Draft Grade: A-
The draft is, in many ways, an exercise in risk management. The Steelers managed risk better than almost any other team in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Every April, experts and laypeople alike revel in the talent of the six to ten players to which our respective teams pin the hopes of the franchise; every May, we take a look back at the roster and mutter, “I hope these guys can actually play in the NFL.” The Ghost of Draft Busts Past whispers in our ear to guard our hope, to remain circumspect.
NFL teams are like everyone else: they are seduced by potential. The first round of the Draft is littered with talented players. But all of them carry risk: the NFL game is either too big, too fast, or too complicated. Yet when a player comes along that experts universally regard as a future Pro Bowler, 23 teams pass before the player’s name is called.
The Steelers didn’t make that mistake. They picked David De Castro in the first round. He will punish defenses for years to come.
I don’t buy the idea that a guard should not be picked in the first. Plenty of teams have a hole at one or more guard spots, including the Steelers. De Castro transforms this liability into an asset for years to come, guaranteed. The Steelers can focus elsewhere. Moreover, his highlight-reel pancake blocks instantly ratchet up the intensity, and the Steelers are almost assured that his dedication to technique will infect the rest of the offensive line, too.
Not every Steelers pick is guaranteed to pan out. They took Mike Adams, a talented, athletic left tackle with a history of hot-and-cold performance and poor decision-making — including smoking pot in the lead up to the draft. The Steelers waited until the end of the second round to take him. Risk managed.
The Steelers’ third round pick, as most do, also carries imperfections. Poor play is not Sean Spence’s problem. He’s athletic, he plays till the whistle, he does a good job recognizing plays, and he meets ball carriers in the hole like a pro linebacker, balanced and with explosion. He’s also small, by NFL standards. If he exhibits the same traits he did while starring at Miami on kickoff and punt coverage, the Steelers might have a Pro Bowler. If he can bulk up to play middle linebacker on a three-down basis in the NFL, they may have a star. Much like De Castro, the floor is low, and the ceiling is high. (Update: Just spotted this commentary from Steelers’ linebacker coach Keith Butler. When asked if Spence is ‘NFL ready’, Butler responded, “He’s going to help us on special teams.”)
When experts discussed Ta’amu as a second-rounder, I didn’t see it. He doesn’t explode off the line, and he won’t make impact plays. But he can hold his ground in the run game, and will form a solid part of a rotation at NT, at the least. The risk is low and the potential high, for a fourth-round pick.
Rainey is discussed as a potential steal if he can manage his off-field issues. If true, this is worth the risk of a fifth-rounder.
Several near sure-things and a host of other talented players? A team drafting near the top of every round could do worse. The Steelers managed this drafting near the bottom, in large part through good risk management.