Pittsburgh Steelers: Top Needs and Fits in the 2014 NFL Draft
When it comes to the NFL draft, rankings are subjective. It is easy to make a list of the best players at a given position; however, trying to sort those same players when it comes to a specific team makes things much more challenging.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all prospect in most cases. When it comes to fitting a player to a scheme, a franchise must balance talent with fit.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, this is absolutely true. Running a 3-4 base defense creates specific team needs and skill sets for prospects. On offense, the current makeup of the roster dictates which types of prospects to pursue.
Here are the top five positions of need and the best fits at each of those spots.
The Steelers are almost certain to lose at least one and possibly two of their top three receiving weapons from 2013. Should both Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders leave, this would make wide receiver a very high priority.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Watkins is far-and-away the top wide receiver option in this draft. His combination of size and speed is exactly what the NFL is looking for. He can run all the routes, works hard for every yard and can snatch the ball out of the air.
He is a matchup nightmare with his ability to take a short throw and turn it into a long run. He's a lot like a bigger, stronger version of Steelers' wide receiver Antonio Brown, minus a bit of the agility.
How Watkins Fits
The Steelers love to distribute the football all over the field. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is going to throw to the man who is open and can be productive. Watkins lined up with Brown would give Roethlisberger two dynamic weapons.
Kelvin Benjamin, FSU
If the Steelers decide to go after a player who can give them the big target they have lacked for many seasons, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is the guy. The last massive red-zone target for Pittsburgh was Plaxico Burress.
Benjamin is raw but possesses the physical gifts to dominate smaller defensive players. His hands are very good, and there is little doubt he is going to go full-speed every single play.
How Benjamin Fits
In 2013, rookie wide receiver Derek Moye was brought in for a single play in Week 2, just to catch a one-yard touchdown pass on a fade route. If this doesn't tell you that the Steelers want a tall target in the passing game, I'm not sure what will.
Allen Robinson, Penn State
Compared to Watkins and Benjamin, Robinson splits the difference in many ways. A lot of the things Robinson can do with the football remind one of Watkins. Meanwhile at 6'3" with great leaping ability, he casts a long shadow near the end zone like Benjamin.
How Robinson Fits
Robinson is not only a local prospect, which fans love, but he is a nice mix of what the Steelers need. He's a bit raw and might not be ready to start as a rookie, but his ceiling is still very high.
Cornerback is another spot where the Steelers might be staring down some serious decisions. Veteran cornerback Ike Taylor could be gone, and if so, the need for a cornerback will increase exponentially.
Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
The Steelers covet big, physical cornerbacks. This allows them to run their distinct style of defense with ease. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert falls right into the mold of what they want.
He impressive size (6'0", 200 lbs) and never shies away from press coverage. There is a slight trade-off to his game, however. While he isn't the stoutest run defender, he does have excellent speed. This is a skill this secondary has been missing for numerous seasons.
How Gilbert Fits
With the potential loss of Ike Taylor, the Steelers are going to need to draft a cornerback who can respond if pressed into service early. Gilbert is the player who is most ready to contribute right away of any cornerback in this draft.
Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Again, as with Gilbert, Fuller is a big, physical corner who does a good job in press man coverage. While He isn't as fast as Gilbert, but he is skillful in run support, which is a plus.
How Fuller Fits
He might not be ready to just walk onto the field and start, but he is an exceptional player. His ability to defend the run means he's an ideal nickel corner when the Steelers trot out an extra defensive back on running downs.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
The recurring theme in all this has been bringing in a big defensive back and Jean-Baptiste is the biggest of them all. At 6'2" and 215 pounds, he might be viewed as too big to be counted on in single coverage.
His recovery speed isn't as good as Gilbert or Fuller's, so he will have to count on his ability to use his hands, and when he does give up a catch, wrap and tackle.
How Jean-Baptiste Fits
Jean-Baptiste is getting a lot of momentum in draft circles because of his size. On the Steelers, he could cut his teeth as a nickelback and even play some safety in the big nickel/dime defense.
The safety position for the Steelers has been a point of stability for a long time. However, all good things must come to an end, and it's time to look to the future.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Alabama
The Steelers could be in a predicament if safety Ryan Clark doesn't return. If the Steelers want to replace him quickly, there's no better player than Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
He offers a superb mix of coverage and run support, paired up with tremendous instincts and a killer instinct. On film, he pops up play after play and is seemingly always in the right spot to make the stop.
How Clinton-Dix Fits
The weak link of the Steelers defense has been deep safety. Clark has struggled with assignments and cost this team too many deep plays. Clinton-Dix is a perfect plug-and-play safety for the 3-4 defense.
Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
The part of Dixon's game that shows up most often is his range. From the snap, he can get to any point on the field in a hurry. The Steelers like to keep one safety up near the line of scrimmage, so Dixon and his ability to fly to the football would go a long way toward that.
How Dixon Fits
This may seem a bit cliche, but Dixon has the look of a Steelers safety. In fact, watching him play, you can see Clark in his prime in many ways: good size, nice speed and solid ball skills. Dixon and safety Shamarko Thomas would make up a physical tandem for years down the road.
Deone Bucannon, Washington State
Since the start of the season, Bucannon has been one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the country, but he had lacked technique and refinement to his game. However, as the season progressed, he became more polished, and his coverage skills kept getting better and better.
How Bucannon Fits
Every team needs an enforcer in the secondary. Bucannon is the most intimidating figure that the Steelers could get. This team has relied on Troy Polamalu for many seasons, but Bucannon could be a great long-term replacement.
There are going to be some free-agent decisions along the defense line this offseason. If big changes happen, getting a new nose tackle could be a top priority.
Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
There's some debate about the need for a nose tackle, but it seems clear that more beef up front would be a bonus. Nix is a massive interior defender who will command constant double-teams. He comes from a 3-4 defense, so the transition would be natural for him as a 0-technique along the Steelers line.
How Nix Fits
This is an easy one. He is a mammoth, and every 3-4 defense needs just that. He reminds me of former Pittsburgh defensive tackle Casey Hampton, and that sort of presence is exactly what this team has been lacking.
Will Sutton, Arizona State
Sutton's 2013 season was less than spectacular, but he showed some positives. One thing he displayed is that he can play big. And by big, I mean heavy. At 315 pounds, he is right on the edge of being able to work from the nose tackle spot. His explosive first step and hand usage show that his ceiling is high.
How Sutton Fits
To be honest, he might not. If Sutton chooses to trim back down to regain some quickness, he's not an option at all. He would end up as a pure 3-technique tackle. However, if he holds his beef, he's a very interesting fit.
DaQuan Jones, Penn State
One thing a nose tackle must do is anchor at the point of attack, and Jones can do that. He's not ideal size-wise, but he plays with significant leverage and power.
How Jones Fits
He is something of a project. A move to a 3-4 would be an adjustment for him, and he'd need to get a bit bigger and understand the role of a 2-technique tackle. Nevertheless, he's a local star and has enough physical gifts to make him a valuable player.
Whether it is inside or outside, an influx of talent along the linebackers is a must. Potential free-agent losses could skew the need more to the outside, but talent is talent, and this team needs it.
C.J. Mosley, Alabama
The reason Mosley gets the nod as the top fit here is because he can play any linebacker spot in a 3-4. He has the ability to rush the passer from any spot, can drop into coverage and is strong enough to hold against the run. His game is complete, and it is hard to find any valid flaws.
How Mosley Fits
This one is almost too easy. The Steelers could have gaps inside or outside, and Mosley can fill them all. He'd be dominant lined up inside with Lawrence Timmons or outside opposite Jarvis Jones.
Dee Ford, Auburn
Speed kills, and Ford has plenty of speed coming off the edge. Last season the Steelers drafted Jarvis Jones, and his lack of speed and explosion has been evident. Ford's ability to explode off the edge is what makes him so special.
How Ford Fits
The Steelers haven't had a player with the kind of get-off that Ford has in a long time. He is going to be in serious demand in May because of his explosion off the edge. Should the Steelers opt to let either LaMarr Woodley or Jason Worilds walk, Ford would be an ideal replacement.
Kyle Van Noy, BYU
The strength of Van Noy's game is his versatility. While the Steelers are looking primarily for a pass-rush specialist, he is much more than that. The BYU product is a natural, fluid athlete who is just as comfortable in coverage as he is on a blitz.
How Van Noy Fits
He is intriguing because where he fits is a mystery. However, the fact that he can fit anywhere the Steelers want to put him makes him a fantastic pick. This team loves guys who are smart and versatile, and Van Noy is both of those things.