After the first month of the season, it appeared as though the Pittsburgh Steelers could be drafting in the top 10. That was not the case as they recovered from their 0-4 start to win eight of their final 12 games.
It may not have been enough to get them into the playoffs, but the Steelers strong finish does provide hope for the 2014 season. A major part of getting back into the NFL’s postseason will be making the most of their relatively high spot in the draft.
For the fourth time since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007, the Steelers will be drafting in the top 20. Previous selections include Lawrence Timmons (15th overall in 2007), Maurkice Pouncey (18th overall in 2010) and Jarvis Jones (17th overall in 2013).
The Tomlin and Kevin Colbert duo has been criticized for their draft in recent years, particularly with only one player remaining from the 2008 and 2009 drafts; however, the two have improved in recent years by finding quality players, including Cameron Heyward, David DeCastro, Kelvin Beachum and Le’Veon Bell.
We may be nearly five months away from the draft, and a lot of transactions will happen between now and then, but it is never too early to preview who the Steelers will select come May.
A note for this mock draft: To provide structure for this mock, I used Matt Miller’s full 7-round mock draft, which just so happens to be excellent for the Steelers. Any player that is available at each selection for the Steelers is eligible to be taken in my mock.
Year: Redshirt Sophomore
Weight: 225 pounds
Pittsburgh needs to upgrade its talent across the board. For this reason, it is important that they take the best available player regardless of position.
Mike Evans is a big-time playmaker who meets that criteria. He would also replace Emmanuel Sanders, who will be a free agent.
The 6’5” receiver may not have the elite deep speed that Mike Wallace has, but he uses his long strides and size advantage to make him a dangerous deep threat. In two seasons at Texas A&M, he had 151 receptions for 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Evans will also bring a much-needed physical presence to the receiving corps. He uses his hands very well to push off of the defender, allowing him to gain separation from the defender.
Even though he may not start as a rookie, Evans’ large frame would make him a threat in the red zone, which is an area in which the Steelers could use some improvement.
Imagine Ben Roethlisberger throwing to Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Jerricho Cotchery and Mike Evans. That is a quarterback’s dream. Combine the receiving corps with Heath Miller and Le’Veon Bell, and Pittsburgh’s offense could finally reach the next level.
Year: Redshirt Junior
Weight: 192 pounds
Bradley Roby was one of the top cornerbacks in the nation last year, but he struggled this season, pushing him down draft boards. He provides good value in the second round, though.
The Steelers have never been shy from taking Ohio State players, selecting Santonio Holmes, Cameron Heyward and Mike Adams in recent years. Roby could be next in line and would help build depth at cornerback.
With Ike Taylor’s status in limbo and William Gay starting for a portion of this season, the Steelers could use another young cornerback to play alongside of Cortez Allen.
Roby would bring ball skills to a Steelers’ secondary that lacks in that area. He has eight interceptions in three years, including three this season, as well as 13 passes defended.
Roby has top speed, running the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds, which would allow him to run with some of the fastest receivers in the league; however, he will need to show that he can return to his 2012 form, when he was a first-team All-American.
We will not get a chance to see him against NFL-level competition on Friday as Brian Bennett of ESPN.com reported that Roby will likely not play against Clemson. He would have been matched up against Sammy Watkins.
The Steelers will gladly allow his draft stock to remain down so they can add a talented player to their secondary.
The Steelers do not have a third-round selection this year after they traded it to the Browns for their fourth-round selection during the 2013 draft. They selected Shamarko Thomas with this selection.
Expect the Steelers to end up with multiple compensatory selections. Based on the contracts and performances of Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis, the Steelers should likely receive third- and fifth-round selections.
For this first mock draft of the offseason, though, I am going to only use the selections that the team currently owns.
Weight: 185 pounds
In an effort to rebuild an aging secondary, Anthony Harris will provide the Steelers with another safety with upside to go along with Shamarko Thomas.
Thomas’ skill set makes him a better fit for strong safety, which means that Harris would need to transition to free safety. While Thomas is very physical and can lay the lumber, Thomas is more of a ball hawk.
Harris led the nation this year with eight interceptions and was fifth in the ACC, with 1.2 passes defended per game.
Harris would not need to contribute much as a rookie but rather learn the defense and get limited playing time in passing situations.
With a rookie cornerback and safety on board, the Steelers will be well on their way to rebuilding the secondary.
Weight: 244 pounds
It may be a stretch to think that the Steelers will take an outside linebacker after selecting Jarvis Jones in the first round last season, but they need to build depth at the position.
LaMarr Woodley or Jason Worilds may be gone and, as we all saw this year, there is no depth at the position. That is where DeMarcus Lawrence comes in.
Lawrence had 72 tackles this season and led the Mountain West Conference with 20.5 tackles for a loss. He also had 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. It is this type of activity behind the line of scrimmage that the Steelers like.
As a late-round selection, Lawrence would be given the luxury to sit behind the starters and learn the defense as he builds his strength. Like most rookie outside linebackers, he will have to develop in pass coverage as well.
Weight: 320 pounds
The Steelers have some prospects on the defensive line with Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams, but with Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood both free agents, they would be wise to add more depth.
Deandre Coleman is a massive defensive lineman from California who earned All-PAC-12 honorable mention this year. He had nine tackles for a loss and two-and-half sacks.
Coleman has plenty of experience, with 37 games played over the last three seasons, and he will enter the league with an NFL body.
His ability to get to the quarterback will not matter much, as the Steelers will need him to develop into a rotational player capable of stopping the run.
Year: Redshirt Junior
Weight: 217 pounds
Pittsburgh found a bona fide starter at running back with Le’Veon Bell, but they will need to build the depth behind him.
Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling will all be free agents, and the Steelers will not want to overspend on a backup. While it would be wise to re-sign one of these backs, they should look to the draft to add more depth.
Jerome Smith was Syracuse’s top running back, rushing for 914 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. That is down from his 1,171 yards in 2012, but it's good production either way. For his career, he averaged 4.78 yards per carry.
At 217 pounds, Smith has enough size to take a physical pounding at the NFL level and can fill Dwyer’s role as short-yardage back if he is not re-signed.