2012 NFL Mock Draft: Projecting the Pittsburgh Steelers' Picks

Mike BatistaContributor IJanuary 27, 2012

2012 NFL Mock Draft: Projecting the Pittsburgh Steelers' Picks

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    Pittsburgh Steelers fans aren't used to thinking about the NFL draft in January.

    While New York Giants fans and New England Patriots fans are buying chips and dip and beer and wings for their Super Bowl parties, Steelers fans are poring over scouting reports and mock drafts.

    The Steelers might not be in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI, but at least their scouts will be there for the NFL Scouting Combine, which starts Feb. 22.

    Some consolation prize.

    The Steelers have the No. 24 pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but it's just as important that this "Old, Slow and Done" team gets it right in all seven rounds, or at least most of them.

    Here's what I think the Steelers should do. Of course, there are exactly 90 days between now and the 2012 NFL Draft, so there are a lot more mock drafts where this came from.

Round 7: Eddie Pleasant, SS, Oregon

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    Year: Senior

    Height: 5'10"

    Weight: 210 pounds

    Troy Polamalu turns 31 a week before the draft begins. He won't be around forever. While he had a solid 2011 season, his lack of "splash" plays could be the first sign of a decline.

    Part of Polamalu's effectiveness is his ability to be anywhere on the field. I just don't see him being able to play like that in five years.

    Safety is one of the areas on defense where the Steelers need to get younger.

    Pleasant earned a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honor for his two interceptions in a 34-17 win over Washington on Nov. 5, according to the Pac-12 via CBSSports.com and NFL Draft Scout. He led Oregon in 2011 with three interceptions.

Round 6: Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State

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    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'0"

    Weight: 191 pounds

    No, I'm not projecting the Steelers will draft this Boise State quarterback just so I can get a picture of the blue turf into one of my slideshows (I do love the blue turf, though).

    The Steelers haven't drafted a quarterback since Dennis Dixon in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, and he's quite likely gone as a free agent.

    Charlie Batch, 37, and Byron Leftwich, 32, also are free agents. The Steelers probably will re-sign at least one of them. Either way, the Steelers eventually will need a younger backup quarterback.

    The Steelers signed former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, but it probably wouldn't hurt to draft a quarterback in the later rounds.

    Moore was fourth in the 2010 Heisman Trophy voting as a junior. He threw for 3,485 yards with 35 touchdowns and six interceptions. In 2011, Moore completed 74.3 percent of his passes. He threw for 3,800 yards, 43 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Round 5: Markus Zusevics, OT, Iowa

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    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 296 pounds

    The Steelers can't ignore the offensive line in this draft.

    As you can see from the photo, Zusevics wouldn't have to change his wardrobe if he were drafted by the Steelers. Iowa wears the same colors as the Steelers.

    Marcus Gilbert is the Steelers' heir apparent at left tackle. Willie Colon (remember him?) would be first in line to regain his job at right tackle if he can stay healthy. But there needs to be competition there. According to Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout via CBSSports.com, Zusevics projects as a right tackle, or maybe even a guard, in the NFL.

    Zusevics started 13 games at right tackle for the Hawkeyes in 2010 and 12 games there in 2011. He was named All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2011, according to NFL Draft Scout via CBSSports.com.

    This guy might need a lot of work, but it will be interesting to see what Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler can get out of him.

Round 4: James-Michael Johnson, ILB, Nevada

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    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'1"

    Weight: 249 pounds

    You can pretty much count on the Steelers taking at least one linebacker in every draft, and inside linebacker is one of the aging areas of the Steelers defense.

    We've probably seen the last of James Farrior in Pittsburgh. Larry Foote will be 32 in June. It likely will be third-year man Stevenson Sylvester's chance to win a starting job at inside linebacker.

    If Sylvester emerges, the Steelers will need some depth at the position.

    From what I saw on Chad Reuter's scouting report on CBSSports.com, it seems like Johnson would need some work, but he was elected team captain as a junior and is a hard worker.

Round 3: Dwight Jones, WR, North Carolina

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    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'3"

    Weight: 226 pounds

    Wide receiver might not seem like one of the Steelers' needs in this draft.

    However, Jerricho Cotchery probably will sign somewhere else and Hines Ward could retire. That would leave the Steelers thin behind Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.

    Also, Sanders had health issues this season. An injury to Sanders or another member of the "Young Money" trio could leave a void at the No. 3 receiver spot for the Steelers.

    So it wouldn't be a bad idea for the Steelers to take a look at some receivers in this draft, and it seems there's more value at receiver in the earlier rounds.

    Jones, who caught 79 passes for 1,119 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011, could add some size to the Steelers' receiving corps. Their only receivers taller than 6'3" are Cotchery and Arnaz Battle, both 6'1". As I said, Cotchery is probably gone and Battle is more of a special teams player than a receiver.

Round 2: Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin

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    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'4"

    Weight: 315 pounds

    The Steelers seem to have found their left tackle of the future in Marcus Gilbert, who they drafted in the second round last year.

    This year, they need to turn their attention to the guard position.

    Hopefully, we've seen the last of Chris Kemoeatu, who gets more flags than the United Nations. Ramon Foster hasn't been bad. Doug Legursky is worth keeping around because of his versatility.

    Trai Essex? I've always said that his name makes him sound more like a guy in a boy band than a football player. Seriously, he's always been there to patch up holes in the line left by injuries, but he'll be 30 next season.

    The last guard the Steelers drafted who stuck around for any length of time is Willie Colon, and he's not even a guard anymore. They did choose Kraig Urbik in 2009, but he's now with the Buffalo Bills.

    Drafting an offensive lineman from Wisconsin is like buying a suit from Italy. It's one of the best places you can go.

    Zeitler made the 2011 American Football Coaches Association Football Bowl Subdivision All-American team, according to NFL Draft Scout via CBSSports.com. He's the latest in a long line of Wisconsin offensive linemen to earn All-America honors.

    A lot of mock drafts have the Steelers addressing the offensive line in the first round, but I think their priorities have changed based on the events of the last couple of days.

Round 1: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

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    Year: Junior

    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 350 pounds

    It turns out that Casey Hampton is having anterior cruciate ligament surgery today, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That news, combined with Chris Hoke's retirement, made yesterday Black Thursday for the Steelers' nose tackle situation.

    Even before it was revealed that Hampton will have ACL surgery, Poe was my top choice as the Steelers' first-round pick. Whether he has the surgery, Hampton will be 35 next season and he's on the decline.

    Steve McLendon is a nice story, but is he a long-term starter? There's been talk about moving Ziggy Hood to the nose, but he just doesn't have Hampton's physical presence.

    You might say that Poe would provide a physical presence. He's four inches taller and (officially) 25 pounds heavier than Hampton. If Hampton is the Big Snack, then what would Poe be?

    The Really Big Snack? The Big Dessert?

    We have plenty of time to think of nicknames for Poe, but if the Steelers don't draft him, all that fun would be in vain.

    Rob Rang of CBSSports.com (h/t) and Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout both have Poe still on the board at No. 24. The Steelers should take him, because their need for a nose tackle suddenly has become urgent.