Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft: Post-Free Agency Predictors for Every Round
And holes they have
This year's draft needs to follow two themes: Rebuilding the "middle infield" of the defense (nose tackle, inside linebacker and safety) and bringing in playmakers on offense.
What prospects in the 2013 draft fill those needs?
Players' statistics courtesy of ESPN.com
Round 1: Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia
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If available, the Pittsburgh Steelers must draft Georgia defensive tackle Johnathan Jenkins in the first round.
With Casey Hampton no longer a legitimate starter and Steve McLendon a wild card, the Steelers need a legitimate nose tackle.
Jenkins is that guy.
Some fans may balk at the idea of drafting a nose tackle in the first round. It's not a sexy pick.
Nose tackles are fat and sweaty.They don't date supermodels. And they don't get huge endorsement contracts.
But what they lack in style, they make up for in substance.
In a 3-4 scheme, a great nose tackle generates a domino effect for others around him to make plays.
With Jenkins, the Steelers get a fulcrum from which to regain dominance in the middle.
First, he has girth. At 6'4", 346 pounds, his presence alone guarantees that the opposition must account for him. But mass alone only goes so far.
Jenkins can play. He gave a dominating performance in the Senior Bowl. His athleticism will cause matchup problems along the interior line and give Lawrence Timmons free range. He will push back the pocket, not allowing the quarterback to step up to avoid pressure from the exterior.
This is especially critical with Pittsburgh's outside linebacker situation in flux.
The Steelers have had a strong nose tackle pedigree the last two decades, with Joel Steed followed by Casey Hampton.
Drafting Johnathan Jenkins ensures that the legacy continues for another decade.
Round 2: D.J. Swearinger, FS, South Carolina
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With the departure of Will Allen and Ryan Mundy, the Steelers have no depth at safety.
Compounding the urgency to draft a safety is Troy Polamalu's recent inability to stay on the field for an entire season. One tweaked Polamalu hamstring and Pittsburgh's next option is Ross Ventrone.
In D.J. Swearinger, the Steelers get a player who held his own in the SEC. His isn't afraid to lay out a wide receiver going over the middle, much like current Steelers free safety Ryan Clark.
Shifting between cornerback and safety, Swearinger displayed the ability to cover wide receivers. He had a solid 2012 for the Gamecocks, recording 79 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
He will get a couple of years to develop under the tutelage of Polamalu, Clark and Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake.
Round 3: Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma
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If a team steals Emmanuel Sanders away within the next couple of weeks, the Steelers will need to look at a wide receiver sooner in the draft. As of now, Sanders is still in Pittsburgh, so the need isn't as great.
Now that Mike Wallace has departed for greener pastures, the Steelers will be looking to fill the void.
Although not quite as fast as Wallace, Kenny Stills clocked a 4.38 40 at the combine, giving the Steelers a player that can stretch the field.
Not only is he fast, but he's also productive.
In 2012, he had 89 receptions for 959 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Round 4: John Simon, DE, Ohio State
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Although a defensive end at Ohio State, John Simon projects to be an outside linebacker in the NFL.
He hurt his stock in the Senior Bowl, looking out of place at linebacker, always a step behind. Plus, a late-season knee injury kept him out of the combine.
While that's bad news for Simon, it's good news for Steelers. He could be available in the fourth round.
He's definitely not ready to play outside linebacker in the NFL, but would be an intriguing move to the inside. He's has a stout frame (6'1", 257 pounds) and was a productive player in college.
With the re-signing of Larry Foote, the Steelers don't need him to produce immediately. He will have time to adjust to the move inside like Lawrence Timmons did.
Round 5: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
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Already an under-performing bunch, the Steelers got worse at running back during the offseason. The team released troubled speedster Chris Rainey and decided to let the enigmatic Rashard Mendenhall be the next ex-Steeler to play for the Arizona Cardinals.
That leaves Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer as the two main running backs on the roster. Both of them didn't exactly receive a vote of confidence from owner Art Rooney II.
Enter Kenjon Barner. Playing for the high-powered Oregon Ducks, Barner rushed for 1,767 yards and scored 23 touchdowns. He's quick and has the ability to take a short pass the distance.
He could become the explosive, big-play back that Rainey was supposed to be.
Round 6: Mychal Rivera, TE, Tennessee
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The Steelers brought back Matt Spaeth to serve as insurance in case Heath Miller doesn't recover fully from an ACL injury.
While a solid player, Spaeth is not know for his pass-catching ability, having only 49 receptions in six years.
Mychal Rivera would give Todd Haley a different dimension to add to the offense
Undersized for a prototypical NFL tight end (6'3", 242 pounds), Rivera is a poor man's Aaron Hernandez. He could line up in the backfield or as a wide receiver, giving the Steelers multiple options.
Round 6 (compensatory): Braden Hansen, G, Brigham Young
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At this point in the draft, teams look for depth. Braden Hansen provides that depth.
He started in 52 consecutive games and played both guard and center at BYU. He gives much-needed versatility for the oft-injured Steelers offensive line.
He won't contribute much early, but he has a strong work ethic and could become a solid backup.
Round 7: Quanterus Smith, DE, Western Kentucky
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Quanterus Smith is an awesome project for a seventh-round pick.
He played defensive end in college, but at 6'5", 250 pounds he's better served as an outside linebacker.
Smith produced at Western Kentucky, finishing with 12.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2012. He also returned a fumble 75 yards for a touchdown.
Unfortunately, he tore his ACL late in the season, causing his draft stock to plummet.
Despite that, taking Smith in the seventh round has little risk. If he doesn't pan out, the Steelers invested little.
However, if he can develop, he might become the biggest steal of the draft and give the Steelers a monster situational pass rusher.