Steelers 2013 Mock Draft: Full 7 Round Predictions, 1 Week Ahead of the Draft
The Steelers are coming off an 8-8 season and haven't won a playoff game since 2010. A productive draft would provide this organization with a much-needed face-lift.
Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said that while there might not be a lot of elite prospects at the top, it's a deep draft.
Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway, according to NFL Draft Scout, also talked about the depth of this draft, saying, "We feel like we can get as good a player at No. 28 as we could at 10."
In a draft that seems ripe for stockpiling picks, the Steelers could have had an extra selection in the third round, but they matched the New England Patriots' offer for Emmanuel Sanders rather than take the No. 91 pick as compensation.
Another way the Steelers could acquire more picks is to trade down from the No. 17 spot in the first round. It might be hard to find a trade partner, though, because there aren't many must-have players that teams will want to trade up to get.
The Steelers have glaring needs at running back, outside linebacker and wide receiver. They also have depth concerns at safety, inside linebacker and tight end.
They have eight picks in the 2013 draft, including a compensatory pick in the sixth round, to plug as many of those holes as possible.
Heights and weights in this mock draft are from NFL Draft Scout.
Round 1: Kenny Vaccaro, FS, Texas
Weight: 214 pounds
Kenny Vaccaro would be the first safety chosen by the Steelers in the first round in a decade. In 2003, they traded up to No. 16 to draft Troy Polamalu.
Safety isn't as urgent a need for the Steelers as outside linebacker, running back or wide receiver. The Steelers, however, need young blood at the position. Polamalu will be 32 next season and Ryan Clark will turn 34.
The Steelers haven't drafted a safety since they took Ryan Mundy in the sixth round in 2008. Mundy signed with the New York Giants and Will Allen signed with the Dallas Cowboys. The Steelers must restore their depth at the position, especially with Polamalu's fragile health.
Vaccaro posted a career-high 107 tackles in 2012, according to NFL Draft Scout, along with two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Vaccaro often was used as a nickelback, according to NFL.com, and broke up seven passes in each of his last three seasons. He was named first-team All-Big 12 in 2011 and made the second team in 2012.
"I think his coverage ability is quick feet. He’s tough as nails. He tackles," the NFL Network's Mike Mayock told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "It looks on tape like he loves the game."
The Sporting News says Vaccaro "can do a little bit of everything needed at the position, and much of it very well."
If outside linebacker Jarvis Jones is an option at No. 17, the Steelers likely would take him over Vaccaro. But it's hard to see Jones getting past the New Orleans Saints at No. 15, and with his medical history he's not worth trading up for.
Vaccaro is a safe first-round pick for the Steelers. He likely can watch and learn the defense as a rookie.
Round 2: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Weight: 214 pounds
The departure of Rashard Mendenhall leaves the Steelers with Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman as their top two running backs.
Dwyer led the Steelers with 623 rushing yards last season, the lowest total by a leading Steelers rusher since Merril Hoge gained 610 yards in 1991.
Eddie Lacy is a late-first round prospect who would be a reach at No. 17, and he'll be gone by the time the Steelers pick at the No. 48 spot in the second round.
Montee Ball would come to Pittsburgh with a loaded college resume. As a junior, he led the nation with 1,923 rushing yards and ran for 33 touchdowns. He also tied Barry Sanders' NCAA record with 39 total touchdowns and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and an All-American.
Ball came back for his senior season and struggled early. With the graduation of quarterback Russell Wilson, opposing defenses focused on stopping Ball. He broke 100 yards just twice in the first five games, but still managed to finish the season with 1,850 yards on 356 carries (5.2 yards per carry) and 22 touchdowns, and again was named first-team All-American.
The Steelers offensive line is still a work in progress, and Ball likely wouldn't duplicate his astronomical college numbers. But he could help move the chains. He's more blue collar than Mendenhall. He'd also come with more of a pedigree than Dwyer, a sixth-round draft pick, and Redman, who was undrafted.
Pittsburgh's dalliance with Ahmad Bradshaw shouldn't affect their plans to draft a running back. Bradshaw can't be a featured back because of his injury history, but could complement a back like Ball.
Round 3: Kiko Alonso, ILB, Oregon
The Steelers go with an inside linebacker in the third round for the second straight year and hope Kiko Alonso is more fortunate than Sean Spence, whose rookie year ended with a severe knee injury in the preseason.
Inside linebacker isn't a pressing need for the Steelers, but it's an area where they could use more depth. Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons are experienced starters, but Stevenson Sylvester doesn't contribute much beyond special teams.
NFL Draft Scout says Alonso is a "versatile defender who could prove to be a movable 'chess piece' for a creative defensive coordinator."
So not only could Alonso eventually replace Foote, he also could turn into an option at outside linebacker if Jason Worilds doesn't pan out as the heir to James Harrison.
Alonso rose to the occasion in the biggest games. He closed out the 2011 season as the Defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl with five tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception of Russell Wilson in Oregon's 45-38 win over Wisconsin.
In 2012, Alonso had 81 tackles and led the Ducks with 14 tackles for loss. His four interceptions, two forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles should turn the heads of the takeaway-starved Steelers when it comes time to pick at No. 79.
Alonso comes with some character red flags. According to NFL Draft Scout, he was charged with driving under the influence in February 2010 and burglary, criminal mischief and criminal trespass on May 1, 2011. At least he's kept his nose clean for nearly two years.
The Steelers took a few character risks in last year's draft and got burned. Not all eight of their picks in the 2013 draft can be choirboys, but they should avoid taking those chances with multiple players.
Round 4: Corey Lemonier, OLB, Auburn
Weight: 255 pounds
The Steelers appear ready to see what Jason Worilds can do as James Harrison's replacement, but they need to draft someone who can give him a run for his money.
Corey Lemonier helped Auburn win the national championship as a role player in 2010. He led the Tigers with 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in 2011. That earned him first-team all-SEC honors as a sophomore, which is a rare feat according to NFL.com.
Lemonier picked up where he left off with five sacks in the first four games of 2012, but had just half a sack in the last eight games as Auburn finished 3-9.
"Just getting chipped and double-teamed and stuff like that, most of the attentions were coming to my side," Lemonier told Alabama Live in explaining his drop-off in 2012.
NFL Draft Scout projects Lemonier as a third-round pick, but he could slide into the fourth round and be available to the Steelers at No. 115 because of his lackluster 2012 season.
Like Worilds, Lemonier would have to convert from defensive end to outside linebacker. His 4.6 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine was third among defensive ends.
NFL Draft Scout says Lemonier is "quick off the edge and the type of rusher that can only be contained for so long."
Lemonier doesn't have the strongest hands, and his long legs can compromise his leverage, according to NFL.com.
On the plus side, Lemonier can rush from various angles and drop back into coverage, and NFL.com and NFL Draft Scout both agree that he doesn't quit on plays.
Round 5: Tavarres King, WR, Georgia
Weight: 189 pounds
The need to draft a wide receiver might not be as dire after the Steelers matched the New England Patriots' offer for Emmanuel Sanders.
The Steelers are still thin at the position. Sanders and Antonio Brown are their only remaining receivers who have had any impact. Jerricho Cotchery is in line to become the No. 3 receiver and could benefit from the increased role, but behind him is Plaxico Burress, who will be 36 next season.
Pittsburgh needs to draft a receiver at some point, and Tavarres King still figures to be on the board when the Steelers pick at No. 150.
It's funny how NFL Draft Scout says King compares to Sanders. The Steelers would need him to fill the void if Sanders leaves as an unrestricted free agent in 2014.
It also seems that King can do some of what Mike Wallace did. His 42 catches at an average of 22.6 yards per reception indicate he could be a vertical threat. King caught nine touchdowns in 2012 after leading the team with eight in 2011.
King also has a negative in common with Wallace because he's prone to drops. However, he rarely drops the ball in the classroom. He's received numerous Athletic Director's Honor Roll distinctions, according to NFL Draft Scout.
King's academic prowess might not mean much on the field, but it suggests he could be a positive presence in the locker room.
Round 6: Reid Fragel, OT, Ohio State
Weight: 308 pounds
Does anyone feel completely at ease with Marcus Gilbert starting at left tackle and Mike Adams starting at right tackle in 2013?
That's where those players are slated to start, but either of them could be usurped by a surprise rookie in camp. The Steelers offensive line is not a finished product.
That said, there are only so many offensive linemen the Steelers can take early in the draft. They've used four picks in the first two rounds on offensive linemen in the past three drafts.
It wouldn't hurt to add a Day 3 pick to the mix in the 2013 draft, and Reid Fragel fits the athletic mold of new Steelers offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bicknell prefers athletic, agile linemen over heavy linemen. Fragel's 308 pounds is spread throughout his 6'8" frame.
Fragel is athletic enough to have played tight end his first three years at Ohio State. He was converted to tackle his senior year and started all 12 games at right tackle in 2012.
NFL.com says Fragel has the potential to become a left tackle in the NFL. It might be a little while before he's fully developed as an offensive lineman. In the meantime, he might be reporting as tackle-eligible on a lot of plays.
Round 6 (Compensatory): Rodney Smith, WR, Florida State
Weight: 225 pounds
With this selection, Roethlisberger would get something else he wants–a tall receiver.
The 6'5" Plaxico Burress came back in 2012, but he's not the same receiver Roethlisberger threw to in his rookie year.
Rodney Smith caught a career-high 38 passes in 2012. He finished his collegiate career with catches in 30 straight games, even though NFL.com says he was underutilized at Florida State.
Smith is an effective run blocker but sometimes can be outtoughed by defensive backs, according to NFL.com.
The Steelers have had success drafting receivers in later rounds in recent years. Mike Wallace and Sanders were third-round picks and Antonio Brown was a sixth-round pick.
If King and Smith can earn a roster spot, there's plenty of room on the depth chart for both.
Round 7: Marcus Cromartie, CB, Wisconsin
Weight: 195 pounds
The Steelers were prepared to lose Keenan Lewis in free agency. They plan to promote Cortez Allen to start opposite Ike Taylor. They brought back William Gay to be the nickelback.
Still, when your best cornerback is 33 and you lose another who was second in the NFL in passes defended, the position needs a little attention in the draft.
Cromartie has a loose connection to the Steelers because he worked out with Taylor this offseason in Orlando, Fla., according to NFL Draft Scout.
Although not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, Cromartie ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at Wisconsin's pro day March 7.
Cromartie intercepted only one pass at Wisconsin, but it came in the 2012 Big Ten championship game and he returned it 29 yards for a touchdown. His pick-six gave the Badgers a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter, and Wisconsin went on to win 70-31.