Draft Prospects Who Would Fit Perfectly with Pittsburgh Steelers
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The Pittsburgh Steelers seemed to lose their way in 2012, finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
As the Steelers try to find their way back to the playoffs, a strong 2013 draft would be a step in the right direction.
Several 2013 draft prospects fit the Steelers mold. They can identify with the Steelers franchise through their style of play or their demeanor on and off the field.
The 2013 NFL Draft begins April 25. The Steelers have the No. 17 pick in the first round. On Day 2, they have the No. 48 overall pick in the second round and the No. 79 overall pick in the third round.
The Steelers might have to trade up or down to draft some of the following players, so this isn't a mock draft. It's a list of players who would be a perfect fit in Pittsburgh because they can quickly grasp the franchise philosophy and help the Steelers find their way again.
Some of these prospects could even address positions of need.
Players' heights and weights are taken from NFL Draft Scout.
Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Weight: 303 pounds
Lane Johnson probably will be long gone by the time the Steelers pick at No. 17. The Steelers have more pressing needs at other positions and they've used four early-round picks on offensive linemen in the last three years.
Despite all that, if Johnson's still on the board when the Steelers pick, they should grab him.
New Steelers offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. prefers athletic offensive linemen over heavy ones. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he doesn't like linemen who "get huge and then they can't bend and move."
Johnson has a lot of height to distribute his weight. Marcus Gilbert, the Steelers' front-runner to start at left tackle in 2013, is the same height as Johnson but 27 pounds heavier. Max Starks, their left tackle in 2012, is 6'8", 345 pounds.
NFL Draft Scout calls Johnson a "natural bender with flexible joints." He's athletic enough to have played quarterback in high school then move to tight end and defensive end at Oklahoma.
Johnson moved to right tackle in 2011 and left tackle in 2012. He would provide much-needed competition for Gilbert or Mike Adams, who is slated to start at right tackle.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Weight: 250 pounds
The Steelers could look at tight ends in the draft. Heath Miller might not be ready to start the 2013 season after tearing two knee ligaments in the second-to-last game of the 2012 season.
NFL Draft Scout compares Tyler Eifert to Miller. The evidence supporting that shows why Eifert would be a good fit in Pittsburgh.
Like Miller, Eifert is a "soft-spoken guy," according to NFL Draft Scout.
Like Miller, Eifert led his team in receptions in 2012. He caught 50 passes for 685 yards and four touchdowns, following up a 2011 campaign in which he was the nation's top tight end with 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns.
Like Miller, Eifert also is effective as a blocker, although it's not the strongest part of his game. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller gave Miller a 10 out of 20 grade for blocking in his B/R NFL 1,000 series.
Steelers tight ends David Paulson and Leonard Pope combined for 10 catches last year. The Steelers brought back Matt Spaeth to shore up their tight end unit in case Miller misses part of the 2013 season.
Eifert might be a reach at No. 17 and he'll probably be gone by the time the Steelers pick at No. 48 in the second round. So the only way Pittsburgh is likely to get him would be if the Steelers trade down in the first round or up in the second round.
NFL Draft Scout calls Eifert a "team-first guy who proudly wore the 'C' on his jersey."
The Steelers are always looking for that kind of leadership.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Weight: 214 pounds
DeAndre Hopkins is reminiscent of Hines Ward in that he's not the biggest or fastest receiver, although he's bigger than Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders and heavier than Jerricho Cotchery.
Despite his physical limitations, Hopkins led the ACC in 2012 with 1,405 receiving yards. He caught 82 passes and scored a school-record 18 touchdowns, which was second in the country.
Like Ward, Hopkins is "fearless over the middle," according to NFL Draft Scout. Hopkins shows "nastiness" as a run blocker, according to NFL.com, although he'll have to improve to match Ward in that department.
Hopkins shows the intangibles the Steelers look for with his maturity and hard work in the weight room. He could develop into a leader.
The Steelers figure to use an early-round draft pick on a wide receiver after losing Mike Wallace in free agency. Hopkins is projected to go late in the first round or early in the second round. So the Steelers might have to make a deal to be in a position to get him.
Matt Elam, SS, Florida
Weight: 208 pounds
The Steelers might be okay at safety in 2013, but Troy Polamalu turns 32 this month and Ryan Clark turns 34 in October. It's time to start looking for future safeties in the draft.
Pittsburgh shouldn't expect to find another Polamalu. He's a once-in-a-generation talent.
However, Matt Elam seems to be the most Polamalu-like of the safeties in the 2013 draft class.
Not only is Elam the same height as Polamalu and just one pound heavier, but Polamalu's name comes up in NFL Draft Scout's assessment of Elam because of his knack for making big plays.
Like Polamalu, Elam might whiff once in a while when going for a splash play.
In 2011, Elam led Florida with 11 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He followed that up last season by again making 11 tackles for loss to go with two sacks, a forced fumble and four interceptions.
Elam is a proven special teams contributor, which would make him a nice fit on any team, not just the Steelers.
The Steelers 2012 draft class was a disappointment off the field, so they need to pay special attention to character in this draft.
Elam has had two "run-ins" with police for alcohol possession, according to NFL Draft Scout. There are worse things football players have done.
Elam showed enough character to be voted a team captain in 2012. He might have to fall in the second round for the Steelers to have a shot at him.
Eric Reid, FS, LSU
Weight: 213 pounds
While Matt Elam might have some of the same characteristics as Troy Polamalu, Eric Reid echoes the Steelers' other safety.
Like Ryan Clark, Reid is a hard-hitting free safety from LSU who is prone to penalties.
In 2012, Reid made 91 tackles, broke up seven passes, intercepted two and recovered a fumble.
Reid made what ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit, via NFL Draft Scout, called the top defensive play of the 2011 regular season with an interception at the Tigers' 1-yard line in the fourth quarter of a 6-6 tie against Alabama. LSU went on to win that gave in overtime.
Reid might be available to the Steelers in the second round. He could be the heir apparent to Clark as the bad cop of the Steelers secondary.
Robert Woods, WR, USC
Weight: 201 pounds
Robert Woods is another receiver in the Hines Ward mold because he's not the biggest or the fastest, but he's productive and can block.
Woods had 252 career receptions at USC, including 76 in 2012 for 846 yards and 11 touchdowns.
As much as the Steelers offense will miss Mike Wallace's speed, if they draft Woods it would at least be refreshing to have someone who NFL Draft Scout calls "an unselfish player who gives good effort as a blocker."
Neither of those qualities could be used to describe Wallace.
The Steelers could use as many team players as possible to bounce back from their 8-8 season and get back to the playoffs.
Woods has a history of ankle injuries, so his health will need to be monitored. But if he's still on the board in the second round, he'd be worth a serious look for the Steelers.
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Weight: 214 pounds
Rashard Mendenhall's career in Pittsburgh came to an ignominious end five years after he was chosen in the first round. Sixth-round pick Jonathan Dwyer and undrafted Isaac Redman don't seem to be the answer at running back.
Perhaps instead of using their top pick or trying to unearth a hidden gem in the late rounds, the Steelers should find a happy medium and address their need at running back by taking Montee Ball in the third round.
Ball tied Barry Sanders' NCAA record with 39 touchdowns in 2011. He ran for 1,923 yards that year with an average of 6.3 yards per carry. With the departure of Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson in 2012, Ball still ran for 1,830 yards at a 5.1 yards-per-carry clip with 22 touchdowns.
He might not be flashy, but NFL.com calls Ball a "reliable, hard-working zone back." Pittsburgh's blue-collar fan base could identify with him.
The Steelers need all the help they can get keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright. Ball would be able to do his part because he's not afraid to take on blitzers. He also can give Roethlisberger another option for getting rid of the ball with his ability to catch passes over the middle.
Mendenhall was like the shiny sports car who didn't give the Steelers as many years as they had hoped. Ball would be a more modest set of wheels that gets them where they want to go.