Now that the 2013 season is in the books, the Pittsburgh Steelers can focus their attention toward 2014. A significant part of the rebuilding process this team must go through will be done via the NFL draft.
The positions of need in this draft will depend greatly on how the Steelers front office chooses to handle the contracts of many of the veterans on the roster. If one assumes that the Steelers are going to really go into 2014 with a fresh look, the most noteworthy differences will be on defense.
Fortunately for the Steelers, this draft is deep at some of the key positions they need. The Steelers also need to address potential losses at wide receiver as well as along the offensive line. It won't be an uncomplicated task, but it can be done.
The Steelers do not currently have a third-round pick. However, one appears in this scenario based on the certainty that they will get a compensatory pick for the loss of free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace.
So sit back and enjoy this latest Steelers mock draft.
Justin Gilbert, Cornerback, Oklahoma State
There's a real possibility that the Steelers could be without cornerback Ike Taylor next season due to his pending cap number. If that's the case, this would leave a rather mediocre group in coverage. Cortez Allen has shown flashes, but beyond him there is very little to be excited about. For much of the season, the Steelers used a strong safety as their dime cornerback. Even if Taylor stays, this pick may not change.
Gilbert fits the mold of what the Steelers staff looks for in a cornerback. He's got excellent size (6'0", 201 pounds) and is a tremendous athlete. He does well in man coverage and is a reliable tackler. The Cowboys left Gilbert on an island plenty in his career, and he rarely let them down. Gilbert is also battle-tested and would be prepared to play early in his rookie season.
Deone Bucannon, Safety Washington State
The rebuild of the Steelers secondary continues with Bucannon. The Washington State product is a punishing hitter and emerging coverage player. He's got fabulous size for the position and plays with natural instincts.
It is hard to argue with a player like Bucannon, who has almost no regard for his own personal safety. He reminds you of a bigger, stronger Troy Polamalu.
Safety could be a high priority, assuming the Steelers let safety Ryan Clark leave via free agency. Bucannon would be able to develop behind Polamalu and eventually form a tandem with Shamarko Thomas. Even if Clark happens to re-sign, it's unlikely safety Will Allen will return, leaving a spot free.
Ryan Carrethers, Defensive Tackle, Arkansas State
At this point, it is difficult to look at the Pittsburgh depth chart and feel like there is a true nose tackle to be found. Guys like defensive tackles Steve McLendon and Al Woods are solid, but neither cast the imposing shadow a true 3-4 nose tackle should.
Arkansas State defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers is huge. His size (6'1", 340 pounds) is imposing. He also plays with superb leverage and power. His ability to command a perpetual double-team is very enticing. This would also allow McLendon to move to defensive end and fill a big hole if defensive end Brett Keisel leaves in free agency.
The knock on Carrethers is that playing at Arkansas State means he hasn't faced elite competition. The fact is you can't teach the kind of power and leverage he plays with. That alone makes him an intriguing prospect with so many 3-4 teams.
Ja'Wuan James, Offensive Tackle, Tennessee
Even though the Steelers seemed to find some subtle chemistry among their offensive starters, an upgrade to the offensive tackle position can't hurt. While this group did a very good job down the stretch in pass protection, its run-blocking still suffered. In particular, the right side where tackle Marcus Gilbert is starting is the spot where the Steelers could really improve.
Tennessee offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James is a smart, experienced starter. He's cut his teeth against the best defenders in the country and is a very solid all-around tackle prospect. His technique is sound and his athleticism is underrated. It is hard to argue against a player who starts all 49 games of his college career for an SEC school.
De'Anthony Thomas, Running Back, Oregon
Even though the Steelers have their star running back in Le'Veon Bell, it can't hurt to get a steal this late. Where Bell is the thunder, Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas is the lightning.
Thomas has slipped some from where he started the season due to injury. However, as a part-time back and kick returner, his selection at this point would have tremendous value. He may never be a full-time player at any position but should impact an offense and special teams in a positive way in a limited role.
The Steelers wanted a player like Thomas two seasons ago when they drafted Chris Rainey, and then this season when they signed LaRod Stephens-Howling. It is clear the Steelers want that speed element in the backfield, and with Thomas they also get the potential of a dynamic wide receiver and return man.
Prince Shembo, Linebacker, Notre Dame
If the Steelers are unable to restructure linebacker LaMarr Woodley's contract or re-sign Jason Worilds, there will be a serious need for an outside rush linebacker to play opposite Jarvis Jones. It's safe to assume one will return, so adding that third player for the rotation can be addressed here.
Shembo is a natural 3-4 outside linebacker who plays with excellent potential but serious inconsistency. The key to his success is to remain focused and put out maximum effort on every play. If he does, he can be a very effective outside pass-rusher.
Physically, Shembo is everything you could want from a rush linebacker. He's got a thick, squatty frame (6'2", 258 pounds) and uses that low center of gravity to turn the edge on offensive tackles. Should he tumble, this pick would represent exceptional value.
Kain Colter, Wide Receiver, Northwestern
Pittsburgh finishes the draft with a fascinating pick. Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter should remind Steelers fans of some former players. This is a franchise that has had good luck taking these sorts of hard-working, athletic guys and helping them be successful. They did it with quarterback Kordell Stewart and wide receivers Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El.
Because of that past success, drafting Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter makes so much sense. Colter is very similar to Ward in that he has played multiple positions in college at a high level. Colter would provide the Steelers with a weapon on offense who has been a bit of a Swiss Army knife for Northwestern and could be utilized in a similar three-headed role with the Steelers.
This would obviously be a luxury pick for the Steelers, but when you consider the Steelers only dress two quarterbacks, it could make sense to have Colter in uniform as that emergency quarterback and all-around offensive weapon.