Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Mock Draft: Very Early 7-Round Predictions
The draft normally takes place in April, but because of a scheduling conflict it has been moved to May 8-10 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
That might seem like a long way off for Steeler fans, who hope to not have to turn their attention to the 2014 draft until February. The longer the Steelers season lasts, the shorter the pre-draft buildup.
Regardless of how far the Steelers go in the playoffs, however, their scouting department already has been poring over information on 2014 NFL draft prospects. The following players likely will be household names by this time next year, but to scouts of all 32 NFL teams, they're household names now.
This Steelers 2014 mock draft includes an extra fourth-round pick. The formula is complex, but the Steelers figure to be awarded at least a couple of compensatory mid-round picks next year after losing Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall in free agency.
Compensatory picks won't be handed out until after the 2014 season, so the third-round pick in this Steelers mock draft is a projected compensatory pick. The Steelers traded their original third-round pick in 2014 to the Cleveland Browns so they could move up in the fourth round and draft Shamarko Thomas this past April.
Thomas probably was a player the Steelers coveted before most of their fans heard of him, just like most of the players in this 2014 Steelers mock draft.
NFL Draft Scout is the resource for heights and weights.
Round 1: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Weight: 303 pounds
Stephon Tuitt led Notre Dame with 12 sacks in 2012, helping the Fighting Irish reach the BCS National Championship Game. He also made 47 tackles, including 13 for loss, and forced three fumbles. He was recognized as a 2012 Walter Camp All-America second-teamer.
Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout calls Tuitt a "scheme-versatile big man."
The Steelers used late-first round picks on defensive linemen Ziggy Hood in 2009 and Cameron Heyward in 2011.
Hood has been adequate, but he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2014 and would need to have a breakout season for the Steelers to re-sign him.
Heyward had his best game as a Steeler in the 2012 season finale, with a career-high four combined tackles and a shared sack. If he can carry that momentum into 2013, he can challenge Hood for a starting job at defensive end.
Brett Keisel has remained productive at the other defensive end spot, but he'll be 35 next season and it's time to look for his replacement.
Tuitt could be the disruptive force that Keisel has been on the defensive line, and then some.
Round 2: Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
Weight: 244 pounds
Jeff Reynolds of the Sports XChange says Shayne Skov heads into 2013 as "the most fearsome inside linebacker in the country."
Skov came back from an ACL injury in 2011 to lead Stanford with 81 tackles in 2012. He had 10 tackles, including one for loss, to help the Cardinal upset Oregon 17-14 in overtime in November.
Oregon was undefeated at the time and ranked second in the ESPN poll.
The Steelers used a sixth-round draft pick on an inside linebacker this year, choosing Vince Williams of Florida State. However, Larry Foote is 33 and the Steelers could use more depth at the position.
According to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler says time is running out for Stevenson Sylvester. The 2010 fifth-round pick has seen little action from scrimmage.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sean Spence, the Steelers' third-round pick in 2012, predicts he'll play again after suffering a severe preseason knee injury last year, but he faces long odds and the Steelers can't count on him to come back.
Round 3: Justin Jones, TE, East Carolina
Weight: 277 pounds
Even if Heath Miller fully recovers from his knee injury and has another Pro Bowl season, he'll be 31 in October, and there's not a ton of depth behind him.
The Steelers reacquired Matt Spaeth during the offseason. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller gave Spaeth the highest possible blocking rating in this B/R NFL 1,000 series, but he's never caught more than 17 passes in a season.
David Paulson is entering his second year and has potential, but he caught just seven passes last year and must improve as a blocker. During the Steelers' 34-24 home loss to the San Diego Chargers, Paulson took what looked like a Ben Roethlisberger pass off his backside while being pushed into the backfield. It was later ruled a fumble, and the Chargers recovered it for a touchdown.
Justin Jones caught 21 passes, five for touchdowns, for East Carolina in 2010. He caught only six passes as he battled injuries in 2011, but four of those were for touchdowns. In 2012 Jones caught 25 passes, three for touchdowns, with an average of 13.8 yards per reception.
In this era of the huge tight end, Jones is bigger than both Miller (6'5", 256 pounds) and Spaeth (6'7", 260 pounds).
That size doesn't hinder his leaping ability. According to ecupirates.com, Jones has displayed a vertical jump of 33'5". That would have tied him for sixth among tight ends at the 2013 NFL scouting combine, according to NFL.com.
Even if Miller has many productive years ahead of him, he and Jones could be a formidable tight-end tandem.
Round 4: Cody Green, QB, Tulsa
Weight: 247 pounds
The Steelers draft a quarterback in the fourth round for the second straight year because they won't like what they see from Landry Jones.
NFL.com's scouting report said Jones shows good zip on passes to all parts of the field when his feet are set," but It's a different story when he doesn't have a clean pocket to throw from, as former Sooner "struggles under duress."
By comparison Ben Roethlisberger is forced to throw a lot of passes when his feet aren't set.
Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider (subscription required) said at the end of the Steelers' offseason workouts that Jones "lacks arm strength."
Cody Green seemed to be on the upswing at the end of last season. In the last three regular-season games he completed 71 of 123 passes for 818 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. The Golden Hurricane went 2-1 in those games then went on to beat Iowa State 31-17 in the Liberty Bowl, even tough Green completed just 11 of 23 passes in that game.
Green sat out the 2011 season after transferring from Nebraska. He was named Honorable Mention All-Conference USA in 2012 and could have a better chance than Jones of winning the No. 2 quarterback spot behind Roethlisberger.
Round 4: Nickoe Whitley, FS, Mississippi State
Weight: 205 pounds
The Steelers drafted Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, but they're not finished building for the future at safety.
Ryan Clark turns 34 in October. Troy Polamalu is 32. If he again misses a significant part of the schedule with injuries, the 2013 season could be his last in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh does Thomas, Robert Golden and Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith filling out the depth chart, but the Steelers must be better prepared for life after Polamalu and Clark.
According to the Clarion-Ledger Mississippi State sports blog, Whitley had 88 tackles in 2012, including 3.5 for loss. He also had three interceptions and forced a fumble.
Round 5: Austin Wentworth, OT, Fresno State
Weight: 300 pounds
Austin Wentworth was named first-team All-Mountain West in 2012 after starting all 13 games at left tackle.
With Wentworth protecting the blind side, Fresno State allowed 29 sacks on 535 pass attempts (5.4 percent of the team's passes) in 2012, according to GoBulldogs.com.
Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked on 8.4 percent of his career passing attempts, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
After using two first-round picks and two second-round picks on offensive linemen between 2010 and 2012, the Steelers didn't draft any offensive linemen in 2013.
Left tackle Max Starks, the only Steelers offensive lineman to play every snap in 2012, according to Football Outsiders (via Penn Live), signed with the San Diego Chargers. According to STATS, Starks was responsible for just three sacks last season (via Steel City Insider, subscription required).
The plan is for Marcus Gilbert to start at left tackle and Mike Adams to start at right tackle. Gilbert hasn't played left tackle in the NFL. The Steelers brought in veteran Guy Whimper for depth, but according to ESPN.com, Whimper led the NFL with 14 sacks allowed in 2011 and yielded four sacks in six starts last season.
Even if Gilbert pans out at left tackle, the Steelers need more depth at the position. The Steelers are grooming second-year man Kelvin Beachum to play every position, but they need another pure offensive tackle.
Round 6: Dontae Johnson, CB, North Carolina State
Weight: 195 pounds
The Steelers brought back William Gay to be the nickel back behind Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen. They drafted Terry Hawthorne in the fifth round in April. But there's not much beyond that at cornerback.
Curtis Brown has yet to prove in three seasons that he belongs on the field (other than on special teams), and there's no guarantee Hawthorne will work out. He is, after all, a fifth-round pick.
Dontae Johnson has the size the Steelers look for in cornerbacks, and it wouldn't hurt them to take a flier on another late-round corner.
Round 7: James Stone, C, Tennessee
Weight: 302 pounds
James Stone started all 12 games at center for Tennessee in 2012.
A natural left-hander, Stone had trouble on shotgun snaps in 2011. He corrected that by using his left hand in the shotgun but snapping right-handed when the quarterback is under center, according to GoVolsXtra.com.
The Steelers could use a true center to back up Maurkice Pouncey. Doug Legursky, his primary backup, signed with the Buffalo Bills. But even he was a guard-center hybrid.
Jack-of-all-trades Kelvin Beachum and guard-center John Malecki are the leading candidates to spell Pouncey.
Joe Madsen, listed as a center only, and guard-center Mike Golic, Jr. will also will compete for a roster spot. Both are undrafted free agents.
The Steelers haven't drafted a center since they took Pouncey in the first round in 2010. It's about time they draft another one.