Steelers Mock Draft: Instant Contributors Pittsburgh Can Find in Every Round
A .500 football team can't afford to draft players who are going to watch and learn for a year or two.
With the No. 17 pick in the first round, the Steelers have a chance to take a player who can make an immediate impact.
But it won't be enough for the Steelers to get it right with their first-round pick. The middle and late rounds are just as important.
While it's not realistic to expect every draft pick to make the team, the Steelers are aging at various positions on defense and they might need to replace a starting running back and wide receiver. They'll need to find multiple contributors in the 2013 draft.
Round 1: Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Weight: 243 pounds
Although he plays a different position, Dion Jordan could have Troy Polamalu-like impact with his ability to provide game-changing defensive plays all over the field.
Jordan most likely would be an outside linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4 defense. He had 42 tackles, including 13 for losses, and 7.5 sacks as a junior, according to NFL.com. He added 44 tackles, 10.5 for losses, and five sacks as a senior.
With his height and long arms, Jordan can bat down passes, something the Steelers didn't do enough in 2012. Jordan also can cover tight ends, according to NFL.com, which is a handy skill in today's NFL.
James Harrison's future with the Steelers is up in the air, so it would be wise for the Steelers to invest a high draft pick in an outside linebacker.
Jason Worilds, drafted in the second round in 2010, had five sacks last season, but he hasn't done enough to be the obvious heir apparent to Harrison.
LaMarr Woodley isn't going anywhere, but he hasn't been the same since injuring his hamstring in the middle of the 2011 season, so the Steelers need to keep an eye on that situation.
Jordan comes with injury concerns. He has a torn labrum in his shoulder that caused him to miss the Senior Bowl, but will put off surgery until after the NFL Scouting Combine, according to Rotoworld.
While Jordan's draft stock could fall because of his health, he's overcome trauma before. He missed the end of his senior season in high school after sustaining second- and third-degree burns over nearly 50 percent of his body, according to NFL.com.
Round 2: Phillip Thomas, S, Fresno State
Weight: 210 pounds
Phillip Thomas could bring a ball-hawking ability that the Steelers' defense has lacked since the beginning of 2011.
Thomas made 13 career interceptions. He led the nation in 2012 with eight picks, and he returned three of them for touchdowns. He also forced five fumbles, made 12 tackles for negative yardage and defended five passes.
After watching Thomas at the Senior Bowl, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller said, "he has smooth hips that allow him to quickly change direction and attack the ball."
Since the Steelers drafted Troy Polamalu in 2003, the only safeties they've taken are Anthony Smith in 2006 (third round) and Ryan Mundy in 2008 (sixth round).
It's about time the Steelers draft a decent safety, especially since Polamalu will be 32 next season and Ryan Clark will turn 34. Allen did an admirable job filling in for Polamalu in 2012, but he'll be 31 next season.
Thomas didn't exactly face elite college competition in the Mountain West Conference, but safeties such as Kenny Vaccaro of Texas, Eric Reid of LSU and Matt Elam of Florida likely will be off the board by the time the Steelers pick in the second round.
The Steelers hope to get at least another year out of Polamalu and Clark, but Thomas has the potential to step in and be the third safety as a rookie.
Round 3: Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State
Weight: 200 pounds
Steelers fans still haunted by a certain November afternoon in Cleveland might like to hear that Joseph Randle went through an entire season without fumbling.
Randle carried the ball 251 times without a drop in 2011, according to NFL.com.
Rashard Mendenhall is likely to leave in free agency. He hasn't been a bust, but he also hasn't lived up to the expectations of a first-round pick and he hasn't always been a team player.
The Steelers need to move on from Mendenhall, but that will leave them with an urgent need to draft a running back. They can't wait any later than the third round.
Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are better as complementary backs, so Randle could be the featured back right away.
Randle ran for 1,417 yards and 14 touchdowns on 274 carries (5.2 yards per carry) in 2012. He also caught 28 passes for 224 yards and showed that he can block.
Randle might not have ideal bulk for a starting NFL running back, but he's been working on that in the weight room, according to NFL Draft Scout. Furthermore, with Dwyer and Redman it's not like the Steelers need another bowling ball in the backfield. They just need someone to energize a running game that was 26th in the NFL last season with 96.1 yards per carry.
Round 4: Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
Weight: 202 pounds
The Steelers take out a Ben Roethlisberger insurance policy and draft a quarterback here.
The last quarterback the Steelers drafted was Dennis Dixon in the fifth round in 2008. Roethlisberger, drafted in 2004, was the last quarterback they took before the fifth round.
Scott completed more than 60 percent of his passes in 2012 and threw for 27 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. In a 39-36 upset of USC, Scott ran for 100 yards on 15 carries. That will earn him the attention of scouts who are looking for the next Colin Kaepernick, even though Scott's time in the 40-yard dash, 4.68 seconds according to NFL Draft Scout, is a quarter-second slower than Kaepernick's 4.43.
The Steelers don't need the next Kaepernick. They have a quarterback who knows a thing or two about getting to the Super Bowl. They just need a backup quarterback with growth potential.
Charlie Batch is 38 and Byron Leftwich is 33. They both will be remembered fondly, Batch especially, for their valuable service as backups. But they both hit their ceilings a long time ago.
Scott can make all the throws, according to NFL Draft Scout. The main concerns about him are his durability—he started only 17 games at Arizona—and his ability to play under center after throwing mostly out of the shotgun in college.
Rob Rang of NFL Draft Scout says, "Don't be surprised...if his toughness and better-than-advertised arm talent result in an extended NFL career, perhaps even as a future starter."
If that assessment is accurate, Scott would be the ideal quarterback for the Steelers to draft.
The Steelers likely are hoping they don't have to groom Roethlisberger's successor now, but it is time to think about how many more years they can get out of Roethlisberger with all the abuse his body has taken.
If the Steelers draft Scott and he's good enough to be around when they need him to start, this fourth-round pick would be a sound investment.
Round 5: Conner Vernon, WR, Duke
Weight: 193 pounds
With Mike Wallace likely to leave in free agency, the instinct might be to look for a burner in the draft who can replace Wallace's speed.
Vernon is not that, but he is the ACC's all-time leader in receptions.
According to NFL Draft Scout, Vernon's hands and route-running ability could make him "a quarterback's best friend."
Those words should be music to the Steelers' ears. They'd like to see Roethlisberger get rid of the ball quicker and take fewer hits, and Vernon could be a trusted target for high-percentage passes.
Vernon caught 283 passes for the Blue Devils, including 85 in 2012 for 1,074 yards (12.6 yards per reception) and eight touchdowns.
Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders were both third-round picks. Antonio Brown was a sixth-round pick. So the Steelers have shown they don't necessarily need to use high draft picks to find productive receivers.
Round 6: Bruce Taylor, ILB, Virginia Tech
Weight: 234 pounds
It wouldn't be a bad idea for the Steelers to draft another body at inside linebacker.
Larry Foote is a free agent. Stevenson Sylvester, drafted in 2010, looks like nothing more than a special-teamer. Sean Spence, drafted in the third round last year, tore up his knee in the preseason. According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Spence's recovery has been "painfully slow."
Taylor had 5.5 sacks in 2012. All four of his pass breakups came in the last three games, all of which the Hokies won. Taylor tied his season high with 11 tackles in Virginia Tech's 13-10 overtime win over Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
At the very least, Taylor could be an instant contributor on special teams, which wouldn't be bad for a sixth-round pick.
Interestingly, Taylor was born Dec. 31, 1989, the same day the Steelers upset the Houston Oilers 26-23 in overtime in the AFC Wild Card playoff game.
Round 7: Craig Roh, DE, Michigan
Weight: 280 pounds
Ziggy Hood, drafted in the first round in 2008, has been adequate as a defensive end. But he hasn't exactly had the impact that's expected from a first-round draft pick.
Cameron Heyward, a first-round pick in 2011, will need to make significant strides in his third season.
The Steelers have used high picks on their defensive line in recent years, but they might as well throw another log on that fire and see what happens.
NFL Draft Scout labels Roh as "underrated" and notes that he started a record 51 games at Michigan, making 148 tackles, 26.5 for loss and 10.5 sacks.
If history is any indication, don't count out Roh as a future starter for the Steelers at defensive end if they draft him. After all, Brett Keisel was a seventh-round pick.