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National Football League
Draft King Analysis

July 24, 2008
Lou Pickney,

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The Pittsburgh Steelers return with a strong team from 2007 and appear, at least on the surface, to be the favorite to repeat at AFC North champions. The team added some new pieces to its offense, and if the offensive line can hold up, they could be in the hunt for the Super Bowl in the upcoming playoffs.

Rashard Mendenhall
Rashard Mendenhall had a great 2007 season at Illinois. (Icon SMI)
With Willie Parker suffering an injury during the stretch run, and the now-departed Najeh Davenport proving unable to fill his spot (particularly in the Steelers' home playoff loss to Jacksonville), the Steelers opted to upgrade at running back by drafting Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall at #25 overall. Mendenhall didn't become a starter at Illinois until last year, but he made the most of his opportunity, posting 1,681 yards and 17 touchdowns on 262 carries in 2007.

The speedy Parker is expected to retain the starting role this fall, but having both him and Mendenhall on the roster will help boost Pittsburgh's overall rushing attack. Mendenhall, at 5'11" 225 pounds, has the size to be a long-term rushing threat for the Steelers. But, for now, the Steelers will have the luxury of having two standout running backs on its roster.

In round two, the Steelers made an interesting selection in the form of Texas WR Limas Sweed. Many observers believe that Sweed, a potential late first-rounder, was a value pick at #53 overall. Ben Roethlisberger made some waves this past January when he said that he wanted the Steelers to draft a tall wide receiver, a comment that did not sit well with 5'11" wideout Hines Ward. But, to that end, the selection of the 6'5" Sweed met the wishes of Roethlisberger.

Sweed likely would have gone higher in the draft had he not broken his wrist early in the 2007 season at Texas. Sweed won a BCS Title at Texas as a sophomore on the Vince Young-lead team, and he should provide the Steelers with a strong option in three wide receiver sets. With Ward, Sweed, and Santonio Holmes on the roster, Pittsburgh should be strong at that position.

The flip-side for Pittsburgh is its offensive line. Disgruntled offensive guard Alan Faneca departed via free agency to the Jets, and the Steelers somewhat surprisingly utilized the seldom-used transition tag on offensive tackle Max Starks to keep him on the team in 2008.

The major additions made to the Steelers in the draft should help give the offense a boost that will ultimately pay off in a major way. In the short-term, it provides depth at key positions. At the same time, Pittsburgh has a traditionally strong defense, and it added a player in the third round in the form of UCLA DE Bruce Davis who, by all accounts, should be a great fit in the Steelers system.

One draft pick who went later than some expected is Oregon QB Dennis Dixon, who Pittsburgh snatched up in round five. There were whispers of him being a day one prospect prior to his knee injury in 2007, but in Pittsburgh he could find a strong environment in which he can learn the system without having to feel the pressure of needing to perform right away.


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