As the Pittsburgh Steelers work to get themselves under the projected salary cap, they are simultaneously preparing for the April draft. Each year, multiple players are scouted for each pick as a team puts together their draft board.
This year, the Steelers have some definite needs that match up well with the talent pool that will be available in the draft. Here's a look at who they might be scouting for each pick.
Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
The Steelers look like they'll be in need of at least one tackle this year. Adams could slot in almost immediately on the right side of the line and allow Marcus Gilbert to move to the left side. That would save money (Willie Colon and Max Starks would disappear) and give the team two young bookends on a line they've steadily worked to rebuild.
Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The team may not bring back Casey Hampton to play the nose. While Cox is not an immediate solution, the team could groom him for a year behind either a less-expensive Hampton (if he restructures) or a guy like Steve McLendon. He also projects to be among the best players available at the end of the round.
Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
James Farrior is another candidate for the too old, too expensive list. The team seems to have an heir in Stevenson Sylvester, but could take a player like Hightower to push him or overtake him. Hightower's ceiling is high, and he possesses the aggressive skill set that has become a hallmark of the team's linebackers.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
William Gay and Keenan Lewis are free agents. Given the cap situation, the team might not be able to bring one or both back. A guy like Gilmore can be groomed as a future starter in the same way the team brought Ike Taylor along. He's a much better playmaker than either of the men the team would allow to walk.
Trumaine Johnson, CB/S, Montana
The team struck gold with a small-school selection in Ike Taylor at the same position. They could elect to do it again. Johnson is a proven playmaker whose chief strike against him is the lack of competition. If the team is serious about improving their secondary, they could pick between Johnson and Gilmore or take whichever one is left.
Kelechi Osemele, OG, Iowa State
The Steelers need some help at guard, especially since they'll be bidding farewell to the disappointing Chris Kemoeatu, and possibly others. Doug Legursky is a health question, and the team doesn't seem sold on Ramon Foster. A player like Osemele could help with their supposed return to running the ball more often.
LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
According to the latest from the team, they aren't expecting Rashard Mendenhall to play a major role in the 2012 season. That could mean that they project his recovery time to be long into the year or that they aren't bringing him back. James could be a huge boost for the team and would fit in well with Isaac Redman.
Brandon Brooks, OG, Miami (OH)
The Steelers need a guard, perhaps more than one. We've already looked at that position. Even if they are planning on starting Legursky and Foster again, they could start accumulating some young depth options to develop. A guy like Brooks is a good bet toward the end of the third round and could develop into a guard on either side of the line.
Antonio Allen, S, South Carolina
Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu are both aging, and both play the game at full speed. The hits take their toll. Polamalu in particular has seemed to slow just a bit in the last year. While he's nowhere near done (neither is Clark), the team could get someone in there who can rotate in now and then and develop behind them.
Josh Kaddu, DE/LB, Oregon
The team has had great success with hybrid defensive players in the past. LaMarr Woodley came out of college in the same position as Kaddu, albeit with more fanfare. Woodley has become a big star. Kaddu could be a guy that could develop behind James Harrison, who's getting on in years.
Akiem Hicks, NT, Canada
Here's a wild card idea. Hicks has talent, but the scouting reports on him are a bit different. If the Steelers, who love small-school unknowns, want to take a flier, this is the guy I'd select. There's no guarantee they get a guy like Cox in the first round, so Hicks might be a good bet later on if they are still in the market for a new nose tackle.
Nate Potter, OT/OG, Boise State
The Steelers love versatile linemen. They could go with a guy like Potter in the middle rounds as someone they can develop, much like they did with Doug Legursky. He could start or be a guy available to step in at any time and at multiple spots. Potter has experience in a high-powered offense as well, something that might be good considering Todd Haley's history.
Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
Even if the team nabs a corner in one of the early rounds, the Steelers could use a little more depth and competition. Curtis Brown's injury could hold him out for a while, hastening the need to get extra depth. If the Steelers don't bring back Lewis and Gay, they'll need two new players for those spots.
Eddie Whitley, FS, Virginia Tech
Whitley would be a good option to groom behind Ryan Clark for a few years. He's no lock (who is?), but he is a guy that could bloom. He had a nice career at Virginia Tech and he can make plays, something the team needs. I could even see him slotting in as a nickel back if the team struggles to replace the production they've gotten there from the free-agent corners.
Tony Bergstrom, OG, Utah
I could see this being a draft with multiple offensive linemen. That's why I've been including so many in this mock of possible options. If they don't get one in one round, they can get one of these in another round.
Bergstrom has good size and technique. He's played against big competition too at times, something that can't be discounted.
George Bryan, TE, NC State
The Steelers might be in the market after Weslye Saunders' suspension. Bryan fits the bill. He's big and tall and projects as a decent run blocker, something that could be essential if the team decides to bring back an emphasis on the run, or even their jumbo package.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
I've seen Cousins all over draft boards. He could drop to this point, although his value seems to be heading north. If he ends up falling, the team would be foolish not to take him. He has the talent and skill set to fit in well as a backup with the Steelers, and they could groom him behind an older veteran for a year.
Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State
Ballard is a smaller, faster back. He's the perfect compliment to a guy like Isaac Redman, who's built to bull his way up the middle. Having a guy who can bounce outside and run away from tacklers would be a nice weapon and is something the team has lacked since Willie Parker departed.
Carson Wiggs, PK, Purdue
Wiggs is a nice idea here. The Steelers have Shaun Suisham, but he could do with some competition, and the team also should be concerned about his track record and leg strength. He had a good season, but it could be an aberration rather than a rule. As it stands, Wiggs might be a better option.
Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia
Tandy is a more local commodity, and he could be a nice pick-up in the last round of the draft. The Steelers will have three selections in this round, so they'll likely take the best players remaining. Tandy figures to be in that group and just happens to fit a need, as we've already discussed.
Matt Reynolds, OT, Brigham Young
Offensive linemen can emerge from anywhere. No one saw Doug Legursky developing into a regular. A guy like Reynolds might end up being an awesome bet in the late rounds. Seventh-round picks don't always make the team, but you never know when a guy like Brett Keisel will emerge from the pack.