Labriola On

Labriola on the 'what' of the '16 draft

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • By now you have to have heard that the Steelers are using the vast majority of their 30 pre-draft visits on guys who lined up on defense in college. Previous to that, when General Manager Kevin Colbert had been asked at the NFL Owners Meetings in late March about how free agency was progressing for the team, he said it "(became) evident if we did anything free agency-wise it probably was going to be on offense, because we should be able to draft some good players on the defensive side."
  • Two weeks from today, the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft will be over, and the Steelers' performance in it already will have been judged and graded, not only for the who but also for the what the who is going to play.
  • Everybody has an opinion, and the opinion often will be formed into hard concrete before the second round of the draft even has a chance to begin. But that's the way it's done now, a time when debates are conducted in 140-character bursts and doing research is considered against the rules.
  • But, hey, enjoy. This is what the NFL wants: year-round interest in its sport, and to consumers of so much of this bloviating: Caveat emptor. And that only uses up 13 characters.
  • Even my opinion is solicited. Who among the defensive backs possibly available at No. 25 would be the best fit for the Steelers? If these three guys – insert names here – are all available at No. 25, which one should the Steelers pick? Cornerback or safety? Coverage or pressure? Could it possibly be a position other than defensive back?
  • I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. Both. I don't know.
  • I don't know, because I'm not a scout and unqualified to be one, and so filling up the DVR to re-watch college football, or bowl games, or college all-star games doesn't really qualify me to do anything more than guess, and cyberspace currently is filled with enough guesses.
  • I don't know, because I would consider it disrespectful to Kevin Colbert as an individual and the Steelers as an organization to make any attempt to surreptitiously learn and then reveal their proprietary information on the draft prospects.
  • And since I'm not going to lie, it's "I don't know."
  • What I will offer is a description of the kind of player I believe the Steelers must acquire at some point over the course of this upcoming three-day draft, and I'll do it by mentioning a name from the past.
  • Darren Perry.

Here are photos from our last meeting with each of our 2016 opponents.

  • Don't get hung up on the measurables – 5-foot-11, 196 pounds – or the 4.75 speed Perry brought with him into the NFL. Forget that he was an eighth-round draft pick in 1992, which under the format of today's current seven-round draft would make him an undrafted rookie. In fact, ignore everything but his production.
  • Perry came to the Steelers in the eighth round of the 1992 draft, and he became a starter as a rookie after Thomas Everett refused to report to training camp and then Gary Jones injured a knee at training camp. During the six seasons from 1992-97, Perry started all 96 regular season games plus 11 more in the playoffs. In 1998, his seventh NFL season with the Steelers, he started 14 games, which gave him a total of 110 during the regular season and 11 more in the playoffs.
  • In his 121 games under the Steelers' employ, Perry, a free safety who played alongside Carnell Lake, had 33 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries. In the 110 regular season games, he had 32 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries.
  • So in the regular season alone, Perry averaged 5.8 takeaways every 16 games. If the playoff games are included, his average drops slightly to 5.5 takeaways per year with the Steelers.
  • Perry had three multi-interception games during his time with the Steelers, including a turning point type game during Week 2 of the 1994 season when he had three in a win over the Browns in Cleveland.
  • It was 1994, and a Steelers team coming off one-and-done playoff appearances in 1992-93 was looking to take the next step up the AFC ladder in 1994, Bill Cowher's third season as coach. After losing to Dallas, 26-9, in their opener at Three Rivers Stadium, the Steelers traveled to Cleveland, where they never had won under Cowher.
  • Perry intercepted Vinny Testaverde three times in what turned out to be a 17-10 victory for the Steelers, and it catapulted them to a 12-4 finish and a division championship over the Browns, who would finish 11-5.
  • The 1994 season was the one during which Blitzburgh was born, but the victory over the Browns in Cleveland was the one first showcasing a characteristic that became a hallmark of Dick LeBeau's zone-blitz concept – the one about having a quarterback think he feels pressure when there isn't any will result in him throwing you the football.
  • Perry provided consistent production in the form of interceptions from a defensive back, and that's the most glaring element missing from the Steelers defense as it's currently constituted. As a rookie, Perry had six interceptions, then four in his second season, and then seven in his third. Imagine adding that kind of production to the current Steelers defense.
  • During Perry's seven regular seasons here, the defense averaged 21 interceptions per. The most recent regular season in which the Steelers defense recorded as many as 21 interceptions in a season was 2010, when the unit totaled exactly 21. The last time a Steelers defense finished a regular season with more than 21 interceptions was in 1996 when Perry was five years into his term as the starting free safety.
  • So, if you wanna know what I want to see come out of this draft, it's another Darren Perry from a production standpoint. That's the what. The who and the when are up to the Steelers.
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