2012 NFL Mock Draft: 7-Round Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft, Version 4
Pittsburgh has three major needs heading into the draft, with an immediate upgrade at guard being the highest priority and future starters at nose tackle and inside linebacker being next in line.
Beyond these positions, the Steelers could use upgrades with their depth a virtually every position, meaning that they could go in any direction in the first round.
To add a different spin on this draft, I will exclusively use Pro Football Weekly's draft value chart to make the Steelers' selections.
Since Pittsburgh is drafting in the late part of each round, I will be using part C of each round for the players available. So for example, in the first round, I can only select a player in group 1C or lower.
With the rules in place, here is my latest mock draft.
Round 1: Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin
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Let me preface this by saying that I do not like reaching for talent in the first round, and I was very tempted to take Dre Kirkpatrick, one of the most talented cornerbacks in the draft. However, the current talent at the position is pretty good, with Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen on the rise.
Though he appears to be an early second-round prospect and would be a reach in the first, the Steelers may have Kevin Zeitler higher on their draft board than other NFL teams. It would not be the first time that they have had a guard rated higher than his draft position.
Pittsburgh took Kendall Simmons, a potential second-rounder, with their first pick of the 2002 draft. He looked to be a very good guard prospect before his health got the best of him.
If the Steelers are going to take Zeitler, it will have to be in the first round. I do not anticipate him lasting until their second choice of the draft, and while he does not have a high ceiling, Zeitler is just a solid football player who should transition well to the pros.
Zeitler would immediately be able to compete for a starting job at guard, where he started for 35 games at Wisconsin. He would likely have to adjust to the left side after playing the right side in college.
Zeitler is a stronger run-blocker than pass-blocker, but he will have help around him, particularly in the middle with Maurkice Pouncey.
At Wisconsin, Zeitler played for one of the best offensive line coaches in the country, Bob Bostad, and the program has put out some quality linemen recently, including Joe Thomas, Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt.
Pittsburgh recently gave up on Kraig Urbik, another Wisconsin lineman, but he developed into a solid starter, and they could have certainly used him on their line.
That should not be a reason to avoid Zeitler. He is a talented guard who can immediately help the Steelers offensive line, and he should have a long, productive career in Pittsburgh.
Previous Selection: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
Round 2: Josh Chapman, NT, Alabama
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Should the Steelers replace a soon-to-be 35-year-old nose tackle with a torn ACL with a 22-year-old with a torn ACL? Yes.
Josh Chapman is a prototypical 3-4 nose tackle at 6'1", 316 pounds.
Chapman has a low center of gravity and unbelievable strength, which helps him occupy linemen. He had 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and one sack last season while playing much of the season on an injured knee.
With Casey Hampton signed on for one more season and Steve McLendon backing him up, Chapman could be groomed into the position for a season before the Steelers really need him to carry the load.
Chapman is a pure run-stuffer at nose tackle, but will also free up space for the linebackers to make plays behind him. He will be very difficult to move with his massive lower body, and that bodes well for the Steelers, as they need this type of nose tackle for their defense to be effective.
The presence of Chapman, though not a pass-rusher, would help the linebackers do their jobs better getting to the quarterback. Last season, Hampton was single blocked more than he ever has been in his career, and that was one of the issues with the Steelers failures to pressure the quarterback.
Another positive for Chapman is that Alabama has produced some quality defensive linemen lately, including Terrence Cody and Marcell Dareus.
Chapman started 25 games and played in 53 and helped lead the outstanding Alabama defense to a National Championship.
Previous Selection: Alameda Ta'amu, NT, Washington
Round 3: Nigel Bradham, ILB, Florida State
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Want a linebacker that can run? Nigel Bradham is your guy.
If Pittsburgh does not take a linebacker in the first round, and I believe it is highly possible that they could take an inside (Dont'a Hightower) or outside linebacker (Courtney Upshaw or Nick Perry), they need to find a value pick in Round 2 or 3 because as the draft progresses, the talent is not there.
Bradham was very productive in college, as he led Florida State in tackles for three straight years, including 86 tackles last year after having over 90 in the previous two.
Larry Foote will man the inside linebacker position this year, so Bradham will have to compete with Stevenson Sylvester for playing time.
At the very least, Bradham would have the opportunity to make his mark on special teams, which is the norm for Steelers linebackers.
Bradham has the speed and athleticism to drop into coverage, which will suit him well with how the NFL is played today. However, he can be over-aggressive, and it may take him a couple of seasons to get comfortable with Pittsburgh's defense.
Bradham is a work in progress who would have an entire season to learn Pittsburgh's complex defense while playing special teams, but projects as a starter and would be a nice mid-round addition to the team.
Previous Selection: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
Round 4: Chris Polk, RB, Washington
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Running back isn't a huge need for the Steelers, but no one could argue that they could use another back who could either be a change-of-pace back or a potential future starter.
Chris Polk could be a legitimate replacement for Rashard Mendenhall and provides tremendous value in the fourth round.
After having a subpar 40-yard dash at the combine, running a 4.57, Polk was much better at his pro day, with timed runs between 4.45 and 4.51 seconds.
Polk's speed and size (5'11", 212 pounds) are very good for a feature back in the NFL. His production has been outstanding in college, with two straight years over 1,400 yards and 4,049 yards for his career. Polk had 26 touchdowns, including 12 last season.
Beyond his running, Polk has good hands demonstrated by his 79 career receptions, and he can contribute in the return game as well.
Polk's physical running style would fit in nicely with Pittsburgh's offense.
Previous Selection: Derek Wolfe, DE, Cincinnati
Round 5: Brandon Washington, G, Miami
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Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster are the only guards on the roster, so it is essential that the Steelers add depth to the position.
This draft does even better because Brandon Washington gives the team a potential second starter on the offensive line late in the draft.
Washington was an All-ACC selection at guard, but did not play to the same level when moved to tackle last season. That will not be an issue, as he will move inside in the NFL.
Washington has perfect size to play guard, at 6'3" 320 pounds, and has plenty of strength to be a force in the ground game.
However, Washington's experience at both guard and tackle and should serve him well, as this versatility will allow him to dress every week.
Pittsburgh would have a steal with Washington this late in the draft, and they have the answers to upgrade the interior line.
Previous Selection: Lucas Nix, G, Pitt
Round 6: T.J. Graham, WR, North Carolina State
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After passing on receivers earlier in the draft, the Steelers needed to get one before the draft ended, even with the re-signing of Jericho Cotchery.
T.J. Graham follows the theme of Pittsburgh selecting an undersized receiver (5'11", 188 pounds) who can also contribute in the return game.
With Antonio Brown being phased out of the return game as he has established himself as a starting receiver, the Steelers need to find someone to compete with Emmanuel Sanders as the kick and punt returner.
Graham is the all-time kick return leader in the ACC with 3,103 kick return yards and two touchdowns. He is an accomplished punt returner as well, with a long return of 87 yards in 2010 and 82 yards in 2011.
Beyond being a special teams player, Graham had a good senior season with 46 receptions for 757 yards and seven touchdowns.
Graham has excellent speed, running a 4.41-40, and he will be able to stretch the field when given the opportunity.
Graham could eventually become a slot receiver, but will have to develop his all-around game, including improving his route running, blocking and overall physical play.
Previous Selection: Levy Adcock, OT, Oklahoma State
Round 7 Selections
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Matt Conrath, DE, Virginia
Pittsburgh lacks depth at defensive end with the retirement of Aaron Smith. Conrath has a huge frame at 6'7" and has room to comfortably add another 10-15 pounds to put him closer to 300.
Conrath was productive last season with 66 tackles (12 for a loss), two forced fumbles and three sacks. He is a bit of a project, but is solid against the run and would be a threat to bat down passes. He can also contribute on special teams.
Previous Selection: Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona
Donnie Fletcher, CB, Boston College
Fletcher does not have elite athleticism, but was a solid player at Boston College. He has good size at just over 6'0" and 201 pounds. He can play a physical game, but is not very fast.
It will take time for Fletcher to develop, but he would not have any pressure with four talented cornerbacks ahead of him. As a late-round choice, it would be beneficial for him to get time at cornerback and safety.
Previous Selection: Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State
Joe Long, OT, Wayne State
The younger brother of Jake Long, Joe Long was named the 2011 Gene Upshaw Division II Lineman of the Year.
Long started 45 games at Wayne State and is worth a late shot given his brother's success in the league.
Previous Selection: George Bryan, TE, North Carolina State
Randy Bullock, K, Texas A&M
No change for the last pick. Randy Bullock is the top-rated kicker in the draft after being selected AP All-American First Team.
Bullock made 29-of-33 field goals last year and 80-of-102 for his career with a long of 52 yards. He was 176-of-179 on extra points. He would challenge Shaun Suisham.
Previous Selection: No Change
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