The NFL draft season is in full swing. A packed slate of all-star games is underway, and draft prospects are in the midst of the most important job interview of their lives.
Prospects rankings remain fluid, so changes in where players stand happens all the time. This means that the players on the board for the Pittsburgh Steelers will change all the time as well.
This latest full seven-round mock draft is different on two fronts. First is related to the first-round pick. In this incarnation, primary need along with positional value shifts to outside linebacker. Obviously, how the Steelers pick in the first round will dictate the entire draft, so expect a little different look.
On the second front, this mock draft will include projected compensatory picks in the third, fifth and seventh rounds. These projections are based on the losses of wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis and running back Rashard Mendenhall.
Obviously, this is not an exact science, but if anything, this projection could be low. And projecting these extra picks give a much more complete picture of just how this draft could unfold. Take a look at this latest projection.
Kony Ealy, Linebacker, Missouri
All eyes will be on how the Steelers handle the contracts of linebackers Jason Worilds and LaMarr Woodley. It is difficult to think that both will be back with the team in 2014, leaving a big missing piece in the outside linebacker rotation.
Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy is still a little under the radar at this point. However, make no mistake; he is a pass-rush terror coming off the edge. He's got tremendous size at 6'5" and 275 pounds, and he has an explosive initial step.
Ealy plays with tremendous power and leverage and displays great closing speed. Ealy could trim down to 260 pounds and be an absolute force of nature as a rush outside linebacker. His ability to set the edge in the run game would allow him to line up on the strong side opposite Jarvis Jones. Jones and Ealy together would be downright terrifying.
Jaylen Watkins, Cornerback, Florida
To be a great cornerback in the modern NFL, a player has to be able to play press man. The days of running tons of zone are long gone. Press and even off man are much more the norm.
The rules mandate it at this point. So, having a cornerback who isn't afraid to line up opposite the opposing team's top wide receiver and punch them in the face is a must.
Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins is perhaps the least-known, but most talented of the Florida cornerbacks in the 2014 NFL draft. And that assessment is due largely because he is so good at getting up on the line, jamming the receiver and then turning and mirroring them.
Tre Boston, Safety, North Carolina
There is set to be a changing of the guard at the safety spot in Pittsburgh. For however long safety Troy Polamalu chooses to stay, he'll have his spot, but the other side could be a mystery if Ryan Clark does not return.
North Carolina safety Tre Boston fits that deep safety role that Clark was so good in for so long. He's got fantastic range and instincts. He shows a very good break on the football and is athletic enough to go up and get it.
Long term, safety Shamarko Thomas should be the starter in Polamalu's spot, so getting Boston to pair up with him would be excellent value here.
Robert Herron, Wide Receiver, Wyoming
History says that these middle rounds are where the Steelers like to do work on finding their wide receivers. And the type of wide receivers they covet are smaller wideouts with elite speed and quickness. As great as a big target would be, don't be shocked if it doesn't happen that way.
If speed and quickness are what you are looking for, Wyoming wide receiver Robert Herron is hard to top. Although he is just under 5'9", he plays much bigger. Herron is fearless and will go up and get the football in traffic against anyone.
Nonetheless, that's not why you draft Herron. You draft him because he is too quick to jam at the line of scrimmage and can blow past most defenders in the short and intermediate routes. His hands are active and above average, and he works through the whistle on every play.
De'Anthony Thomas, Running Back/Wide Receiver, Oregon
Sometimes a pick is less about a need and more about simply drafting the best player left on the board. And when you have an extra fifth-round pick, you have that luxury. If the Steelers are sitting in the middle of the fifth round, and offensive weapon De'Anthony Thomas is still out there, it would be difficult to imagine them passing on him.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley tried to get a player like this when they drafted Florida running back Chris Rainey. Unfortunately, that relationship did not work at all. They correct that here with Thomas.
Obviously, Thomas isn't an every-down player at any position. However, in the hands of the right coaches, Thomas could be dynamic. He can line up anywhere on the field on offense and even impact the return game with his explosive speed and quickness.
Thomas has the ability to make players miss in the open field and would be a serious weapon in a situational role for the Steelers. He could spell running back Le'Veon Bell at times and line up as a slot receiver as well.
Justin Ellis, Defensive Tackle, La. Tech
While the Steelers are in the market to add developmental talent along the defensive line, they might as well get themselves an interesting nose tackle prospect while they are at it. La. Tech defensive tackle Justin "Jelly Bean" Ellis is a mountain of a man, with surprising feet.
Watching Ellis play, you get a sense that he understands leverage well enough and has adequate strength. Obviously with a big man like Ellis, consistent effort and energy are something to strive for. Ellis has enough physical gifts and has flashed enough on film to warrant a flier at this point in the draft.
Aaron Colvin, Cornerback, Oklahoma
It is tragic that Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin tore his ACL during Senior Bowl practices. With surgery and recovery, it is unlikely he will be able to contribute to a team at any point in the 2014 season. This will almost certainly push his draft stock way down.
Whether or not he falls all the way to the sixth round is hard to pinpoint, but should teams pull him off their boards, and he slides this far, it would be tough to not pull the trigger.
The Steelers could simply stash him away on IR for the season like the Denver Broncos did with defensive end Quanterus Smith in 2013. The investment would be minimal, and if Colvin returns to form, he would be a colossal steal this late in the draft.
Charles Leno Jr., Offensive Tackle, Boise State
The Pittsburgh Steelers don't have the glaring need for an offensive tackle as once thought, so rather than spend a high pick on one, they dig a little and find a long athletic project-type of player in Boise State tackle Charles Leno Jr.
Leno is a stark contrast to the maulers the Steelers drafted to play tackle recently. At 6'4" and 295 pounds, Leno relies on a mean streak and good hands to keep defenders at bay. The fact that teams could view him as a guard rather than a tackle would force him down in the draft.
If the Steelers could scoop up Leno this late, he would be an excellent addition as a swing lineman in a reserve role.
Taylor Hart, Defensive End, Oregon
The second of Pittsburgh's two seventh-round picks would go to help fill another potential hole on defense. With defensive ends Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood both scheduled for free agency, as well as defensive tackle Al Woods, there could be major changes along the defensive front.
If one assumes that at least one of those players doesn't return, replacing them with Oregon defensive end Taylor Hart as the pick here makes lots of sense.
Hart has the natural size and power to play a base 5-technique end, but he is athletic enough to slide inside on passing downs. Hart is a developmental-type of player, but at this point in the draft, he's a nice risk to take.