10 Players Pittsburgh Steelers Could Take in the 1st Round of 2013 NFL Draft
After that loss, it might be tempting to give up on the season and take a look at 2013 NFL draft prospects, but the Steelers are 6-5 and still have the inside track on an AFC wild-card berth. They could lose two of their final five games and still have a chance to get into the playoffs.
It's not too soon, however, to start piecing together the Steelers' draft board. The 2013 NFL draft is less than five months away. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and his minions are already evaluating the 2013 draft class.
If not, they're dropping the ball just like every active Steelers running back did on Sunday.
The Steelers could be drafting anywhere from the top 10, if they lose their remaining games, to 32nd, if they make a miraculous championship run. Likewise, a draft prospect in the top 10 now could end up a second-rounder in April.
So, it's worth looking at every potential first-rounder who fills a need for the Steelers.
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Weight: 320 pounds
Looking at draft prospects before Christmas provides Steelers fans with a chance to pen a letter to Santa Claus, because it would take a Christmas miracle for Star Lotulelei to be available to the Steelers when they're on the clock.
Pac-12 offensive linemen voted Lotulelei the Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best defensive lineman in 2011, according to NFL Draft Scout.
The Steelers should look for nose tackles in the draft, even though they have done well with Casey Hampton and Steve McLendon splitting time there. Hampton could be playing his final season as a Steeler, and 280-pound Steve McLendon isn't really that big boulder the Steelers need at the front and center of their 3-4 defense.
Alameda Ta'amu, drafted in the fourth round this year, was coming along slowly even before his legal problems last month landed him on the practice squad. He has a lot of work to do both on and off the field before he can even start suiting up for games.
The Steelers might need to look elsewhere for Hampton's heir apparent.
If Lotulelei somehow falls to the Steelers, they'd have a guy who could potentially occupy two blockers on just about every play. Lotulelei ate up USC's Khaled Holmes, NFL Draft Scout's top-ranked center, on Oct. 4.
Lotulelei has struggled with consistency this season but remains a top-five prospect.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Weight: 242 pounds
It was almost a relief to hear that LaMarr Woodley left Sunday's game against the Browns because of his ankle, and not his hamstring.
Woodley's Pro Bowl-caliber 2011 season was derailed by a hamstring injury in October. Hamstring problems haunted Woodley this year. He has missed one game this season and long stretches of other games because of it.
Jason Worilds, the Steelers' second-round pick in 2010, replaced Woodley and showed encouraging signs with two sacks Sunday in Cleveland. Even if Woodley is on the cusp of becoming a legitimate starting outside linebacker, he is injury-prone, and James Harrison is 34, so outside linebacker should be on their draft radar.
Jarvis Jones is ranked No. 3 overall by NFL Draft Scout, but a lot can happen between now and April.
Against rival Florida this season, Jones rose to the occasion with 13 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for losses. He also had three sacks, two forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles.
That performance earned Jones his second Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week honor.
Jones' name almost certainly will be called on the first night of the 2013 NFL draft.
Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Weight: 320 pounds
Johnathan Hankins made 55 tackles this season for 12-0 Ohio State, according to Ohiostatebuckeyes.com. He has nose-tackle size but has been used all over the defensive line.
Hankins' effort has been questioned, according to NFL Draft Scout, so the Steelers should take a long, hard look before putting him on their draft board as a potential first-round pick.
Giving up a sixth-rounder to trade up in the fourth for Alameda Ta'amu is starting to look like a mistake. A similar mistake in the first round would be a lot more costly.
Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
Weight: 255 pounds:
A Heisman Trophy finalist, Manti Te'o is the defensive leader for Notre Dame, which will play for the national championship Jan. 7 in Miami.
Te'o has seven interceptions this season, including one in the Fighting Irish's 22-13 win at USC that secured a spot in the national championship game.
Inside linebacker might not be the Steelers' top priority in the draft, assuming 2012 third-round pick Sean Spence comes back healthy next season.
However, of their nine picks in 2012, the Steelers drafted just three players for their aging defense. Only two of them remain with the team. Spence blew out his knee in the preseason and Ta'amu won't get on the field any time soon, if ever.
The Steelers' 2013 draft needs to favor the defense, and it would seem a natural fit for Te'o to transition from a program with a proud tradition like Notre Dame to a franchise with a proud NFL tradition like the Steelers.
Te'o probably will be gone by the time the Steelers pick, but then again David DeCastro was supposed to be off the board when the Steelers picked at No. 24 last April.
Barkevius Mingo, OLB, LSU
Weight: 240 pounds
Once touted by NFL Draft Scout as a candidate to be drafted No. 1 overall, Barkevious Mingo has had a disappointing season and has dropped to 12th in the rankings.
Mingo's biggest moment at the NFL Scouting Combine might be when his arm length is measured, because his long arms seem to be his most distinctive physical attribute.
Although he has just three sacks this season, Mingo's pass-rushing skills merit the Steelers' attention. Pittsburgh is tied for 24th in the NFL with 22 sacks this season, according to NFL.com.
Mingo can bat down passes with his long arms. The Steelers' one turnover in Sunday's loss to the Browns came after Brett Keisel tipped a Brandon Weeden pass. We haven't seen enough of that this season, which is one of the reasons why the Steelers are tied for 30th in the NFL with 10 takeaways, according to Pro Football Reference.
Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Weight: 320 pounds
If it hasn't done so already, Steeler Nation could annex Australia if the Steelers draft Jesse Williams, who was born in Brisbane, Australia.
Williams started all 13 games in 2011, helping Alabama win a national championship with 24 tackles, including four for losses, according to NFL.com.
This season, Williams moved from defensive end to nose tackle. He helped keep Alabama in the hunt for a national championship with a career-high seven tackles in the Crimson Tide's 21-17 win over LSU on Nov. 3.
NFL Draft Scout's Rob Rang has Williams going to the Steelers in his latest mock draft, so the board won't have to shuffle all that much for Williams to be a realistic option for the Steelers.
John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Weight: 358 pounds
Unfortunately, John Jenkins won't be allowed to wear No. 6 in the NFL. It almost would be worth the price of admission to see this mammoth individual wearing a tiny single digit on his jersey.
Casey Hampton, nicknamed "The Big Snack," doesn't look so big next to rookie Alameda Ta'amu, and he might look downright svelte if the Steelers draft Jenkins.
Jenkins had a career-high eight tackles and a blocked field goal this season against South Carolina. Then he set a new career high Saturday with 11 tackles in the Bulldogs' 42-10 win over Georgia Tech, according to College Football Reference.
While he would fit nicely in the Steelers' 3-4 defense, Jenkins isn't limited to a 3-4 scheme. He has the skills to occasionally venture outside the nose tackle phone booth. He had six tackles for losses and three sacks in 2011, according to NFL.com.
Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Weight: 305 pounds
The Steelers would be wise to select a defensive player in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. Their aging defense can't force turnovers anymore, and they haven't chosen a defensive player in the top 30 since Lawrence Timmons in 2007.
Pittsburgh doesn't need a quarterback or a tight end. The franchise has been successful choosing running backs and wide receivers in the later rounds. The interior of the offensive line seems set for a few years with Maurkice Pouncey at center, and David DeCastro and Willie Colon at guard.
That leaves tackle as the one position on offense that the Steelers could address in the first round of the draft.
Max Starks has done a decent job at left tackle this season, but the Steelers have to start looking for their left tackle of the future. Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert are candidates, but Adams could be out for a while with a high-ankle sprain, according to NFL.com, and Gilbert is on injured reserve.
Fisher will need to add a few pounds in the NFL. But the Steelers did well drafting another Central Michigan product, Antonio Brown, in 2010.
Eric Reid, FS, LSU
Safety might be the Steelers' most urgent need in the 2013 draft, but NFL Draft Scout ranks only two in the top 50.
Ryan Clark arguably has been the Steelers' best defensive player this season, but he's 33. Troy Polamalu is 31 and has missed the last seven games. Although he played in every game last season, he was dogged by health concerns.
Will Allen has competently manned the strong safety position in Polamalu's absence, but even he's 30.
Eric Reid comes from a good pedigree. Defensive backs Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and LaRon Landry also are LSU products.
Reid tied Tyrann Mathieu in 2011 for the team lead in tackles with 76. His finest hour as a Tiger came in last season's 9-6, overtime win over Alabama. Reid intercepted a pass at the LSU one-yard line with the game tied 6-6.
The Steelers need to prepare for life after Polamalu and Clark, and even though NFL Draft Scout says Reid has been inconsistent this season, it also says he's the top-ranked safety in the class.
C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama
Weight: 232 pounds
If the 2013 NFL draft were held in December, C.J. Mosley might be within the Steelers' reach. He currently is ranked No. 21 on NFL Draft Scout's board, but there's plenty of time for his stock to rise, especially if Alabama gets to the national championship game.
On Wednesday, Mosley was one of three Alabama players named to the American Football Coaches Association FBS All-America team, according to The Huntsville Times.
Mosley leads the Crimson Tide in 2012 with 92 tackles, 40 more than the second-leading tackler on the team. He also has four sacks and two interceptions.
NFL Draft Scout even says Mosley could be better than former Alabama teammates and current pro linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw.