Traditionally under general manager Kevin Colbert, the Steelers have been one of the best teams in the league at finding starters and hidden gems in the NFL draft. That's powered them to three Super Bowl appearances and two Lombardi Trophies since he took over in 2000.
But for an 8-8 team that is hemorrhaging long-time starters and who's stars are falling out of their prime, this draft may be the Steelers' most crucial in a long time.
Pittsburgh has some clear-cut needs to fill out its 2013 team and, surprisingly, they seem to start on the defensive side of the ball. After parting ways with longtime stalwarts James Harrison and Casey Hampton and losing cornerback Keenan Lewis to free agency, the Steelers will have a lot of work to do in rebuilding their once-prominant defense.
Offensively, Pittsburgh lost one of the most explosive weapons in the game in wide receiver Mike Wallace when he left for a bigger contract with the Miami Dolphins. The team also had one of its worst rushing seasons in the modern era of football. The Steelers will need to add some pop to an offense that lacked it severely in 2012.
Now that you're all caught up, let's take a look at the Steelers' final seven-round mock draft with the 2013 NFL draft just hours away.
The Pick: Tyler Eifert / TE / Notre Dame
I'm not stoked about this pick...like at all. But when doing a mock draft, you have to take yourself out of the equation and play to what's left on the board for you.
By the time the Steelers pick at No. 17, I fully expect guys like Kenny Vaccaro, Star Lotulelei and (most importantly) Jarvis Jones to be off the board, leaving the team with not a whole lot of other options in the first round.
Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert is by no means a bad pick. At 6'6", 251 pounds, he's got the size teams dream about from his position. Add in a 4.6-second 40-yard dash time and a 35.5-inch vertical and you've got a serious threat in your passing attack.
Eifert did underachieve last season with the Irish, catching only 50 passes and an uninspiring four touchdown passes in his senior season in South Bend, Ind., but his raw talent makes him intriguing and a matchup nightmare at the next level.
The pick could also help the cash-strapped Steelers in the future. Besides the fact that they may be without tight end Heath Miller for the first six games of the 2013 season, he'll carry a contract that pays him over $11 million through 2014. That might be too much for the Steelers to pay out.
On Twitter the other day, I posted that I'd "puke" if I saw another mock that had the Steelers taking Eifert with their first pick. Probably overreacted on that one and am certainly willing to eat my own words. Unfortunately for the Steelers, the board may shape up to where it's either move up or down, or take Eifert.
Personally, if Jones is available when the Panthers are up at No. 14, I'm jumping in front of the Saints and taking the best pass rusher in this draft. But Colbert has reported the team is "unlikely" to move up from its position.
Still, with only a reported "6-8 special prospects" in this draft, they may be willing if the price is right.
The Pick: Jamie Collins / OLB / Southern Miss
This pick honestly makes me a little more comfortable with the Eifert pick in the first round because the Steelers fill their biggest need with a guy who could be one of the biggest steals of the draft.
The more I watch Southern Miss pass rusher Jamie Collins, the more I like what I see.
Collins has the frame (6'3", 250) that you look for when scouting a 3-4 outside linebacker. His motor runs a little hot and cold at this point, and he's not quite adept in his coverage skills, but this guy can get to the quarterback. And he did it while playing for an 0-12 Southern Miss team that wasn't exactly a breeding ground for talent.
Collins brought his A-game on Saturdays, recording 190 tackles and 16.5 sacks over his last two seasons combined. He also forced a noteworthy four forced fumbles in his senior campaign with the Golden Eagles.
As of now, Collins is still one of the best kept draft secrets in the media, but that may not be the case with NFL personnel. It only takes one team to fall in love with a guy and Collins is easy to like.
The Pick: Da'Rick Rogers / WR / Tennessee Tech
The Steelers haven't been ones to shy away from red-flagged players of late, and it's led to them taking guys like Mike Adams and Chris Rainey. Obviously Rainey didn't work out, but you could see the talent he brought to the field, and Adams should be the team's starting right tackle in 2013.
Da'Rick Rogers has as much talent as any receiver in this year's draft, and if he hadn't gotten himself booted from the Tennessee program, he'd probably be a Day 1 pick.
Repeated failed drug tests ended Rogers' promising tenure with the Volunteers after an All-SEC season in 2011 that featured 67 catches for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore.
Following his dismissal, Rogers transferred to Tennessee Tech where he hauled in 78 balls for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns, dominating the lesser competition that he faced and even scoring against Oregon.
Getting kicked out of school and dropping down a division has, by all accounts, changed Rogers' outlook on life, and apparently he's ready to start anew. For his level of talent, he's worth a shot in the third round, especially when considering the lack of size the Steelers have at receiver (Rogers: 6'2", 217).
Consider this, as well. In 2011, Rogers outplayed fellow Volunteer receiver and 2013 draft hopeful Justin Hunter (No. 9 receiver NFL.com). Also, had he stayed at Tennessee, consensus No. 2 receiver Cordarrelle Patterson probably wouldn't have seen the field often in 2012.
The Pick: Tony Jefferson / S / Oklahoma
In 2012, the Steelers found out the hard way that they have absolutely no depth behind starting safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. That depth got a little worse this offseason as both Will Allen and Ryan Mundy left the Steel City, leaving Pittsburgh desperate for some help in the secondary.
Oklahoma safety Tony Jefferson has the talent to be a second-day pick in this draft, but his size (5'11") will surely push him down boards.
But on the field, you could never tell Jefferson was at a size disadvantage. He's one of the most versatile safeties in this year's draft and plays all over the field. Jefferson is at his best, however, when playing in the box and down near the line of scrimmage.
With Clark and Polamalu aging and injury prone, the Steelers need someone who can come in and be ready to start some games. Jefferson brings good value in the fourth round, and could be a future starter for this team.
The Pick: Kenjon Barner / RB / Oregon
Last year, the Steelers had one of their worst rushing seasons in franchise history, and I have yet to select a running back!
But I truly think more of the issues with the running game came from the offensive line than with the backs themselves. It also didn't help that Pittsburgh didn't get any continuity from its backfield, as Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall all suffered various injuries.
With Dwyer and Redman returning, and the possibility of Ahmad Bradshaw joining the fold, Pittsburgh doesn't really have a need for a between-the-tackles back. But the Steelers desperately lack versatility from the position.
Former Oregon running back Kenjon Barner oozes explosion, something the Steelers could stand to add to their offense. He's a bit undersized and may have put up his tremendous numbers (6.2 career yards per carry, 48 touchdowns) due to Chip Kelly's system, but don't doubt his skills.
Barner is a guy who can come in and immediately impact the Steelers' offense, especially on third downs out of the backfield and on special teams where Pittsburgh will surely miss Rainey.
The Pick: William Gholston / DE / Michigan State
Michigan State defensive end William Gholston has the name that many NFL fans know, and that means people are pushing him up boards. But in reality, Gholston has a ways to go before he's ready to be an impactful NFL player.
That's not to say Gholston isn't talented.
For a guy who comes in at 6'7", 280 pounds, Gholston has flashed a great combo of agility and power. And despite the fact that he tallied 10 sacks over three years with the Spartans, he raked in an impressive 30 tackles for loss, 29 of them coming over his last two seasons.
Gholston grades out best as a five-technique end in the NFL, and could be a good fit for the Steelers, who are lacking some depth at that position. Ziggy Hood is in a contract year, Brett Keisel is aging and Cameron Heyward has yet to make an impact on the field.
This would be a bit of a project for the Steelers, and probably wouldn't provide an immediate return, but could pay off in the future.
The Pick: Michael Mauti / ILB / Penn State
Like his past Nittany Lion brethren linebackers before him, Michael Mauti has the talent of a second- to third-round pick. But his extensive injury history will certainly push him deep into the third day of the draft.
That could be good news for the Steelers.
Despite the multiple ACL tears he's suffered, Mauti carved out a very nice career in Happy Valley. Last season, his first full campaign for Penn State, the inside linebacker recorded 96 total tackles, 2.5 sacks and three interceptions.
Pittsburgh would certainly be taking a risk here much as Buffalo did with Paul Posluszny in 2007, and the Cowboys with Sean Lee in 2010. Both have put together nice careers and should continue playing for some time.
The Steelers could certainly use the depth behind Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons. Last year's third-round pick, Sean Spence, has yet to see the field, so it's hard to gauge what Pittsburgh has behind its starters.
The Pick: Wes Horton / OLB / USC
In the seventh round of the NFL draft, you're looking for depth and guys who will have an immediate impact on special teams. USC linebacker Wes Horton has seen noteworthy playing time since his freshman year with the Trojans, and has at least shared starting duties since 2010.
His problem has been that he's never really progressed as USC had hoped.
At 6'5", 255 lbs., Horton possesses ideal size and bulk that you'd expect from an NFL outside linebacker. He's a hard-working pass rusher who can turn the corner well and is quick off the line. Despite that, he's managed only 18 sacks in four years with the Trojans.
Horton is certainly skilled enough to find a home on special teams, and possibly with some coaching, could give the Steelers depth at a position they're currently lacking.
Plus, his dad was "Gemini" from the original "American Gladiators" show. That's got to count for something.