There is no greater roll of the dice than the first round pick in the NFL draft. A great first round pick can completely turn around a franchise. A bad first round pick can set a franchise back five years and cost a head coach his job. The Pittsburgh Steelers have had what could best be called an up and down record when it comes to their first round picks. They’ve hit home runs with players like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or safety Troy Polamalu and been less successful on players like wide receiver Troy Edwards and defensive end Cameron Heyward.
The 2013 NFL draft could be a turning point for the Steelers franchise. After coming off a disappointing 8-8 season and missing the playoffs, how they handle this first round pick will be a huge move going forward. And as I break down the team needs of the Steelers, inside linebacker is certainly an area of need. Linebacker Larry Foote had a career year, but there’s no guarantee he will be back and if not, there is a glaring hole that will need to be filled. But the question is, in light of all the recent events, compounded with his play this season, would the Steelers target Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o in the first round?
The simple answer to this is yes. Te’o has all the skills that the Steelers would look for at inside linebacker. He would be a near ideal pairing with linebacker Lawrence Timmons in that 3-4 defense. Timmons is uber-athletic and can roam sideline to sideline and rush the passer. Te’o would be the coverage inside backer, dropping into zone, reading the quarterback, and has the potential to have a great career in the league. His skill set complements the athleticism of Timmons really well and would be very much in the same role that linebacker James Farrior held for the Steelers for so many seasons.
However, the question I continue to field today is about whether or not the Steelers front office would still consider Te’o as a first round pick in light of recent events. Obviously I don’t know that answer. I can look at their history of how they have drafted and who they have kept in light of off-field concerns, and I feel comfortable saying that these events, even if they are a worst case scenario would not deter the Steelers from drafting Te’o.
While the Steelers do pride themselves on high character players, we’ve seen recently that they have softened their stance on this somewhat, and I can’t imagine that anything Te’o might have done would cross the line that the Steelers executives appear to have drawn between who is draftable and who isn’t. There’s a real chance Te’o will still be on the board when they Steelers select and depending on who else is available, I’d be fine with them considering him in the first round.