Defensive Prospects That the Pittsburgh Steelers Must Consider in the NFL Draft
After missing out on the highly-regarded Elvis Dumervil and telling James Harrison that his services at outside linebacker aren’t going to be sought again, the Steelers have sent the message that they really are going to get younger at key spots regardless of the growing pains that come along with building through the draft.
Here’s a look at defensive prospects that should interest them in this year’s draft class.
Damontre Moore, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
Damontre Moore is one of the more-intriguing first-round candidates on the defensive side of the ball this year. He fits the prototype of what Pittsburgh looks for in an outside linebacker despite playing defensive end with Texas A&M.
Moore is a physical player with good athleticism and speed. He can certainly be a rusher in the 3-4 alignment and profiles similar to what would be expected from a healthy LaMarr Woodley (who also played defensive end when he was at Michigan before moving to linebacker in Pittsburgh).
Moore projects to be available late in the round, so Pittsburgh could decide to trade back and accumulate extra picks and still get their man. He’s certainly a player to watch on the Steelers' draft board.
Matt Elam, S, Florida
After a season in which both Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark missed time, Pittsburgh has blown up the safety position behind their aging stars. Ryan Mundy has joined the New York Giants and Will Allen is visiting with teams.
Neither player represented a future starter at the position, so Pittsburgh was simply clearing roster space for players that could be potential replacements for Polamalu and Clark.
One such player is Florida’s Matt Elam, who is a tough, physical player that can make plays against both the run and pass. He’s a heavy hitter in the style of Clark but with the roving abilities associated with Polamalu.
Elam is going to go somewhere in the mid-to-late first round. If Pittsburgh can grab him at 17th overall, he would be a perfect fit for a defense that likes to be aggressive.
Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
There’s a lot of controversy about where Manti Te'o should be drafted. A great senior season put him in position to win the Heisman Trophy, but he followed that up with a terrible performance in the national championship and a lackluster showing at the combine.
His pro day at Notre Dame this week was much better and he may have put himself back into the first-round conversation.
Either way, Pittsburgh could use a player like him. Larry Foote is returning to man one of the inside linebacker spots, but his presence is only a temporary solution to a problem that was created when James Farrior retired.
The question Pittsburgh will have to answer before drafting Te'o is whether or not he has the toughness mentally and physically to be successful in a defense that prizes blitzing and a heavy pass rush.
The Steelers badly need to create more pressure on quarterbacks in 2013. Any defensive player drafted will be taken with that in mind.
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
How much do the Pittsburgh Steelers trust Cortez Allen as the starting cornerback opposite Ike Taylor? That question may have been answered partly by the revelation that Pittsburgh didn’t even tender an offer to Keenan Lewis in free agency.
It will get much clearer in the draft’s early rounds. If they pick a cornerback early, they are likely planning for that selection to start sooner rather than later. If not, then perhaps Allen is the guy for the long haul.
If they go with someone early, Desmond Trufant is a name to watch. He’s a physical player with big-play skills that Pittsburgh desperately needs in the defensive backfield. Pittsburgh has struggled to force turnovers in recent years. That could be fixed with a player like Trufant.
The William Gay signing says little other than that Pittsburgh has no confidence in Curtis Brown to be a nickel corner. It is a cap-friendly deal that probably is just filling a hole until a younger player steps up.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
If the Pittsburgh Steelers want to replace James Harrison with a conventional outside linebacker rather than investing time in converting a defensive end like Damontre Moore, they could go with Jarvis Jones from Georgia.
The question here is whether or not Jones will last until the middle of the round. Pittsburgh is not in any condition to move up in the round, so Jones will have to fall to them as David DeCastro did last April.
If Pittsburgh can nab Jones, they’ll get a tenacious defender with excellent pass-rush skills who can disrupt an offense’s flow. He’s very similar to Harrison in his style of play. He’s not polished, but he could start before the end of the 2013 season or from the start if he proves to be a quick study.
The outside linebacker position right now is all about how much faith the team has in Jason Worilds being able to take what he accomplished in spot duty last season and turn it into a full season (and a career) of the same sort.