Why the Steelers Should Go Safety in the First Round

Kenny VaccaroThis is part three in a series from steelcityblitz.com arguing the reasons why the Pittsburgh Steelers should take a specific position with the 17th pick in the first round. Today is a look at the safety position.

One of the hardest things for any fan to admit is that there must come a time when his or her favorites need to hang up the cleats. Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers have faced such a dilemma before and now face it again with Troy Polamalu and to a lesser degree, Ryan Clark.

Polamalu will be 32 years old next season and is coming off a season in which he started and played in just seven games. Over the last four seasons, Polamalu has played in just 42 of a possible 64 regular season games for the Steelers as he continues to be bothered by nagging injuries.

The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is in limbo in my opinion. He has always talked about walking away from the game with his health intact and with every game he plays I fear that will no longer be a possibility. Will he retire before 2013 starts? It would not surprise me.

Ryan Clark will be 34 and amazingly has been pretty durable over the last four seasons. Despite his reckless style, he has missed just two regular season games over that time but I fear his time is drawing near as well.

Clark always seems to me to be one hit away from having his career ended. He consistently lowers his head at impact and loves to go for the big hit. I love big hits, but I also like seeing guys being able to walk away from them too. His speed has always been a question in my mind and that signals a need to get younger and faster in the secondary.

For a team with a number of ‘need’ picks, safety has to be right up there. Several of the top safety prospects appear to be pretty interchangeable in terms of strong vs free safety.

First on the list would be Kenny Vaccaro of Texas. He recorded over 100 tackles and was a unanimous All-Big 12 selection. He has really good speed and locks on receivers better than most safeties making him a possibility for free safety as well.

Junior Matt Elam of Florida is a big-hitter who appears to have improved his coverage skills enough to project him in the late first round. I thought he got beat a little too often in the Sugar Bowl, but alas, that’s just one game.

Another junior is LSU’s Eric Reid who totaled almost 200 tackles in two years as a starter for the Tigers. One thing I like about him is that LSU liked to bring him up around the line of scrimmage almost as an extra linebacker and he did well in that role.

A guy that also could fit in the 17th spot for Pittsburgh is T.J. McDonald who, like Polamalu, hails from USC.  McDonald is very physical and will get you some tackles for loss, but his speed may drop him out of the first round. His pre-draft workouts could determine his position.

The nice thing about looking at the safety position is that it seems to be a deep draft class this year so perhaps the Steelers feel they can get a potential starter in the 2nd or 3rd round. One thing is for certain, they desperately need to upgrade here and there isn’t anyone on the roster in my opinion that can be a full-time starter for years to come.

Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.

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2 comments on “Why the Steelers Should Go Safety in the First Round

  1. I don’t think I like a safety enough at 1.17. I started off not very high on Vacaro, warmed up enough to be willing to take him at 1.17, now I have re-cooled off. Not uncommon, in my days. TJ is nothing near a first rounder, I love Elam, but like most people am scared away by his size. I think there will be value in the later rounds 3-5 at safety. I’m all about offensive playmakers early and often, this year. Including TE.

    • Thanks for reading… It very well could be a situation where the Steelers go with the’best player available’ depending upon what happens in front of them. I think it is really going to depend on what shakes out during the offseason with free agency, contract adjustments and possible retirements. At this point I can’t rule anything out.

      I’m not exactly sold on McDonald either plus he tends to get a little ‘boneheaded’ with the smack talking stuff.

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