2013 NFL Mock Draft: Pittsburgh Steelers 7-Round Predictions and Analysis
Anyone who did an NFL mock draft this spring knows how hard it is to get the picks right just days before the event, even with volumes of scuttlebutt and scouting reports at their disposal.
Well, if any of these picks turn out to be right, we can say you read it here first.
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Round 1: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Weight: 240 pounds
This 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers mock draft is based on the premise that they again will pick late in the first round. The later, the better, because playoff teams draft in reverse order of how far they advance. The Super Bowl winner picks last at No. 32, the Super Bowl runner-up picks at No. 31, and so on.
Let's just say for now the Steelers make the playoffs in 2012 and pick outside the top 20 in the draft. In that case, Thomas, ranked No. 4 among outside linebackers by NFL Draft Scout, should be available to the Steelers.
The Steelers likely won't mind tapping Stanford again after David DeCastro's rookie season. If James Harrison, who turns 34 Friday, starts showing signs of a decline or if LaMarr Woodley's hamstring acts up again, the Steelers will need an outside linebacker.
Thomas, like DeCastro, was named to the Sporting News All-America Team in 2011. He had 8.5 sacks and was second in the Pac-12 with five forced fumbles.
Round 2: John Boyett, FS, Oregon
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Weight: 202 pounds
Safety was the biggest need the Steelers didn't address in the 2012 NFL draft.
Free safety Ryan Clark will be 33 next season. He'll be no help to the Steelers in Week 1 in Denver. He sits out games in Denver because the thin air adversely affects his sickle-cell trait.
Clark was the Steelers' leading tackler in 2011, but those 15-yard penalties he tends to commit sort of defeat the purpose.
Boyett had 108 tackles, 67 solo, in 2011 to lead the Ducks for the second time in three seasons. He rises to the occasion in big games. He had a career-high 17 tackles in Oregon's 45-38 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, and a game-high 12 stops in a win over UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
As tough as Boyett is on the field, he was forced to get tougher off the field when tragedy struck the Boyett family in early 2011, according to Pac12.org.
Round 3: Izaan Cross, DE, Georgia Tech
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Weight: 292 pounds
After drafting just three defensive players out of nine picks in 2012, the Steelers go defense in the first three rounds of the 2013 draft.
It wasn't easy to find big defensive ends on NFL Draft Scout's list of 2013 prospects. Cross' name jumped out because of his weight. The Steelers will be looking for true defensive ends for their 3-4 defense because I have a feeling Ziggy Hood isn't going to make that jump the Steelers are going to need him to make.
With Hood remaining decent but not dominant, and Brett Keisel turning 34 next season, the Steelers draft Cross, who according to Ramblinwreck.com had 32 tackles and four pass breakups in 2011.
That site also calls Cross, pictured on the left, "a high effort player who chases plays down from the backside and downfield well into the fourth quarter."
Round 4: Braxston Cave, C, Notre Dame
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Weight: 303 pounds
Neither of Maurkice Pouncey's two seasons with the Steelers have been injury-free. He's missed their last two postseason games, both losses.
If Pouncey misses a couple of games again in 2012, the Steelers won't necessarily be looking for a new starting center, but at least a better backup than Doug Legursky.
Cave has his own injury history. He was hurt in November of 2011 and needed foot surgery.
It's hard to find centers who haven't been hurt. The 2012 draft class was full of centers with injuries in their past, and it wasn't a deep draft for centers to begin with.
Assuming Cave's foot is fully healed, the Steelers draft a Notre Dame player for the first time since wide receiver Malcolm Johnson in 1999.
Hey, Johnson caught two passes for the Steelers that year.
Round 5: Conner Vernon, WR, Duke
Weight: 195 pounds
The Steelers will keep Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown, but not both, after next season. They'll both be free agents. Whichever one they lose, they'll be left with a hole at wide receiver that they'll need to fill in the 2013 NFL draft.
The more I think about the Steelers' choice of Toney Clemons in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, the more I like it. But he's not a deep threat.
NFL Draft Scout calls Vernon a "big-play threat." Vernon caught 70 passes for 956 yards and six touchdowns in earning second-team all-ACC honors in 2011. He's the first player in ACC history to have 70 or more receptions in multiple seasons.
Hopefully the fact he plays for Duke allows him to drop to the fifth round.
Round 6: Marcus Cromartie, CB, Wisconsin
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Weight: 182 pounds
No, he isn't one of Antonio Cromartie's children, even though he is a cornerback.
In a perfect world, Curtis Brown, Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis all will continue to progress and create a fierce competition for the Steelers' starting cornerback job opposite Ike Taylor.
However, the pessimist in me says one of those guys will either take a step back or plateau. Let's not forget, too, that Taylor turns 32 Saturday. That's pushing it at a position like cornerback.
Terrence Frederick, who the Steelers chose in the seventh round in this year's draft, is likely nothing more than special teams fodder.
So while the Steelers seem stocked at cornerback now, a lot can happen in a year in the NFL.
Round 7: Steele Jantz, QB, Iowa State
How can the Steelers not draft a guy named "Steele?"
On the first day of the 2012 NFL draft, the Steelers drafted David DeCastro and re-signed Byron Leftwich. Which news were you more excited about? You don't have to answer now. You can have time to think about it.
With Leftwich and Charlie Batch still on the team, and Ben Roethlisberger turning 30 in March, it's likely the Steelers will enter the 2012 season with no quarterbacks younger than 30. It's time to groom a backup quarterback who might actually bring some energy if he's ever needed.
When looking at the prospect lists of quarterbacks, the first thing I look at is size. Watching the 6'5", 241-pound Roethlisberger all these years, it's hard to picture the Steelers' offense run by a smaller quarterback.
Jantz isn't quite as big as Roethlisberger, but he seems to share Roethlisberger's ability to keep plays alive with his mobility.
I read up a little on Dayne Crist of Kansas, who is 6'4", 235 pounds. He had a good spring game and will be playing for Charlie Weis. He could rise up draft boards in 2012.
Jantz, however, seems like a guy who will still be available in the seventh round.