With the No. 31 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward. The team didn't take a whole lot of time making the selection, suggesting that Heyward was very high on their draft board. While everyone was clamoring about a cornerback in the first round - a frightening number of mock drafts linked the Steelers to Texas cornerback Aaron Williams - the glaring need for a youth infusion on the defensive line flew under the radar.
Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel are both gifted 3-4 ends, but they're both getting old, and the former has been injured more often than not over the last few seasons. Along with third-year man Ziggy Hood, Heyward ensures that Pittsburgh's defensive front will be dominant in seasons to come. He has ideal size for the position and scheme (6-foot-5, 294 pounds) and has the skills to play five-technique, as he is not well-suited to be a pass-rusher in a 4-3 scheme. While he doesn't excel in any one area, he doesn't have any glaring weaknesses. It's a solid pick for Pittsburgh, who has always built through the draft.
The way things were panning out toward the end of the first round, it became clear that the Steelers would likely select a defensive end or an offensive tackle, as some highly rated prospects fell down the draft board, thanks to some surprising selections (especially the run on quarterbacks early on) in the first round. That said, we might look back in a few years and wonder about Cameron Heyward versus Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod, who was also staring the team in the face at No. 31. Both guys would be excellent values at pick No. 31, at positions of need for the Steelers. We'll just have to see how it pans out and hope that Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, and company made the right choice. They usually do.
Check back tomorrow for coverage of the second and third rounds, and look for Pittsburgh to address the cornerback and tackle positions.