Steelers Draft Analysis

April 29, 2008

The Steelers’ selection of Rashard Mendenhall with the 23rd pick in the 2008 NFL Draft was intriguing, but when you look at it, the Black And Gold didn’t have too many other avenues to travel.
Just about every offensive lineman they were interested in had been taken, and there’s no sense making a project player a number one pick. I think the Steelers did the right thing by going with a skill position player who can help them right away.
Mendenhall is powerful and explosive, and he could be the late-game closer who the Steelers need to put teams away in the fourth quarter.
Of course, the Steelers already have a Pro Bowl running back in Willie Parker — who, by the way, was leading the AFC in rushing before breaking his leg in December.
Parker will be back at or close to 100 percent this year, and he will once again carry the mail in the Steelers’ running game. But it’s nice to know there’s a quality runner ready to come in and contribute if “Fast Willie” needs a rest.
Once Parker was injured, there really wasn’t a quality running back the team could depend on — which was a big reason why the Steelers were one-and-done in the playoffs.
Mendenhall is known as a hard worker. I have no doubt he and Parker will work well together. Meantime, second-round pick Limas Sweed could be a steal if he can stay healthy.
All in all, it was a good draft for the Steelers. Like everyone else, I’m very excited to see how these young men perform on the field.

The last three times the Steelers chose a running back in the first round of the NFL draft, they wound up with Tim Worley in 1989, Walter Abercrombie in 1982 and Greg Hawthorne in 1979. Ouch. Those three combined for a grand total of 5,202 yards and 38 touchdowns for an average of 1,734 yards and 12 touchdowns per each of their careers. No wonder it took 19 years before the Steelers had the guts to try it again.

Most fans and many media members believed the Steelers would, and needed to, take an offensive lineman in the first round on Saturday. The Steelers may have originally agreed. But we will never know. When seven offensive lineman — including six tackles — were taken before the Steelers were on the clock, things changed. Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall was on the Steelers’ list of players they could not pass up if available at pick 23. Who knows? Maybe a star is born.

On the practical side, Mendenhall should help provide the Steelers with a one-two rushing punch they’ve needed. Hopefully he can get those tough yards inside the five and on third-and-two plays that have become passes in the Steelers’ arsenal. He has a reputation for being a hard worker and intelligent. That already places him ahead of Tim Worley.

Penguins versus Rangers is pretty much reality TV at its best. You have it all. Two highly skilled teams with great young goalies and a superstar trying to stick it to his old team one last time.

JagrIf you are heading to Mellon Arena and you plan to boo Jaromir Jagr, that’s certainly your right as a paying customer. But, my only question is: Why?

Jagr played his heart out when he was here, serving as Scottie Pippen to Mario Lemieux’s Michael Jordan. He helped the Pens win two Stanley Cups and did his best when “The Big Guy” was down with injuries or retired. The Pens traded Jagr because the NHL didn’t have a salary cap at the time, and they knew they couldn’t afford him any more.

Whether you like it or not, Jagr is one of the greatest Penguin players of all time, and one of the best athletes to ever play for this city. Not liking him simply because he doesn’t play here any more is ridiculous.

If you want the Penguins to beat the Rangers because the Pens are your team, fine. But if you want the Pens to win simply because you don’t want to see Jaromir Jagr succeed, shame on you.

Come on, Pittsburgh. You’re better than that! Enjoy the series.

You think the Penguins don’t remember what the Ottawa Senators did to them in last year’s playoffs? Highly unlikely. If the first two games are any indication, the Penguins are bound and determined to show Ottawa they are a different hockey team than the one who lost in five games in ’07. I never really thought playoff experience was that big of a deal in the NHL, but I see I’m wrong. Last year’s Penguins team was a bit tentative. The majority of the squad had never played in the postseason before, and there were major expectations going in. This year, they seem to be the team that wants to take the fight to their opponent and not the other way around. (See Roberts, Gary!) I’m not sure how long the Penguins will stick around this year’s playoffs, but I do like the look their collective eye. This team means business! Senators, Eastern Conference: You have been warned!

The Pitt Panthers basketball team certainly endured a roller coaster season in 2007-08.

Injuries to key players and inconsistent play at the end of the regular season left a lot of fans wondering how long they would stick around in the postseason. After a magical run to the Big East Tournament championship, the Panthers lost to Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Now, I’m not one of those people who think the program is underachieving, but I do think they need to step up their recruiting. Take a look at the teams in the Final Four.  They all have five-star, McDonald’s All-American recruits.

Pitt has not been able to land the stud talent over the years.  Coach Jamie Dixon has done a great job of working with his players and getting the most out of their abilities, but it has been proven time and time and again that the top programs get the top talent.

Pitt has everything the top players want.  The Panthers are on TV all the time, they play in a great arena and they reside in one of the top conferences in the nation.

They’re not far away, but Pitt needs a few more studs in the stable in order to have a shot at the brass ring.

By the time the Pirates’ season ends in 26 weeks, the Steelers will already have played four games, Penguins training camp will be nearing its end and Hallmark stores will have their Christmas stuff displayed. Oh, wait, they already have it out.

It’s baseball season, and there is a lot of time between now and that final Sunday afternoon game in San Diego at the end of September. And there is a good chance it will seem never-ending, even for the die-hard Pirates fans whose numbers seem to be dwindling with every losing season. That streak will tie the all-time record for professional sports (not just baseball) futility if it continues for a 16th season as almost everyone figures it will.

The first opening day I can recall was 1964, and I can’t remember any between then and now with less buzz about the Pirates. Oh, there is still a lot of excitement about the season beginning. But that’s because it means the sun will re-appear, school will let out, the grass will turn green and Kennywood will open. While there have been a lot of changes in the Bucco organization since this time last year, few involve baseball players. Which doesn’t lend for a lot of optimism about what we will be watching the next six months.

But ya know what? There were birds chirping outside my window when I woke up this morning. They forced a bout of positive thinking. So here goes.

The best hope that the Pirates can surprise us this year lies in their starting pitching. Ian Snell, Zach Duke and Paul Maholm had encouraging springs. Let’s ignore Maholm’s tender back in honor of opening day. Those three combined for a 3.67 ERA in Grapefruit League games. They struck out 34 while walking 13, and Duke didn’t walk a single hitter in 19 innings. Combine that with the positive vibes coming from all Pirates pitchers over working with new pitching coach Jeff Andrews, and we might finally see some dividends paid on all of the investments made the last decade on pitching.

Tom Gorzelanny is a concern because of some shoulder discomfort which bothered him last year, and Matt Morris is a concern because he just is. But even he had a decent final outing in Bradenton last Saturday against the Twins.

This year, it starts in March. Out like a lamb, as they say. But hopefully not led to a slaughter. I’m sorry, it’s the best I can come up with.

– Posted by Guy Junker