With three games remaining in the regular season, it appears that the postseason hopes of the Pittsburgh Steelers are fading fast. The Steelers currently hold the 10th pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft but are only a game away from being part of a big mix that could put them picking anywhere between the fifth pick and the 13th.
Obviously, when thinking about which prospects will be available to the Steelers, it can vary greatly along this spectrum. So, for this exercise, we will stick with some middle ground and look at the draft from the perspective of picking right around 10. However, I am including a trade down in the first round, somewhere into the early 20s in order to pull in an additional third-round pick to help better use the depth of this draft.
This isn't necessarily good news for the Steelers. The top of the round could be very heavy with quarterbacks, offensive tackles and pass-rushers. The Steelers do not need two of those three, but a run on those picks could influence their ability to trade down and could pull the best of a position they do need off the board before they select.
Another consideration is the lack of an original third-round pick. After trading it away in order to draft safety Shamarko Thomas, the Steelers will have to count on a compensatory selection at the end of this round to make up for it. That's why for this mock, the trade down gives the Steelers an extra third and four shots at getting players ranked in the top 100.
Do the Steelers take a shot on another offensive lineman early, or do they turn their attention elsewhere? Read on for this latest mock draft.
Kelvin Benjamin, Wide Receiver, FSU
As a redshirt sophomore, Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin wasn't an obvious choice to include among the draft-eligible prospects. However, when you figure in that he is 22 years old, it makes much more sense that the huge, talented wideout will make the jump.
Benjamin is a physical marvel at 6'5" and 234 pounds. His game is all about power and going up and getting the football. He is a mismatch against nearly any corner and is much more athletic than his body type might lead one to believe. The Steelers have been absent a big wide receiver for a long time, so in a trade down, Benjamin could be a nice value pick.
DaQuan Jones, Defensive Tackle, Penn State
Steelers fans always love when in-state prospects get a mention. However, mentioning Penn State defensive tackle DaQuan Jones makes more sense than just geography. Jones has a great build for a nose tackle position with a low center of gravity, long arms and a thick middle. Jones has a frame that could easily put on 15-20 pounds, allowing him more strength at the point of attack.
Jones has been unblockable at times this year with his ability to split the double-teams and penetrate into the backfield. This isn't a class with a lot of excellent nose tackle prospects, but given time, Jones could develop into a great one.
Ja'Wuan James, Offensive Tackle, Tennessee
There are some who think the best offensive tackle at Tennessee is Ja'Wuan James, not Antonio Richardson. Both are excellent, but there is a ton to love about James' game. His size is ideal for either the left or right side. It is impossible to undervalue being a four-year starter on an offensive line that plays in the SEC and doing so at a very high level.
James' high football IQ paired up with superb athleticism gives him a tremendous ceiling in the NFL. His technical skills are rock solid in both run-blocking and pass protection. James gets overshadowed in the draft community by his teammate Richardson, but on film it is really hard to pick one over the other. The Steelers can use a player like James, who can play either side, and in particular a tackle on the roster who can be a dominant run-blocker.
Tre Boston, Safety North Carolina
Looking for players on this Steelers roster who are willing to hit someone isn't hard to do. There are plenty of guys on defense who love to come up and stick their nose in the play and aren't afraid to deliver a blow. The problem is, the coverage lapses by these players have resulted in far too many big plays.
North Carolina safety Tre Boston is something of a purist in the sense that he is much more of a coverage player at safety. This is a very good thing. The Steelers love to employ single deep coverage with one safety back, and Boston would fit the bill perfectly. His play recognition is top notch, and he has very good closing speed and hands.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Cornerback, Nebraska
Following up with another defensive back here. Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a bit underrated nationally, primarily because the Nebraska defense has slipped a little. Nevertheless, his size is elite (6'1", 215 pounds), and his ball skills are as good as any cornerback in the country.
With the real possibility of going into 2014 without top cornerback Ike Taylor, the Steelers would be wise to snatch up a potential No. 1 in Jean-Baptiste. Even if he isn't asked to start, with all the big nickel and dime sets the Steelers employ, he would be a great fit in their sub packages.
Josh Mauro, Defensive End, Stanford
There's no reason why a player like Stanford's Josh Mauro should still be on the board this late, but if he is, the Steelers would likely snatch him up. Mauro is a big, mauling defensive lineman who has the size to play all over the line and the smarts to do it well.
Again, there are going to be some changes next season, and that could include defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel. The Steelers defensive line is already thin, so a selection like Mauro not only represents excellent value but could fill a significant need.
Jon Halapio, Guard, Florida
This season has been a disaster for the Steelers' offensive line. Multiple injuries have forced this group to shuffle between personnel on an almost weekly basis. One trend that seems to be surfacing as the season has progressed is that whichever combination is out there, they struggle to run-block.
The play of Halapio has been overshadowed this year by the overall catastrophe that has been Florida football. Halapio is no ballerina, and he's not going to wow you with his athleticism. Nevertheless, what Halapio does is finish. He's a very strong player who works with a nice center or gravity and understands leverage.
Halapio is a downhill blocker who, once he gets his hands on you, wants to punish you for something you aren't sure you did. Even as a rotational player, Halapio is a great value pick at this point.
Joe Don Duncan, Tight End, Dixie State
You know you have reached the end of the draft when the reference to Dixie State of Utah comes up. However, this small college up in Utah happens to have one of the most fascinating tight end prospects in the draft. Tight end Joe Don Duncan has finally started to get some national notoriety. Duncan has been invited to attend both the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game.
Duncan will almost certainly select the Senior Bowl as it is far and away the most high-profile college all-star game. It would provide Duncan with the most reaching format to showcase his skills. Duncan is 6'5" and nearly 270 pounds with soft hands and a great work ethic. Questions about the level of competition and overall athletic ability are legitimate, but should he slide to this point, the Steelers must consider picking him up.