2012 NFL Draft: 5 First-Round Luxury Options for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Chris Gazze@ChrisG_PITCorrespondent IApril 11, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: 5 First-Round Luxury Options for the Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers have only a few needs as they head into the 2012 draft, which the team could address in the first round.

    One of the biggest needs is on the offensive line at guard, where they need an immediate upgrade for Doug Legurksy at left guard. However, with the depth at guard in the draft, Pittsburgh may wait until the second or third round to address this area.

    The only other two needs come on defense, and there are players in place to hold onto a starting role for at least one more season.

    Casey Hampton has at least one more year with the Steelers, and Steve McLendon proved to be a valuable backup at nose tackle. There is also depth at the position where the Steelers could find a quality player in the second or third round.

    The only remaining hole on the roster is at inside linebacker, where Larry Foote is expected to take over full-time for James Farrior.

    Though Foote is not an ideal option, there will not be a drop-off in production from last season, where Foote split time with Farrior. Stevenson Sylvester has potential to be a good role player to share time with Foote this year.

    With a lot of money invested in the linebacker position, the Steelers may not want to invest in a first-round pick at the position.

    That leaves a number of luxury options for Pittsburgh to address in the draft, whether it be at the skill positions on offense or more depth in the defensive backfield.

    One luxury option, Coby Fleener, became nothing more than a long shot after the Steelers announced that they signed Leonard Pope on Monday.

    Here are five potential luxury selections, included several that I have said to avoid, for the Steelers in the first round.

Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech

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    Wide receivers who are 6'4" and run sub 4.4-40s are hard to come by. That is what makes Stephen Hill such a unique receiver.

    Drafting a player such as Hill would ease the burden of potentially losing Mike Wallace after the season, as Hill has the potential to develop into a deep-threat receiver.

    The knock on Hill is his lack of production at the college level, which is in big part due to the scheme that he played in.

    While Hill did not have many receptions at Georgie Tech, he did make the most of them, averaging 29.3 yards on 28 receptions.

    Those numbers will not be matched when he transitions to a pro-style offense, and there is some concern as to whether or not he can. But Georgia Tech has produced some pretty good NFL receivers recently in Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas.

    Hill is a project and may be a year or two away from making significant contributions, but he may have a higher ceiling than any other receiver in this draft and would give the Steelers the big target they have been lacking since Plaxico Burress.

Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

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    The Steelers do not take projects often in the first round, so a wide receiver along the lines of Kendall Wright could be a more realistic option.

    Once again, with the future of Wallace in doubt, the Steelers could plan ahead and find a receiver to groom as his replacement in this draft.

    Wright is smaller than Hill at 5'10" and 196 pounds, but has excellent speed to get deep down field. More importantly, he was very productive at Baylor with 302 receptions in four seasons, including 108 receptions for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns as senior.

    Early in his career, Wright could play the slot and would eventually be able to move to the outside. He would have to work on his physical game, as they did not play much defense in the Big 12.

    Wright's top-rated speed and acceleration would make him a threat every time he touches the ball and make Pittsburgh's offense that much more dangerous.

Nick Perry, OLB, USC

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    According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette, Nick Perry visited the Steelers on Monday. He could be a very nice option for them in the first round.

    While the Steelers are set with two outstanding outside linebackers, they found last season that if one goes down, so does the pass-rush.

    LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison both had injury issues that plagued them throughout the season, and Pittsburgh was unable to generate a consistent pass-rush without them.

    Jason Worilds does not appear to be the answer on the outside, and Chris Carter is still a relative unknown.

    Pittsburgh may decide that they do not want to take a chance again this season and draft Perry in the first round.

    Perry has great speed and excellent size at 6'3", 271 pounds to match up against the large tackles that he will face.

    At the collegiate level, Perry was productive and had a good year last season with 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss.

    No team can have too many good pass-rushers, and Perry would give the Steelers a real threat behind their starters.

    Perry could step in for special pass-rushing packages or if there are any injuries.

    Another bonus with Perry is that he is a well-rounded player who is also capable of defending the run and dropping back into coverage, though he will have to prove both skills at the next level.

    Perry would give the Steelers a true outside linebacker prospect who could one day take over for Harrison. 

Mark Barron, S, Alabama

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    The Steelers struggled to coverage athletic tight ends last season, and adding another top safety could help them when lined up against passing formations.

    Mark Barron is the most well-rounded safety in this draft and probably the only one worth a first-round selection.

    Barron is very experienced as a three-year starter and was productive both against the pass and the run. He had 317 tackles in his four years at Alabama, 24 passes broken up and 12 interceptions.

    Pittsburgh has two top safeties, so Barron would profile as a backup for a couple of seasons before the team would even consider starting him. He is a better fit as a strong safety.

    The knock on Barron is his lack of elite speed and stiffness in the hips that limits his ability in coverage. He still does have skills and the intelligence to perform at a high level; plus, he is excellent against the run.

    Barron would have plenty of time to grow into his position if drafted by the Steelers and would be a great fit with their defense.

Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

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    The Steelers just spent two draft picks last season on cornerbacks with Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen, and the coaching staff likes both of them.

    They are expected to compete with Keenan Lewis to replace William Gay as the team's starting cornerback opposite of Ike Taylor.

    Even though there is already depth in place, there is always room for good cornerbacks, and Stephon Gilmore has potential to be a very good cornerback.

    Gilmore has good size at nearly 6'1" and has good speed to run with the bigger receiving targets in the league. He can also physically match up against them, as he does not shy away from contact. This will also serve him well in defending the run, a must for a Pittsburgh cornerback.

    Over his three years at South Carolina, Gilmore was a bit inconsistent and had a down year last season with only 46 tackles, the lowest of his career. His interception numbers did increase each year, though, from one to three to four.

    At best, Gilmore would be no higher than the fourth cornerback to start the season, but should eventually grow into not just a starter, but a very good starter. That could potentially mean that the Steelers have two cover corners starting in a few years.

    Gilmore has all of the tools required to be a top cornerback in the league, and he would be a great addition to an already-talented group of corners that the Steelers have.


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