PALMER’S DRAFT PREVIEW
2013 NFL Draft Special
April 24, 2013
The Stillers enter the 2013 NFL Draft the same way they ended the 2012 regular season: with a truckload of questions.
Normally, I vote for taking the best player available, regardless of position. This year, however, the team has such a glaring weakness at the linebacker slot, I think the Stillers have to look that way in the early rounds. First, however, allow me to give you some background.
Recently, the NFL Network re-ran its “Top 10” program featuring the ten greatest linebacker corps in history. The Pittsburgh Stillers were the one and only team with two groups named to the list. (One was the All-Pro Blitzburgh unit of Lloyd, Greene, Brown and Kirkland; the other was the Hall-of-Fame squad with Ham and Lambert.) The fact is, no team more represents linebacker play than the Stillers.
Or should I say, used to represent linebacker play. I’ve been watching the Stillers for decades, and the current unit by far is the weakest I’ve ever seen. With the loss of Harrison, here’s what we’re looking at right now:
Woodley: See Mill’s columns for the 411 on this underachiever
Foote: Wheel him to Eat’n Park for the Early Bird special
Timmons: Sometimes brilliant, often invisible
Worilds: Remind me why they dumped Harrison again?
The situation would look brighter had promising rookie Sean Spence not destroyed his knee; but as of now we don’t know if he’ll ever even play again, let alone at what level. So look where that leaves us.
Even during the dark days of the ‘80s, the Stillers had standout linebackers such as Hinkle and Merriwether, continuing into the ‘90s with guys like Jerroll Williams. (Remember Jerry Olsavsky?) The beat went right on after Blitzburgh with Porter, Farrior and of course, the recently departed James Harrison.
The 3-4 LeBeau defense is built around linebackers, guys who fly all over the field laying the wood. These days, though, the only flying Stillers linebackers do is on the team jet, and the wood comes from bench splinters. It’s a crisis, and it’s become so bad, I’m dumping my usual “best available athlete” stance in favor of taking the best linebacker available.
Months ago I recommended little-known BYU DL Ezekiel Ansah as the pick – unfortunately, he went on to play in a little game known as the “Senior Bowl” and dominate the competition. Ever since then, the sports heads haven’t stopped talking about him. So it’s highly unlikely he even makes it out of the top ten. Now where does that leave the Stillers?
Having lost Mike Wallace, the Stillers may be tempted to take Tennessee WR Cordarelle Patterson (which they shouldn’t, as they can easily grab a speedster later, such as Ryan Swope out of Texas A&M). Likewise, they may want to nab Tyler Eifert, the gifted tight end out of Notre Dame. They should resist doing either and instead grab LSU linebacker Kevin Minter with the #17 pick.
I know, an inside ‘backer – ooh how thrilling! Well, when you’re the Stillers and counting on Larry Foote in his 59th season, it is pretty exciting. But let me go a step beyond that. For starters, Minter was the overall MVP on a Tigers team that came within seconds of knocking off Alabama. He also made first-team All-SEC leading a defense that held the high-scoring national champs to their lowest point total of the season. In short, Minter stood out on an LSU defense stocked with NFL-caliber talent.
Minter takes nice pursuit angles, doesn’t get caught up in titty-fights, and moves nicely through the wash. Not only that, but he can give the Stillers something they’ve been lacking since Farrior: a QB for the defense. He should be there at #17, and if he is, the Stillers shouldn’t waste any time taking him. Sure, some might consider this a bit of a reach – to which I say, go back and look at that list of current Stiller LB’s again.
Should Minter be gone, however, the Stillers might look to his teammate, Barkevious Mingo, to shore up the OLB slot. Mingo can put heat on the passer, but he’s a bit lanky, and his motivation has been questioned. Mingo’s a likely first rounder, but if both are available, the choice isn’t even close: go with Minter.
Let me close by stressing that the Stillers should rate Minter ahead of that other top ILB prospect, Manti Te’o. Why Te’o is ranked ahead of Minter by so many “draft experts” is beyond me. Unlike Te’o, Minter didn’t get buried by Crimson Tide linemen, and, I’m willing to bet, doesn’t spend as much time on the Internet, either. Again, should both Minter and Te’o be available, the vote shouldn’t even be close.
In round two, the running-back-starved Stillers may look at Alabama’s Eddie Lacy – but they should look at their LB situation instead and take Georgia’s Cornelius Washington (who’s a better value than his overhyped teammate, Jarvis Jones). Washington played under the radar on a defense stuffed with high-profile guys, but to anyone paying attention, he’s an athletic freak with serious pass-rush potential.
Minter and Washington would immediately bring life into a dead LB corps – and again, no unit defines the Stillers 3-4 like the ‘backers. It’s time to put the ‘backer back into the ‘Burgh – starting with the 2013 Draft.
One note: the Stillers may find it too hard to resist Eifert, the TE I mentioned earlier, should he be available. Eifert’s ability to split wide falls right into the mold of the modern-day tight end such as Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. It should be interesting to see what the Stillers do should both Eifert and Jarvis Jones still be on the board at #17. (That’s especially so given the uncertain health status of Heath Miller.)
It would shock nobody if the Stillers ended up with Jones – but again, I’d go with Mintner then come back with Washington in round two. But hey, that’s just me, some shlub who’ll be drinking beer on the couch watching the guys who get paid to make such decisions.
I will say this, though – should the Stillers pass on Minter, don’t be surprised to see him end up with the Ravens. Now, won’t that make everyone feel nice?
Enjoy the draft!