2011 NFL Draft: What The Cameron Heyward Pick Means For The Steelers

Many Steelers fans are breathing a sigh of relief that Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward fell to them in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. While cornerback is a more pressing need, and while there were cornerbacks available (Texas’ Aaron Williams and Miami’s Brandon Harris) who projected to go at the end of the first round, neither Williams (who might turn out to be a safety) nor Harris (who is undersized) were of much interest to Steelers fans, who preferred Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling.

Dowling will probably be gone by the middle of the second round, and Williams will probably also be gone next time the Steelers’ name is called. But in the meantime, the Steelers picked up a solid value in Heyward at a position of need. Here’s Behind The Steel Curtain on the Heyward selection:

At 6’5", 294 pounds, Heyward projects quite well as a 3-4 defensive end. With Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith both over the age of 30 and dinged up with injuries in recent years, it made sense for the Steelers to use a high pick on a defensive lineman for the second time in three years. He’ll provide immediate depth along John Mitchell’s line in 2011, with the hope that he can slide into a starting role perhaps as soon as 2012.

As with Ziggy Hood, another defensive end who the Steelers selected in the first round (in 2009, in Hood’s case), Heyward probably won’t have to contribute right away. But with Brett Keisel showing signs of age and Aaron Smith really showing signs of age, the Steelers will need him sooner rather than later, and he will fit in well in their defense. ESPN on Heyward:

The Steelers want physical two-gap players at this position who eat up blockers in space and let OLBs LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison make plays and Heyward fits this description. Pittsburgh is an organization that always seems to have a great handle on its future needs and seems to be one step ahead.

Defensive end wasn’t the Steelers’ greatest area of need, but it was a concern that needed to be addressed, and they did so with a player who offered good value and will fit in well with the team. Also, as Pete Wilmoth pointed out while watching the draft, the speed with which the Steelers made the pick seems to indicate that they felt pretty certain about it. In the second and third rounds on Friday, the Steelers will surely need to take a cornerback, but hopefully the fact that Williams and Harris didn’t get taken in the first round might mean that a talented defensive back will slip to them.

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