6 Players Pittsburgh Steelers Should Target in First Round of 2013 NFL Draft
The Steelers have the 17th pick in the first round of the draft after finishing 8-8 in 2012. It will be the highest they've picked since they chose Lawrence Timmons at No. 15 in 2007, Mike Tomlin's first draft.
There could be some front-seven defensive players available to the Steelers at No. 17. They're getting old on defense and could lose some defensive players to free agency.
The Steelers also could continue to build their offensive line by drafting another tackle or guard in the first round.
Rashard Mendenhall could be gone in free agency, which would create a need at running back. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark aren't getting any younger, which puts safeties on the Steelers' radar.
There doesn't appear to be any running backs or safeties worth taking with the No. 17 pick, however. The Steelers can address those needs in later rounds.
Here's a look at players who might be getting a call from the Steelers on April 25.
Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
Weight: 255 pounds
Drafting Manti Te'o might have seemed like a pipe dream back when everyone thought the Steelers were actually going to make the playoffs.
However, the confluence of the Steelers' disappointing season and Notre Dame's disappointing performance in the BCS title game could allow Te'o and the Steelers to meet in the middle.
After Alabama's 42-14 thumping of Notre Dame, a lot of teams might look at Te'o the way a woman looks at a man who picks his nose on the first date. Te'o is likely to fall in a lot of mock drafts.
It's hard to argue, however, with Te'o's seven interceptions in 2012. The Steelers had just 10 as a team.
The Steelers drafted inside linebacker Sean Spence in the third round last year, but he tore up his knee in a preseason game and is a "long way off" from being ready to play, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. So the Steelers should continue to build their inside linebacking corps through the draft.
Te'o came back for his senior season even though he could have been a first-round pick last year, according to NFL.com. He's been a leader on the field for the Fighting Irish, which is a quality the Steelers could use at the position if Larry Foote leaves as a free agent. Defensive rookies don't usually start in Pittsburgh, so Te'o wouldn't be expected to immediately follow in the footsteps of Foote and James Farrior and call the signals right away, but he could do that down the road.
Te'o might be better suited to a 4-3 defense, but according to NFL.com, he's good at preventing cutback runs and yards after the catch.
The Steelers like that.
Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Weight: 305 pounds
When the Steelers used their top two draft picks on David DeCastro and Mike Adams last April, it was hailed as a spring revolution for the offensive line. Protecting Ben Roethlisberger wasn't going to be a problem anymore.
Then look what happened.
The unraveling of the Steelers' 2012 season really began when Roethlisberger was injured against the Chiefs. He missed three games and wasn't the same when he returned.
So the Steelers' offensive line is still a work in progress.
The last time the Steelers drafted in the top 20, they got Maurkice Pouncey, who started at center on Day One.
There's no guarantee Eric Fisher still will be available to the Steelers at No. 17, but if he is, he could be a plug-and-play left tackle.
Fisher started all 13 games at left tackle for a Central Michigan offense that averaged 6.2 yards per play, according to NFL Draft Scout. He also was named an All-American by SI.com and the Associated Press.
According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers plan to start Adams at right tackle next season and third-year man Marcus Gilbert at left tackle. That means Max Starks, the Steelers' only offensive lineman who could stay healthy last season, would leave as a free agent.
Gilbert missed the last 11 games of 2012 with an ankle injury. It might not be wise for the Steelers to make him the uncontested protector of Roethlisberger's blind side.
It wouldn't be a bad idea for the Steelers to take an offensive lineman in the first round for the third time in four years.
Fisher could stand to gain a few pounds, but he'd add some physical fitness to the Steelers offensive line.
Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Weight: 310 pounds
Perhaps it's a little boring to draft a guard in the first round for two straight years.
But it's a lot more exciting than watching Ben Roethlisberger wearing a baseball cap and earpiece on the sidelines, or Jonathan Dwyer running into a brick wall at the line of scrimmage.
The Steelers need to continue building their offensive line, and Jonathan Cooper is a Walter Camp All-America first-teamer who had at least 10 knockdown blocks in nine games this season, according to NFL Draft Scout.
David DeCastro's development was delayed by his preseason injury. When he returned to play in the last three games of the season, he showed that he could use a little more on-the-job training.
DeCastro still has plenty of upside and there's no reason to think he can't start at right guard for years to come. The other guard spot is up in the air. Kelvin Beachum is a candidate to start there in his second season, but there might not be much depth behind him.
Willie Colon can't stay healthy. Ramon Foster is versatile, but as an unrestricted free agent he's a luxury the salary-cap strapped Steelers probably can't afford.
Drafting Cooper could fill the interior of the Steelers line with first-round picks if he can join Pouncey and DeCastro as starters.
The only guard NFL Draft Scout ranks ahead of Cooper is Alabama's Chance Warmack. There's much less of a chance Warmack will fall to No. 17 after the Crimson Tide's domination of Notre Dame in the BCS title game.
Cooper is far from a can't-miss prospect. He doesn't have ideal strength and he's prone to penalties, according to NFL Draft Scout. However, he's worth a long, hard look by the Steelers.
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Weight: 217 pounds
Xavier Rhodes announced he's entering the 2013 NFL draft after Florida's State's win over Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl, according to NFL Draft Scout.
Keenan Lewis firmly established himself as a starting cornerback in 2012, and should be the Steelers' top priority among their unrestricted free agents. Cortez Allen showed he has the stuff of a starter by picking off two passes and forcing three fumbles in the final two games of 2012.
It's hard not to imagine the Steelers still playing right now if Ike Taylor hadn't been injured in Week 13 at Baltimore. The Steelers were 1-3 in the four full games he missed and had two of their three worst games defending the pass during that stretch. They allowed 328 passing yards in the loss at Dallas and 253 yards in their loss to the Bengals.
The Steelers have to prepare for life after Taylor, who will be 33 next season. They could do that by drafting a cornerback in the first round for the first time since they took Chad Scott in 1997.
If the Steelers somehow fail to sign Lewis, then cornerback becomes their biggest need in the draft.
NFL Draft Scout ranks Rhodes as the No. 2 cornerback in the draft. Like guard Chance Warmack, top cornerback Dee Milliner might be out of the Steelers' reach after Alabama's big-stage performance in the national championship game.
Rhodes would bring ball skills that the Steelers lack at cornerback. He has eight interceptions in three seasons. He also has 31 passes defensed in 39 career starts.
Rhodes is a physical corner who's good in press coverage, but could use a little more discipline in his game, according to NFL Draft Scout.
Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Weight: 260 pounds
Alex Okafor put himself on the radar with 4 1/2 sacks in Texas' 31-27 win over Oregon State in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29.
Okafor eventually could help provide the splash plays the Steelers' defense has been missing for most of the last two seasons.
The Steelers have addressed their defensive line with late first-round picks in recent years. Perhaps they'd be better off choosing defensive linemen earlier in the first round.
Ziggy Hood, chosen with the 32nd pick in 2009, has been OK at defensive end. Cameron Heyward, taken 31st in 2011, hasn't cracked the starting lineup but showed a little bit of promise in the 2012 season finale.
Okafor had 12 1/2 sacks in his senior season and 24 in his four years as a Longhorn. He was chosen all-Big 12 first team in 2012.
Although he might be a little undersized as a 3-4 defensive end, Okafor can get bigger, according to NFL.com.
Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Weight: 320 pounds
The Steelers might not be able to re-sign Casey Hampton, an unrestricted free agent. Steve McLendon is the heir apparent at nose tackle, but those plans might change if the Steelers can get Jesse Williams in the first round.
The Steelers drafted nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu in the fourth round last year, but he wasn't good enough to suit up for any games and caused some headaches off the field. In October, he was arrested for allegedly crashing his SUV into several parked cars, injuring a woman and fleeing from police officers, according to the Associated Press via ESPN.com.
If the Steelers can get Williams in the first round, they could rid themselves of Ta'amu.
Williams, who is from Brisbane, Australia, played defensive end on Alabama's 2011 national championship team and moved to nose tackle for the Crimson Tide's successful title defense in 2012. He earned second-team all-SEC honors this season for his role on the stingiest scoring defense in the nation.
Not only can Williams play multiple spots on the defensive line, he also has played fullback in short-yardage situations, according to NFL Draft Scout.
The Steelers would be getting a lot of bang for their buck if they can get Williams with the 17th pick.
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