Which 2013 Draft Prospects Should the Pittsburgh Steelers Already Be Scouting?
While the 2012 NFL draft is in the books and the 2012 season is now the primary focus of NFL coaches and players, the 2013 NFL draft has become the primary focus of scouting departments across the league. The Pittsburgh Steelers should already have scouts out watching as the big guns of the NCAA start preparing for a new campaign of their own.
Here's a look at six players the Steelers should have eyes on right away.
Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
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The Steelers will be trying some combination of Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown at the cornerback spots this season. Finding a long-term solution opposite Taylor is one of the top priorities of Dick LeBeau and Carnell Lake.
Lewis or one of the others may be that solution, but the Steelers could still focus on the cornerback position early in the draft. Banks is one of the highest-rated corners that should be coming out next spring.
Banks makes plays and, while playing for a less-prominent school, has carved out a name for himself. I think he will probably be a mid-round pick in the first round, but the Steelers might get lucky once again, as they did this season with David DeCastro.
He has shutdown stuff, something the Steelers can certainly use in the secondary. If they are able to get him after another big season at Mississippi State, they'd be really shoring up their corner position for the foreseeable future.
Eric Reid, FS, LSU
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It's never too soon to start planning ahead. The Steelers don't, at least at this point, figure to have a ton of major needs in next year's draft. The offensive line looks to be shored up for a long time, and the Steelers have depth at virtually every other position.
So, looking ahead, one of the next things to do is address replacements a year or three ahead of time. Reid would be that for Ryan Clark.
Reid is a hard hitter and a defensive playmaker that profiles very similar to Clark. He's another guy who will likely be a first-round pick, so there are no guarantees the Steelers will even be able to get him. They should be scouting him, however. If he's available, it could be a great addition.
One of the reasons the Steelers are so successful is that Ryan Clark has teamed well with Troy Polamalu. That needs to continue with whoever replaces each player. Getting at least one of those guys in the next year or two is going to be important as both play with little regard for their bodies.
Nico Johnson, ILB, Alabama
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The Steelers chose not to select Alabama's Dont'a Hightower with their first-round choice in the 2012 draft. They could elect to take an Alabama linebacker next year, though. There is still nothing convincing or conclusive about the group of players vying to replace James Farrior.
Stevenson Sylvester is likely in a put up or shut up season. He won't get another chance at this unless he can prove that he's on track this season. Larry Foote is old and getting older. He may be a temporary fix at best. Sean Spence is too new to be sure about, but I think he may have a different role in the team's future.
Johnson profiles well for the Steelers. He's a tough inside guy who makes plays and is a good pass-rusher. He's going to be a first or second-round pick next year and looks like the kind of guy the Steelers like for their linebacker position. His aggressiveness is a huge weapon.
Brett Maher, PK, Nebraska
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Not every player that needs to be scouted will be chosen in the first round. Some may not be chosen until toward the end of the 2013 draft. That doesn't mean that getting some eyes out there isn't as important.
One player that I like for the Steelers late in the draft next year is Maher, the kicker from Nebraska. The Steelers won't likely see Shaun Suisham as worthy of a new deal paying several million. He's been passable as the team's kicker, but he's been nothing special.
The Steelers elected not to bring anyone else in this year to challenge him. That could change if he struggles. The team has shown no compunction to stick with a bad kicker in season. That's how Suisham and his predecessor, Jeff Reed, got their jobs.
Maher is a guy who could be brought in through the draft next year and who could end up staying for a long time. The team hasn't had a steady kicker besides Jeff Reed since Norm Johnson was still in town. It'd be nice to solve that.
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
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Another position that isn't a major concern for the early rounds is that of quarterback. The Steelers do have Ben Roethlisberger and should have him for a long time to come. The problem with that is that Roethlisberger rarely plays every game of the season and has never taken every snap.
The Steelers have aging backups right now and elected to go with them once again. I can't imagine Charlie Batch having much more left. Byron Leftwich has many injury questions after two years mostly spent on the shelf.
A guy like Smith, a tough quarterback with a good arm and great legs, could fit in well here. He has a similar style to that of Roethlisberger, although without the same level of physical tools. He has the potential to be an excellent backup and perhaps a starter someday too.
It's unclear where he'll be drafted. A lot will depend on how this season progresses for him.
Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
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It will be interesting to see how Davis bounces back this year and how his draft stock looks after the season has been completed. If he can regain his old form, he should be at the top of some draft boards and should be near the top of the chart for running backs.
The Steelers may or may not be in the market next season. There are several scenarios for this. First, the health and productivity of Rashard Mendenhall will be important. He will be up for a new contract next season. How he performs now will determine if that comes here in Pittsburgh or with another team.
Isaac Redman will be up for a deal too. His worth will also be determined by how he plays. He'll be a starter for the first time this year and, if successful, may command a big deal. If he isn't successful, he could find himself back as a backup guy.
Davis could fit in any number of ways, and he's worth scouting for a team that has always had a very successful rushing attack.