The NFL season is in the books, and that means we all have six months until there's another professional football game. Withdrawals will be serious, but you will get through it.
In the meantime, it's time to give another go at a full seven-round mock draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers. This time, it's a little different look at the narrative. This team has multiple directions they can go, and it all starts with that first-round pick.
The primary needs of this team are outside linebacker, safety, cornerback, and wide receiver. Depending upon which direction the Steelers go in the first, the rest of the draft will unfold quite differently.
This full mock draft will include a third-round pick, inserted as a prediction of a compensatory pick. This is due to the loss of wide receiver Mike Wallace last season.
So let's look at a little different spin on a Steelers mock draft.
This pick works for the Steelers because, assuming wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is lost to free agency, the Steelers will need to restock the depth chart.
The Steelers have been lacking a tall receiving weapon since the heyday of wide receiver Plaxico Burress. At 6'5" and 225 pounds, Evans casts an imposing shadow.
Evans has transformed into more than just a big target, however. Evans has become much more adept at working downfield, helping his quarterback out when he starts to move around. For the Steelers, this is of particular interest as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger loves to improvise.
The reality is Evans' best football is ahead of him. He has never had the benefit of having a wide receiver with him to take coverage away from him. Evans in the NFL on a steady dose of one-on-one coverage could really show him to become more than just a deep threat on broken plays and jump balls.
If the Steelers go with a wide receiver in the first, a player in the defensive secondary almost has to follow. This time around, it is Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Fuller is a big cornerback at 6'0" and 194 pounds but plays like a smaller corner. He shows a very natural affinity for proper technique, keeping his hips low in his backpedal and can flip and run with ease.
There is no question the Steelers would like to have a big cornerback who can play tight man coverage, but the fact that Fuller can do that while still being able to slide in zone, makes him better than other cornerbacks who will be drafted ahead of him.
However, don't mistake Fuller's strength for a lack of aggression. He is a very physical player who will come up and press wide receivers and has no concern about laying the wood on run plays.
The Steelers defense even plays to the weakness of Fuller's game, which is elite speed. The Steelers love to employ a single deep safety, which would be a nice security blanket on those times when Fuller gets beaten deep due to his aggressive style and less-than-ideal speed.
It's at this point in the draft where the Steelers strategy has to be smart. This is a pivot point for the Steeler's selections. After getting potential day-one starters in the first two rounds, how they proceed will be in reaction to the rest of the league.
Stanford safety Ed Reynolds is the pick here to continue to bolster the secondary. Reynolds has a long, athletic build and a smooth, almost gliding style to his game. The Steelers have prided themselves on having big-hitting safeties in recent seasons, but Reynolds adds a more athletic dimension that could lead to more turnovers.
Reynolds is a sure tackler, and above average in coverage. Reynolds is difficult to scout as a coverage player because opposing teams rarely targeted him in man coverage. His ability to line up over a slot wide receiver offers scheme versatility out of a base defense that this team has lacked.
The Steelers have safety Shamarko Thomas waiting in the wings to assume the Troy Polamalu role in that Pittsburgh defense. Reynolds would be a great replacement for Ryan Clark, should he not return.
While the Steelers are out on the West Coast, they go ahead and pick up a second player from the Stanford defense to help cushion the blow of some conceivable free-agent losses.
Defensive end Josh Mauro is a strong, natural five-technique with tremendous power. Mauro seemed to improve week by week during the 2013 season, showing excellent versatility inside and outside along the Stanford defensive line.
Mauro understands leverage and can beat his man off the ball and uses violent hands to keep offensive linemen at bay. Steelers fans will see a lot of former Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith in how Mauro plays with smarts and power.
This is the point in the draft where the Steelers can start to take some shots on high-risk, high-reward types of prospects. Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson certainly falls into this category.
When Henderson was on in 2013, he was as strong a run-blocking right tackle as there was in the country. His ability to engage the defender and simply impose his will on them created huge running lanes.
The rub is, when Henderson is off, he is really off. It's that sort of consistency concern that will drive him down in the draft, regardless of how much raw talent he has. With offensive line coach Mike Munchak to work with him, Henderson presents a risk worth taking at this point in the draft.
Should the Steelers opt to pass on an offensive lineman altogether, don't be shocked if a pick at this point would be spent to improve the interior of the defensive line with a nose tackle.
As with Henderson in the fifth round, Oregon offensive weapon De'Anthony Thomas is a high-risk, high-reward type of player. It was a bit puzzling when Thomas opted to forgo his senior season, after a disappointing junior year that saw him gain 840 yards of offense, which were a career low.
Nevertheless, Thomas has all the potential in the world in that 5'9", 176-pound frame. His speed and quickness are exceptional, and these allow him to provide a positive impact not only on offense, but on special teams as well. When healthy, he has tremendous acceleration and elite agility.
The Steelers attempted to get a player similar to Thomas when they drafted running back Chris Rainey back in 2012. Thomas could absolutely be that sort of player and more in the Steelers offense. Thomas sharing touches with running back Le'Veon Bell would be the best combo the Steelers have had since running backs Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker.
Here's where the Steelers can do some real damage with a sleeper prospect that more teams need to know about. Nebraska-Kearney linebacker Elhadji Ndiaye is a hybrid type of player who is just brimming with potential, coupled with frightening athleticism.
Not to get too cliche, but Ndiaye is a high-motor player who never lets up on a play. He has an amazing explosion off the edge, and can drop his shoulder and turn the corner on a tackle. Ndiaye has great closing speed and his long speed looks exceptional as well.
So, why is he a seventh-round pick? Primarily because he's very raw and inexperienced. He is still far from NFL-ready at this point. Nevertheless, at this point in the draft, there is no harm at all in drafting a player with the amount of upside this D2 linebacker has.
If Ndiaye never plays a snap in the NFL, he will simply be another washout of a seventh-round pick. That's why you draft these freakish athletes late, who can be molded into something special. There is almost no risk with this selection, and the payoff could be tremendous.