2012 NFL Mock Draft: 7-Round Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft, Version 1
Pittsburgh will likely see a lot of turnover as the team is expected to be around $25 million over the salary cap. Many veterans may find themselves released, leaving the Steelers with several holes on their roster.
James Farrior and Casey Hampton are two of the biggest names on defense who may need to be replaced.
Both players have been staples in the Steelers defense, which has been ranked at or near the top of the league since there has been a roster.
If it is not replacing aging veterans, there is always the need to add talent on the offensive line.
There will be no shortage of options as there is a lot of talent in this draft and the Steelers will most certainly find quality players early in the draft and even a gem or two later.
Let's take a look at my first mock draft of the offseason.
Round 1: Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
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The Steelers absolutely need to upgrade their offensive line, but the upgrade needs to be at guard and quality at this position can be found later on.
The same is not necessarily true of the defensive line. While this year's draft has depth at defensive tackle, the Steelers will need a player who can start at nose tackle as soon as this year.
Casey Hampton will be coming off an ACL injury and will likely have to take a pay cut if he is to return given his $8 million salary.
Chris Hoke finished the year on the injured reserve and is unlikely to return, leaving only backup Steve McLendon. McLendon played well as the top backup last season, but he is not the stud Hampton was and was not even as dominant as Hoke in his prime.
Dontari Poe would be the massive body the Steelers defense needs to be dominant again. Pittsburgh's 3-4 is built up the middle and it all starts at nose tackle. When Hampton was drafted he helped transform the Steelers' defense from good to elite.
The hope is that Poe could have similar results. Poe would be a huge presence in the center of the line at 6'5" and 350 pounds. He would command the double teams Hampton was no longer getting.
Not only would he help upgrade the run defense, but by occupying blockers he would give the linebackers more room to rush the passer.
Round 2: Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin
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Pittsburgh should head into the 2012 season with Marcus Gilbert at left tackle and Willie Colon back at right tackle. With Maurkice Pouncey at center, that leaves both guard positions to be upgraded.
Chris Kemoeatu should be a cap casualty and while Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster are fine backups, they are not starting material.
Though the Steelers did not fare well with former Wisconsin guard Kraig Urbik, that should not discourage them from taking another Wisconsin product.
Kevin Zeitler would give Pittsburgh another high-round prospect for the offensive line, and under the coaching of offensive line coach Sean Kugler he will be able to refine his technique and have an opportunity to compete for a starting job next year.
Round 3: Brandon Lindsey, OLB, Pitt
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Pittsburgh's pass rush was not a pretty sight when LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison missed time with injuries.
Though I am not ready to give up on Jason Worilds, his lack of production this season was cause for concern.
There are high hopes for Chris Carter to turn into a quality pass-rusher, but even if he does, you can never have enough good pass-rushers in the NFL today.
Brandon Lindsey was a very good defensive end for Pitt and was able to play in a stand-up role as well. He has the skill set to be a productive pass-rusher and led the Big East in 2010 in tackles for loss.
Lindsey will have to continue to develop his pass-rushing moves and ability to defend the run, but he does have the frame for an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and would be a quality mid-round prospect for the Steelers.
Round 4: Jerry Franklin, ILB, Arkansas
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The Steelers need an upgrade at inside linebacker, and though they may not get one this late in the draft they could potentially find a future starter at the position.
James Farrior has potentially played his last down with the Steelers, and if he comes back it would have to be at a reduced rate.
Pittsburgh may keep Larry Foote around as a stop-gap starter at inside linebacker if Farrior does not return. Foote is not a long-term answer and is best in his reserve role.
Stevenson Sylvester has the athleticism needed to play the position but has not been able to put it all together.
Jerry Franklin has been a productive player for Arkansas and could one day develop into a starter.
Round 5: Jeff Allen, OT, Illinois
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The Steelers tackle position appeared to be set for the 2012 season prior to Max Starks' ACL injury. His latest injury setback means that the Steelers will once again be thin at the position.
Gilbert and Colon should be the starters, but there is not much depth behind them.
Jonathan Scott is a decent backup and has starting experience. He has maxed out his potential and the Steelers need to find a better option.
Trai Essex has developed into a utility backup as he can play every position on the line, though he may not be back next year.
Pittsburgh needs to continue to find and develop young talent to build its offensive line and Jeff Allen will provide them with a late-round prospect to develop at tackle.
Round 6: George Bryan, TE, North Carolina State
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Heath Miller and Weslye Saunders can be a very good receiving duo at the tight end position. All too often, though, they are kept in to help block.
David Johnson is the third tight end and blocking specialist lining up as a fullback as well. The problem is he is only adequate.
George Bryan would provide the Steelers with a legitimate blocking prospect at tight end.
Round 7: Matt Conrath, DE, Virginia
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By the end of the season the Steelers had three healthy defensive linemen. That is not the recipe for success.
Aaron Smith finished the season on the injured reserve again and his great career has likely come to an end.
Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood will start next season and Cameron Heyward will get significant time off the bench. It is actually possible that Hood could play nose tackle if the Steelers do not address the position, leaving Keisel and Heyward as the starters at end.
Regardless of the situation, Pittsburgh needs depth at defensive end.
McLendon could shift over and play the position in a pinch, but it would be better for the Steelers to add a young prospect.
Matt Conrath looks to exclusively be a 3-4 defensive end prospect. He will have to bulk up but is worth a shot late in the draft.
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