National Football League teams all start out with one first-round selection in the draft, and often there’s a player everyone can point to as being a perfect fit.
This year, there are two former Alabama players who seems to fit that mode for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have the 24th-overall selection: running back Najee Harris and center/offensive lineman Landon Dickerson.
With the Steelers needing to revamp their running attack, it could be a very tough decision.
“I think if Alabama’s Najee Harris is there, that he’s the perfect fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Sports Illustrated analyst Jim Mora Jr. said. “He’s the next Franco Harris. Le'Veon Bell. This is a special young man.”
Although the Steelers’ offense has evolved with the rest of the league, its style remains a bit of a throwback in one aspect in particular.
“The word that comes to mind with the Pittsburgh Steelers is toughness,” Mora said.
But the Steelers weren’t effective at running the ball last season, and the offensive line wasn’t considered especially tough.
Pittsburgh finished last in the league in both rushing yards per game and average yards per rushing attempt. The only teams to attempt fewer plays on the ground were Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. All except the Buccaneers finished with horrendous records.
Subsequently, the contracts of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett were not renewed. Running back James Conner is a free agent, and center Maurkice Pouncey retired.
Thus, the team’s primary needs heading into free agency, with Dickerson standing out as a possibility.
“If you wanted to take a little bit of a risk, Landon Dickerson from Alabama,” Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network said. “If he didn't tear his ACL towards the end of the year and didn't have some other injuries during his time at Florida State, I think he'd be — he almost is just a perfect Steeler.
“He is physical and nasty. He's fun to watch. He's quick. He's a taller guy. He's 6-6, 326 pounds, but we've seen the Steelers coming off a pretty good run here with a tall center, so he'd be a great fit provided he could be okay with the medical stuff.”
Dickerson suffered a knee injury during the SEC Championship Game, but a few weeks after surgery was on the field for the Crimson Tide’s “victory” formation in the National Championship Game.
The question a lot of teams have to ask themselves is if they can risk the first-round pick on him.
“We’re had guys come into the league with injury concerns, I go back to Anthony Munoz,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said.
“He’ll be ok.”
Dickerson is already lifting weights again, and wasn’t just on the sideline for the Senior Bowl but was like a coach while trying to help the other players.
“Great leader,” Kiper said. “Great intensity. Nick Saban speaks to that, what he was doing in the National Championship Game. He’s just a great teammate.
“He plays like a Steeler. He plays like a Raven.”
Thus, the rub. Pittsburgh’s biggest rival, Baltimore, which is also known for its toughness, has the No. 27 selection in the first round, three picks after the Steelers. Both teams need a center.