyone behind Redman is a replacement-level running back or worse. These gentlemen do not matter.

FB: There is no fullback in Bruce Arians' offense. However, there is David Johnson, a young H-back who, despite being pretty deficient as an iso blocker, they seem high enough on to play a role for which the coordinator is openly contemptuous. If at any point they decide that's simply not enough, Frank Summers was at one time considered starter-capable at the position, and may yet be. That's only two guys, one of whom isn't a FB and the other is not even on the 53-man roster, but I'm betting that's still enough for a position that they insist does not exist and shouldn't.

Two mentions of Frank Summers in as many paragraphs? Anthony Madison doesn't even get that kind of ink, and he plays and makes huge mistakes pretty much all the time. We here at FTC are all exhausted with the lack of a real fullback since the unceremonious departure of Dan Kreider. By the same token, we're all envious to one degree or another, of the way Green Bay keeps and utilizes multiple fullbacks in its offense. You don't have to abandon the fullback to be a pass-first team with an effective power running scheme. Greenfield native Mike McCarthy has shown us this.

WR: Let's assume for the sake of argument that Ward retires after this season, which he won't. Even in that scenario, you are left with Wallace, Sanders, Brown, Randle El, Battle and Sweed. Wallace and Sanders are now locked in as starters, so they make the roster. That means we'll keep at most 4 more, but possibly only 3. Antonio Brown, despite being either the 4th or 5th guy on the depth chart has become a necessary component of certain sub-packages and plays (see: WR bubble screen that didn't used to work until they started throwing it to him all the time) in addition to being a staple of the return game. Three young, cheap wide receivers, the worst among them still with huge upside. Three more spots left, at most. Despite being effectively useless, we still have Randle El under contract, as well as Battle. At least one of them has to make the 53-man roster. My money is actually on Battle because of his special teams value and his lower price. Even if you assume only one of them makes it, that's 4 guys who have to be on the roster. That leaves probably one and at most two spots.

So far, I agree with all of this.

Enter Limas Sweed. In the last year of his contract and still showing the potential, however remote it seems at this point, to potentially be explosive. At his price and with how little they'd need to ask of him, there's little chance he doesn't make the roster. That's 5 receivers. Of course, you could keep 6, in which case you'd just keep the other of either Randle El or Battle. And that's if Ward retires. There is no reason to draft a WR at all because they'd literally have to commit to not putting him on the roster.

I don't disagree with the idea that come training camp, Limas Sweed can turn into found money, but the odds of that happening at this point are borderline infinitesimal. There are too many young receivers on this roster who are faster and have demonstrated professional ability for Sweed to even have a realistic shot at making this team. Prior to getting hurt, sucking, getting hurt, sucking again and getting hurt again, Sweed was thought to have the size and speed combination to be a potential deep threat. At the combine, he ran a 4.45 40-yard dash. Mike Wallace, who came in the year after Sweed, might be a few inches shorter, but he's more than a full second faster in the 40, has an absurd second gear, is capable of burning every corner in the league, and he CATCHES THE BALL. Limas Sweed will resurface in Seattle next year, where he will compete for reps with Big Mike Williams. The loser of that battle will be cast down to the UFL to play with Daunte Culpepper.

Also, there is no way Randle El is on this roster next year. He serves zero purpose. Additionally, while the Steelers don't have to draft a receiver for at least three or four years, it's a good bet that they'll take a late-round flier on one at some point. Superb athletes do fall to the late rounds, and the Steelers are especially adept at scooping them up.

TE: It's possible we could draft a TE, but it is by no means necessary. They're locked in with Miller and Johnson. The only question is the much maligned Matt Spaeth, who I think they will re-sign for a relative pittance because he's improved enough as an inline blocker to do his job (it's not like they've been taking him off the field, right?) and he has performed pretty well as a pass-catcher on the rare occasions he's been asked to do Miller's job. Furthermore, I can't fathom him commanding a meaningful amount of money on the open market and even if he does, he could probably be easily replaced with little performance hit by a very low draft pick or a free agent tight end with no name recognition.

We're in agreement here, though I think that Matt Spaeth could easily be replaced by a tackle eligible, if only they had another tackle.

ILB: This position is just absurdly stacked. Even if James Farrior suddenly starts to age on a normal curve and can no longer start, we still have Keyaron Fox, Stevenson Sylvester and Larry Foote. Even though I love Stevenson Sylvester, I recognize that there's probably no way he could step into that role in the near future, and possibly not ever at all. I don't think the latter is true, but even if it is, we still picked up Larry Foote, who is under contract for at least another couple of years, specifically as insurance in the event that Farrior hits the wall or gets injured. In that scenario, either Lawrence Timmons would slide over into Farrior's role and assume the reigns long-term, and Foote would play his old position, or Foote would just take Farrior's job. I don't know if he would be good at it, but I would say that based on the signings it's obvious they think he could and would try that before planning to draft Farrior's replacement. Even if Farrior does decline and someone else has to take over, your backups are still Keyaron Fox and Syevenson Sylvester, both young guys; the former I believe would be an above-average starter-quality thumper ILB for any other team, and the latter I think is a legitimate long-run prospect inside. So, I don't think you need more than 5 starter-quality linebackers to play 2 starters, and I can't imagine they'd draft one just to have to deal with the roster issues that would ensue trying to keep him around.

OLB: This could go either way depending on how Woodley goes. They've said they have zero intention of losing him, but they still might and in that instance, this would be a need, just not an especially urgent one. Obviously they drafted Jason Worilds as insurance against this type of scenario, and I guess as a potential replacement for Harrison in the long run if Woodley is re-signed long term. Either way, I think at least they think Worilds is the salve for whatever needs to be addressed at OLB. If Woodley goes and Worilds steps in, there is little depth left behind Harrison and Worilds, so in that situation you would want to draft for depth at OLB but it would not be an urgent need or one that necessarily requires a day-one pick.

Defensive Line: This is another possible exception, because of Casey Hampton's age and the backup situation. Right now, we have Hampton, Keisel and Smith. It's obvious Smith is near the end of his career, but similarly obvious is that Hood is a legit guy for the future. That leaves Hampton and Keisel. Keisel is also old, but not as old, and strangely seems to be coming into his own right now, late in his career. Even though he's in his early 30s, I'd be surprised if they didn't plan to have him around for at least the length of one more full 4-5 year contract. Backing him up is Nick Eason, who is also old and also playing well, and also, I believe, under contract for a little while longer. That leaves Hampton. He is ancient and awesome, as is his backup, Chris Hoke. Everyone on this line is old. However, I think you're ok at DE between Hood and Sunny Harris who, despite being on the practice squad, I'd bet would be able to step up in the next couple of years once he surpasses Eason. Even if that doesn't happen, I don't see them drafting anyone because I don't think they think he's done cooking (inexplicably it apparently takes years to develop these 3-4 DEs), and even in the event they do feel they should draft some more young prospects at the position, they seem to prefer to do it in later rounds (see: Aaron Smith, Ryan McBean, Brett Keisel, Doug Worthington, Sunny Harris) and that's where they'd do it again here. There is still the matter of the NT position, where there is undoubtedly need for a future heir to Casey Hampton's spot. However, Hampton is still locked up for another few years and is surprisingly still playing very well, I think for that reason they're happy to roll without insurance for the next year or two. I think what that means is if they have some big value NT drop very far to them, they'd probably take him in the absence of an even better option. But seeing as how "we'd take an awesome value if he fell in our laps" is not the same thing as having an urgent positional need, I still say it's not a meaningful need.

This gets complicated as more NFL teams switch to the 3-4. Hood has looked excellent this year, and I see no reason why the Steelers couldn't pick up a suitable replacement for Kiesel at some point in the next two years. That said, 3-4 tackles are much tougher to come by. For a slam-dunk like Hampton, you're usually talking about a top-15 pick. This isn't to say that you won't find a suitable NT in the later rounds. It can and does happen, it's just less likely to happen with a nose tackle than it is with most other positions.

Safeties: At some point someone will have to replace Ryan Clark, but seeing as they just re-signed him, I think they feel no need to hurry that process along. Also, although the wisdom of this is debatable, they seem happy with Ryan Mundy. They also have Crezdon Butler in the wings, someone who I'm sure there's little reason to believe is long-term starter quality but I'm sure they'll want to find out before they decide they need someone more. Troy Polamalu, despite his injury issues, is clearly not going anywhere.

So, kids, that leaves guards, tackles and cornerbacks. We need as much of 'em as we can get, and I see no reason to draft anything but linemen and defensive backs in every round, allowing for picking up value players for the D-line, at fullback and at the safety position as it presents itself.

I completely agree with this. That said, the Mike Tomlin/Kevin Colbert drafts have all been outstanding so far, and the common theme among them is that the team takes the player it has rated highest on its draft board, usually regardless of position. That's one of the reasons this team is so loaded at linebacker and receiver. I don't see that stopping this year. While I'd love to see them draft exclusively for the offensive line and defensive backfield, I just don't think it's that bloody likely. At this point, though, I think the Tomlin/Colbert Steelers have drafted well enough that they're deserving of fans' trust. I won't be thrilled if they go guard, receiver, linebacker in the first three rounds, but I'm not going to question it if they do. These guys have established a track record of supreme competence with regard to the draft.

I realize that cannot possibly be right - no team spends their whole draft on three positions, and it can't possibly be the case that we find appropriate value at every round with one of those three, so I'm sure this isn't actually a viable strategy. I'm just saying, though. Seems like we should just draft a bunch of linemen and corners.

Also, we might need a punter. Third round this time, okay? When you skimp on it and try to get one in the fourth, that's when you wind up with Daniel Sepulveda and his Fabergé legs.

1 comment:

FRANCOfranco said...

BotB 4EVER.

Also:

Drafting for the D-line is extremely complicated. Yes, we snagged a sleeper stud in Ziggy, but is he here to play 3-4? He's spent half his life learning 4-3 technique, and only 2 years learning a 30 front. His physique is that of a tweener. He's kind of short for our kind of end, but he'd be perfect for a 2-5-cover2 (Noll/Dungy) DT.

Don't get me wrong, I think he's here to play LE for keeps. But that's not the position that anchors the line. Anyone who knows anything about defense knows that you cannot fake NT. By that I mean you cannot plug in a free agent scrub or a low round pick.

Also, also: this analysis does nothing in the way of mentioning our internal development at corner! Sure we have some MEDIOCRE dudes prowling the sidelines, and yes, Ike and McFadden's best days are probably in the past (specifically speaking: Ike's best game two weeks ago against Baltimore, McFadden had some rockstar performances in the 2005 / 2008 playoffs), but that shouldn't devalue what we may have coming up to replace them. William Gay is the best dime back in the game. Will he ever step up to play corner? Doubtful, but still, he's a fine system DB. Crezdon Butler and Keenan Lewis should still be considered as CB prospects. If any of the those three can strap it on, we have a third-round need, at highest at CB.

The bottom line moving forward is the obvious: we will never have another Troy, in much the same way we will never have another Mean Joe. We will find a new way to dominate, but that search will take time. We will enjoy our dominance in the trenches, and the Maurkice Pouncey era will prove extremely violent. But, that alone won't be the lynch-pin of a handful of AFC championships.

If there is is any position we'll need help at, it's safety. All bets are off as to how we touch it.

Far more likely that we draft a RB than a S.