The Steelers have spent the past couple of months meeting with prospects at the combine, pro days as well as bringing them to Pittsburgh for pre-draft visits.
Visits with prospects could mean that the Steelers have serious interest, but it could also just be smoke and mirrors to throw other teams off of their plans. No one will know for sure until the draft plays out.
Despite the draft board is a tightly guarded secret, we have learned from previous years that pre-draft visitations can provide some clues as to who the Steelers could possibly take.
Three pre-draft visits were selected from the 2010 draft. Maurkice Pouncey (first), Emmanuel Sanders (third) and Antonio Brown (sixth) not only remain with the team, but each will be a major part of the offense this season.
In 2011, the Steelers visited with four of their draft picks including Marcus Gilbert (second), Curtis Brown (third), Cortez Allen (fourth) and Keith Williams (fifth). Gilbert and Allen will both start this season with Brown providing depth. They also signed four undrafted free agents that visited.
Last year the Steelers once again selected four of their pre-draft visits including Mike Adams (second), Toney Clemons (seventh), David Paulson (seventh) and Kelvin Beachum (seventh). Adams will start at right tackle this year and Beachum will be their top backup on the offensive line.
What we have learned from the past three drafts is that the Steelers take their prospect visits seriously and that they could have a major impact on this year’s draft class.
Here is a position-by-position look at the Steelers’ pre-draft visits.
The Steelers have no need to draft a quarterback early, but that did not stop them from meeting with some of top prospects at the position.
Pittsburgh met with Geno Smith at the combine, Landry Jones and Tyler Bray at their pro days and had a pre-draft visit with Ryan Griffin.
There is no chance that the Steelers will spend a first-round selection on Smith as Ben Roethlisberger is still in the prime of his career, but a late-round possibility. However, the signing of Bruce Gradkowski may have even eliminated the position from their draft board.
But if they do decide to draft one, Bray would be one name of interest.
Prior to the start of the 2013 season, Bleacher Report’s Sigmund Bloom called Bray a first-round draft pick given his strong arm and approach to the game.
Bray is no longer considered to be a first-round quarterback, but he still has all of the tools necessary to succeed. However, Bray will likely be selected in the middle of the draft which is still too high.
While the Steelers may have been genuinely interested in Bray, they also could have used this meeting to gather some information on former Tennessee wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter.
Two more realistic options would be late-round prospects Jones and Griffin.
Jones is a system quarterback with limited arm strength and mobility. These are not characteristics that the Steelers would be looking for in their backup.
Meanwhile, Griffin is a pure late-round prospect who the Steelers may be able to sign after the draft.
Running back is one of the biggest needs on the Steelers this year and they will select one at some point during the draft.
Of the backs currently on the roster, only Jonathan Dwyer can carry the load, but the Steelers are looking for an upgrade.
The Steelers met with Montee Ball at the combine and had visits with Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell, Johnathan Franklin and Christine Michael.
Lacy is the top running back in this draft and would provide the Steelers with a runner who could carry the load. He doesn't have top-end speed, but will be a tough runner between the tackles.
Ball would be the every-down running back that the Steelers are looking for. He was extremely productive in college, but did have the benefit of running behind one of the best offensive lines in the country. As Wisconsin's feature back, he has had a lot of carries over his career which is a concern.
Bell is massive at 6’2” and 237 pounds. As a power back, he is not much different than what the Steelers already have. They would be getting a good between-the-tackles runner, but also one that lacked elite breakaway speed.
Instead, the Steelers would be better off with Michael or Franklin.
The concern with Michael is his lack of productivity in the passing game as both a blocker and receiver. That would leave Franklin as a more dynamic threat.
Bloom called Franklin’s blocking “ugly” and this would be an area for him to improve, but he is a good receiver and would be a multidimensional option that would fit in with the Steelers current stable of power backs
Heath Miller’s injured ACL leaves the Steelers a bit thin at the top of their depth chart, but they do have depth at the position.
David Paulson, Matt Spaeth and David Johnson are quality backups who should be able to hold the fort until Miller is ready to return. But that did not stop the Steelers from kicking the tires of a couple of tight end prospects.
Dion Sims and Keavon Milton visited with the Steelers and could potentially add depth to the position. The key factor will the progress of Miller’s rehabilitation.
Sims has terrific size at 6’5” and 262 pounds. He is a solid blocker in pass protection which is a huge plus. The Steelers often keep a tight end in to help in pass protection and their passing attack is better when Miller is going out on routes, not when he stays in and blocks.
Not only can Sims block well, but when given the opportunity, he is an adequate receiver. As a junior, he had 36 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns.
Milton is a possible pickup after the draft.
As the Steelers retool their offense, wide receiver figures to be an area that they will address early in the draft.
Pittsburgh met with Robert Woods at the combine, Anthony Capasso at his pro day and had a private meeting with Josh Boyce.
Bleacher Report’s Ryan Lownes considers Woods to be a “second or third option” in the NFL. With Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders already fit for these roles, the Steelers may be looking for a top option.
If they are looking for a true No. 1 option, they would have to consider selecting Cordarrelle Patterson, Keenan Allen, Justin Hunter or Da’Rick Rogers. But if they wanted to go the safe route, Woods is ideal.
Woods was very productive at USC playing in a pro-style offense. He is a strong route runner and is a willing blocker. Both of these skills are essential to succeed in the Steelers’ offense. What he is lacking is elite size and speed.
The other two options the Steelers looked at are late-round or undrafted options. This indicates that the Steelers are looking at adding a top option early in the draft and a secondary option later on.
Boyce fits the mold as a quality developmental project as a secondary option. He is 5’11” and is burner, running the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds. Not only can he run, but he can block as well.
Anthony Capasso could be a potential undrafted option.
After investing a number of high draft picks on the offensive line in recent years, the Steelers should now be looking for depth. However, their pre-draft visits would indicate otherwise.
With the effort to get more athletic on the offensive line, Pittsburgh focused on guard Jonathan Cooper and tackle Lane Johnson at the combine.
Both Cooper and Johnson figure to be gone in the first half of the first round of the draft with Johnson potentially going in the top 10.
Cooper is stout at 6’2” and 311 pounds, but is very mobile and would provide the Steelers with a third athletic interior linemen.
A combination of Cooper, Pouncey and David DeCastro should not only give Roethlisberger time to throw, but also plow the way for any running back that lined up in the backfield.
However, should the Steelers take yet another interior lineman in the first round? That would be three in four seasons.
It would be a different story if they had the opportunity to shore up the left tackle position with Johnson. If he happened to fall, the Steelers would pounce on him faster than they did on DeCastro last season.
At 6’6” and 303 pounds, Johnson is an athletic lineman who is very good against speed rushers, which happens to be an area that Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams both struggle with.
While it is possible that neither prospect will be available when the Steelers select, they are indicating the type of lineman that they are looking for. No longer are they focusing on the massive linemen who are maulers, but rather lighter linemen who are athletic and can move.
Nik Embernate is a potential undrafted free agent prospect at guard.
The Steelers are currently pretty deep along the defensive line. They have Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward as their top defensive ends and Steve McLendon and Alameda Ta’amu at nose tackle.
Jordan Hill has been the only defensive lineman that the Steelers have expressed interest in and that was at the combine.
Hill would be a rotational player in the Steelers’ system, but would be without a true fit as he stands at 6’1” but only weighs in at 303 pounds.
Hood is currently the Steelers’ shortest defensive end at 6’3” and if Hill were to switch to nose tackle, he would have to gain about 20 pounds to anchor the middle.
Now in their second year without James Farrior, the Steelers are still looking for his replacement. Larry Foote will once again get the start next to Lawrence Timmons, but there is room to upgrade.
It is no surprise that the Steelers met with a number of prospects including Arthur Brown, Khaseem Greene, Vince Williams and Michael Mauti.
Brown is a potential first- or second-round selection who is a plug-and-play starter. He is a bit undersized at 6’0” and 241 pounds, but is very instinctive and is strong against the run and dropping into coverage.
The problem is that selecting Brown with the 17th overall would be a reach and he is unlikely to make it to the Steelers in the second round. Instead, the Steelers may look at Greene as a more realistic option.
Greene is an inch taller than Brown, has comparable speed and may be even stronger in coverage.
Prior to moving to linebacker, Greene was a productive safety where he twice led Rutgers in interceptions. But while he is terrific in coverage, he can struggle against the run which will be an issue while playing in the Steelers’ defense.
Williams is a solid against the run, but is very limited against the pass. He is a potential late-round pick or undrafted free agent.
Mauti is a late-round option who was a leader while at Penn State as well as an outstanding defender. However, he has torn his ACL in each knee which raises some concerns to his durability.
For the second straight season, outside linebacker was the position that the Steelers visited with the most.
They spent time with Ezekiel Ansah at the combine and Alex Okafor at his pro day and the rest made pre-draft visits. This included meeting with Jarvis Jones, Jamie Collins, Sio Moore, John Simon and Malliciah Goodman.
Ansah and Jones head the class of pass-rushers that the Steelers have met with and both have their strengths and weaknesses.
Ansah is a raw prospect who had a strong performance at the Senior Bowl and has since saw his draft stock skyrocket. He should be gone before the Steelers pick.
A more realistic option for the Steelers would Jones.
Jones is one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft as he was extremely productive last season at Georgia as he led the nation in sacks (14.5), tackles for a loss (24.5) and forced fumbles (seven), but has a medical red flag and poor pro day numbers.
Eric Stoner’s scouting report of Jones noted that he is limited in pass coverage and against the run. This raises some concerns on whether or not he can transition to outside linebacker in the Steelers’ defense.
The Steelers instead may look to the second or third round where they can find a safer option with Collins, Okafor or Moore.
Collins has good size at 6’3” and 250 pounds with speed to match, running the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds. He has gotten better each year and topped out with 10 sacks last year as a senior and has shown the ability to drop into coverage as well.
Okafor’s game is not based on speed, but rather on power which would a good fit in the Steelers’ defense. He can defend against the run with his 6’4” 264 pound frame. However, can he convert to a 3-4 outside linebacker?
Moore has a good combination of speed and strength and would be a quality mid-round prospect for the Steelers to consider. He has never been an elite pass-rusher, but is a disciplined linebacker who has been solid against the run and the pass.
Later in the draft, Simon would provide the Steelers with an athletic limited, but strong and physical linebacker prospect.
Simon was a leader at Ohio State and was considered to be a high-motor player. These types of players are often limited in their abilities, but succeed based on effort.
Goodman is a potential late-round developmental prospect at outside linebacker.
Keenan Lewis left the Steelers leaving them with some depth issues at cornerback. William Gay was signed as a veteran presence, but this should only be a short-term solution.
While the Steelers should be in good shape at cornerback this season, they must begin to look to the future. They must find a replacement for Gay at the nickel spot as well as a future starter to take over for Ike Taylor.
Despite no immediate need at cornerback, the Steelers have expressed interest in Xavier Rhodes, B.W. Webb, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Will Davis.
Rhodes is a potentially elite cornerback with terrific size and speed. He is very physical and would be a terrific prospect to eventually take over for Ike Taylor.
Webb is a quality small school prospect who saw his stock rise after the season. Not only does he have potential as a cornerback, but he can also contribute in the return game.
Wreh-Wilson has terrific size at 6’1” and 192 pounds, but ran a relatively slow 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He lacks the elite speed to be a top cornerback and would instead have to use his size to his advantage.
Davis has average size at 5’11” 186 pounds and speed running the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds, but does have some playmaking ability. Last season he broke up 17 passes and had five interceptions.
There is no doubt that finding the future replacements for Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark will be a priority in this draft.
Kenny Vaccaro has been a favorite in mock drafts for a while now and it should be no surprise that he has been just one of the safeties that the Steelers have expressed interest in.
Besides Vaccaro, the Steelers met with Jonathan Meeks at the combine and brought in Phillip Thomas, Shamarko Thomas and Duke Williams for visits.
According to Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, Vaccaro can play both free and strong safety. He is an all-around safety who is good in coverage and against the run.
The downside of Vaccaro is his lack of speed of consistent playmaking ability. However, this should not prevent him from being a potential first-round pick for the Steelers.
Phillip Thomas would be an option for the Steelers if they are looking for a ball-hawking safety as he has 13 interceptions in four seasons at Fresno State. He is also a physical safety, which is a must for the Steelers as they expect their defensive backs to tackle.
Shamarko Thomas is limited by his size at only 5’9” but makes up for it with his speed. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds. He has had success in coverage and is very physical defending the run.
Duke Williams is a potential late-round prospect and Jonathan Meeks could be an undrafted free agent.
Here is a round-by-round breakdown of the Steelers draft board according to Matt Miller’s NFL Draft Big Board.
10. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
12. Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU
13. Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
14. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
16. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
18. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
24. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
25. Alex Okafor, OLB, Texas
30. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
34. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
39. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
41. Robert Woods, WR, USC
54. Phillip Thomas, S, Fresno State
57. Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers
59. Sio Moore, LB, Connecticut
66. Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Miss
81. Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse
93. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
110. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
111. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
112. B.W. Webb, CB, William & Mary
113. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut
120. Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M
121. John Simon, OLB, Ohio State
127. Will Davis, CB, Utah State
130. Tharold Simon, CB, LSU
134. Malliciah Goodman, DE/OLB, Clemson
135. Tavarres King, WR, Georgia
138. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
148. Jordan Hill, DL, Penn State
155. Josh Boyce, WR, TCU
163. Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State
177. Duke Williams, DB, Nevada
195. Vince Williams, ILB, Florida State
205. Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State
286. Ryan Griffin, QB, Tulane
Justin Brown, WR, Oklahoma (unranked)
Anthony Capasso, WR, Ashland (unranked)
Keavon Milton, TE, Louisiana-Monroe (unranked)
Nik Embernate, OL, San Diego State (unranked)
Marvin Burdette, ILB, UAB (unranked)
Jonathan Meeks, DB, Clemson (unranked)
Please post your mock drafts in the comments section, but use the following rules:
The players selected can only come from the list that the Steelers have visited with or expressed interest in.
Players cannot be drafted past their rankings on the big board. For example, since the Steelers select 17th in the first round, Kenny Vaccaro (10) and Lane Johnson (13) cannot be selected because they are rated ahead of the Steelers selection slot.
1.17: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
This pick came down to Rhodes or Cooper. While Cooper may develop into a terrific guard, the Steelers have spent plenty of picks on their offensive line and it was time to add a playmaker. Rhodes is a big, physical cornerback who can eventually take over for Ike Taylor and will add immediate depth to the position.
2.48: Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Miss
Collins is a perfect developmental prospect for the Steelers. He has good size and speed who can not only rush the passer, but also defend against the run.
3.79: Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse
Thomas is a bit undersized, but is physical and a big hitter. He would eventually start at strong safety.
4.115: Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M
Michael has a good combination of size and speed that you would love to have in a starting running back. He would provide excellent value this late in the draft.
5.150: Josh Boyce, WR, TCU
Boyce is the speed receiver that the Steelers could use to help replace Mike Wallace. Though he may be limited to third on the depth chart, he is one of the better late-round receiver prospects.
6.186: Michael Mauti, ILB, Penn State
An injury history will concern some, but Mauti is worth the risk this late. He is a natural leader and loves the game of football. Beyond this, he had a very productive career at Penn State and should be a solid pro.
6.206: Justin Brown, WR, Oklahoma
Brown would add some size to the receiver position and potential as a punt returner.
7.223: Nik Embernate, OL, San Diego State
There is a need to add depth to the offensive line and Embernate can help contribute at either guard or tackle.