Ignoring tendencies of teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers on draft day is the quickest way to make a totally inaccurate mock draft. It’s easy to look at team needs and just slot players in, but that rarely ends well.
Successful teams like the Steelers have a plan going into draft day, so let’s look at what it is and how it might be a factor this year.
1. Pick a Junior First
Dating back to Heath Miller in 2005, the Pittsburgh Steelers have chosen a senior just once in the past eight drafts (Ziggy Hood, 2009). It’s safe to bet that they will look to add an underclassman in the first round.
2. Alternate Sides of the Ball in First Round
The Steelers have rotated offensive and defensive selections since they selected Rashard Mendenhall in 2008. Since last year’s choice was guard David DeCastro, it’s the defense’s turn this year—if the trend proves true.
3. Go Back to the Well
Pittsburgh has traditionally favored certain schools over others when they look to draft players. Look for them to check out Ohio State and Florida products in particular, if recent history is any indicator.
4. Double Dip
The Steelers have made two choices at the same position every year in recent history except one, in 2003, when they gutted their draft coffers to move up for Troy Polamalu. Granted, it’s not always the exact same position—they drafted Lawrence Timmons as an inside linebacker and LaMarr Woodley as an outside linebacker in 2007, for example. Still, the team casts a wide net when they isolate an area of need, so I look for them to do the same this year.
Addition: Take the Best Available Player
The Steelers understand that it's talent that determines football games when all else is equal. They look for the best value wherever they pick.
With this framework in place, let's check out how the Steelers’ 2013 draft might shape up.
The Ohio State junior fits the blueprint that the Pittsburgh Steelers have laid out as their draft strategy. He’s also the best player likely to be available, so he’d be a slam dunk here if the team decides to part ways with Alameda Ta’amu.
Johnathan Hankins is a space-eater who dominates against the run. He drives guards backwards, which makes it difficult for opposing offenses to get anything going.
Like Casey Hampton, he can take plays off over the course of the game, but the Steelers are used to that from their nose tackle. Hankins is a high-character guy that would fit in well with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Eric Reid boasts a fearsome blend of size, speed and ball skills that will make him a force in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive backfield. He can really lay the wood, and is smooth enough in coverage to neutralize athletic tight ends on NFL rosters.
His main weakness is that he can be overaggressive, but it’s better to have to tell a player to ease up than to bear down. Dick LeBeau would likely be pumped up to land a player of Reid’s caliber, and it would probably show on the stat sheet, probably in the turnover column.
Da'Rick Rogers may be the most talented offensive prospect in the whole draft. However, character concerns leave him available for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round.
While not a burner, Rogers is a powerful specimen that excels over the middle of the field. It’s rare to see him jammed at the line, and he snatches balls out of the air. He also plays with an edge, calling Julio Jones to mind.
His ability to contribute in the red zone will make the loss of Mike Wallace hurt a bit less for Steelers fans.
Jonathan Cyprien opened eyes at the Senior Bowl, excelling in one-on-one drills and physical play. He would likely play in the box at the NFL level, where his explosiveness would allow him to make plays against tailbacks and tight ends.
We saw Bernard Pollard make plays as an edge-rusher on the Baltimore Ravens’ run to the Super Bowl, and Pittsburgh Steelers fans can expect a similar impact from Cyprien. His ability to pick up on offensive clues and nuances will grow in Dick LeBeau’s system as well.
Marcus Lattimore’s brutal knee injury against Tennessee calls Willis McGahee’s injury to mind. Beforehand, Lattimore was hands down the best running back prospect in the country. He is a powerful, elusive runner who takes pass-protection very seriously.
If he fully recovers, Lattimore could be the long-awaited featured back that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been searching for. With the offensive line largely secure, Lattimore would run wild as Pittsburgh’s lead horse for years to come.
Pittsburgh’s running back cupboard is likely to be bare by the time the season rolls around, with Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, and Chris Rainey probably wearing different colors next year. In this case, drafting one back just wasn’t enough.
Mike Gillislee hasn’t had a lot of wear on his tires at Florida, which will be music to the ears of Pittsburgh Steelers' brass. He had an impressive senior season at Florida, rushing for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s also a threat out of the backfield, and is effective in pass protection.
As a cutback runner, Gillislee looks for the big play with regularity, and he will not head out of bounds if there are extra yards available. That quality will make him a fan favorite in the Steel City.
Cornelius Washington has the size and speed that Pittsburgh covets in an outside linebacker prospect. He has long arms and good power when it comes to making hits.
He also shows good burst to get past offensive tackles and could develop nicely in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive scheme.