After consecutive 8-8 seasons, Pittsburgh is looking for ways to get itself back on top of the AFC North. Traditionally, the Steelers have done that through the draft.
Assessing all the data from the combine, let's take a look at an early seven-round mock draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Pick: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Steelers secondary was a major letdown for the team in 2013. For the first time in the Mike Tomlin era, Pittsburgh failed to finish inside the top 10 in pass defense. Much of that can be attributed to the play of the cornerbacks.
Ike Taylor is getting older, and there's been talk of moving him to safety with the impending departure of Ryan Clark. That makes Pittsburgh big players in the cornerback market of the 2014 draft class.
This year's cornerback class is very deep, but leading the pack is Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert. At 6'0", 202 pounds, Gilbert has the size the Steelers routinely look for in a cornerback and isn't afraid to get physical with receivers on the edge. He's a confident player with exceptional athleticism that can compete in Pittsburgh from Day 1.
Gilbert was once thought of as a top-10 pick, but given the depth of this entire draft class, someone has to "fall". If the Steelers are lucky, they could land a phenomenal talent in the middle of the first round.
The Pick: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
GM Kevin Colbert told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Steelers would let No. 2 receiver Emmanuel Sanders test the market, which could leave a sizable gap across from Antonio Brown. The Steelers have also been missing a talented receiver with size since Plaxico Burress left following the 2004 campaign.
The Steelers can take care of both of those issues in the second round with Penn State's Allen Robinson. At 6'3", Robinson has size that the Steelers haven't seen in years and would immediately become a red-zone threat for Ben Roethlisberger.
Robinson's 11 touchdowns in 2012 can back that up. His 97 receptions last season in Happy Valley also stand out.
Robinson didn't perform exceptionally well at the combine and his 4.6 40-yard dash time will be called into question. But he possesses the skills the Steelers look for in receivers, namely, the possession-receiver ability. Given all the depth and flash at the receiver position this year, Robinson should be available for Pittsburgh at No. 46.
The Pick: Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama
Alabama outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard looks the part of an NFL outside linebacker. With a 6'6", 257-pound frame and a 4.69 40-yard dash time, teams should be drooling over the former Crimson Tide backer.
But Hubbard's numbers don't match what you see on paper.
In 13 games at Alabama last season, Hubbard managed just three sacks and never had more than six total tackles in a game. In fact, it wasn't until the ninth game of 2013 that Hubbard recorded his first sack.
Still, the Steelers will be in need of an OLB this offseason, and Hubbard has the frame and athleticism to develop into a big-time player. His potential may see him taken by the fourth round but, if he's there, Pittsburgh should pull the trigger.
The Pick: Justin Ellis, NT, Louisiana Tech
When the Steelers cut longtime nose tackle Casey Hampton after last season, they had no idea the impact it would have on their defense. Steve McLendon was tasked with replacing Hampton and, although a good player, he wasn’t up to the task.
Justin Ellis has the size (6’1”, 334 pounds) and strength to develop into a solid nose tackle at the next level. He is a wide-bodied lineman that is adept at plugging the middle—something Pittsburgh missed in 2013.
Ellis will have to manage his weight at the next level and probably isn’t ready to take on a starting role right away. But with a few seasons of training, he could be the future in the Steel City.
The Pick: Storm Johnson, RB, UCF
It's really no secret the Steelers favor power running backs for their system and, with new offensive line coach Mike Munchak, I wouldn't expect that to change. The Steelers are set to lose both Jonathan Dwyer and LaRod Stephens-Howling to free agency and may turn to the draft for a backup.
UCF's Storm Johnson is a great fit for the Steelers system. He's a strong, downhill runner whose breakout 14-touchdown season put him on the map. In 2013, he totaled 1,139 rushing yards for a Central Florida team that found itself in a BCS Bowl game.
Johnson isn't going to run past anyone (4.60 40-yard dash), but he can certainly run through them. And that's a commodity the Steelers really value. He'd be a nice option behind Le'Veon Bell.
The Pick: Vinnie Sunseri, S, Alabama
The Steelers would love to be able to add a safety much earlier in this draft and it’s possible they do. But if they get stranded in the late rounds, Alabama’s Vinnie Sunseri may not be a bad option.
Sunseri possesses average athleticism and speed, but he makes up for that by being a smart player and a hard worker on the field. His aggressive play can be seen on tape and sometimes gets him into trouble.
Sunseri certainly isn’t a star, but he can contribute on special teams immediately and may, one day, develop into a starter. Plus, it never hurts to have smart, hard-working players on your roster.