Steelers Mock Draft: Fresh 7-Round Projection Post Week 1 Free Agency
The free-agency period is only a week old, but there has been a real rush of activity. Lots of players have found their way to new zip codes, and with much more money in their bank accounts.
In Pittsburgh, things haven't been quite as frenetic for the Steelers as some other teams, but there have still been plenty of moves. Let's recap some of the highlights of the free-agency period so far:
- The Steelers signed free-agent safety Mike Mitchell. This should offer a seamless transition from Ryan Clark and provide the Steelers with an upgrade in speed and physical play in the defensive secondary.
- Pittsburgh lost two free-agent defensive linemen. Ziggy Hood signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Al Woods signed with the Tennessee Titans. This leaves the defensive line woefully thin, and this must be accounted for.
- Pittsburgh re-signed free-agent center Cody Wallace. Wallace gives the Steelers valuable depth along the interior offensive line. Wallace played well as a starter in 2013 and could compete for a starting spot this year if there are once again injuries.
- Free-agent defensive tackle Cam Thomas inked a contract with the Steelers as well. This is more of a depth move to replace Woods. However, Thomas has starting experience and could force defensive tackle Steve McLendon to slide outside to defensive end.
- Free-agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders signed with the Denver Broncos. This signing means the Steelers lack much in the way of production at wide receiver and could force the Steelers to draft a replacement.
With all these moves, Pittsburgh's draft priorities are definitely changing. Let's break down a new full seven-round projection. Please note that the third-round pick in this mock draft is based on the assumption that the Steelers will be awarded a compensatory selection in this round.
First Round: Eric Ebron, Tight End, North Carolina
If the Steelers are still in the market for a big target for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the passing offense, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron could be the guy. He is a big target (6'4") with an elite catch radius. At North Carolina, Ebron carried the offense and came up big each and every week.
Ebron would be a huge upgrade over tight end Heath Miller. He'd also be coming into a situation where his ability to split out wide as a massive slot receiver would give the Steelers a tremendous physical advantage. Ebron's size and athletic ability, paired up with wide receiver Antonio Brown's speed and quickness, would be unstoppable.
Obviously, the Steelers could consider a wide receiver like Texas A&M's Mike Evans at this point in the first round as well. Ebron gets the nod here because the Steelers need a player who can come in and contribute right away. Ebron's polish gives him a significant edge over Evans' raw athletic ability.
Second Round: Stephon Tuitt, Defensive End, Notre Dame
As of now, the Steelers are woefully thin at defensive end. Brett Keisel is still unsigned, and Hood and Woods are long gone. Tuitt was up and down for most of the year, which really muddles his draft stock. Is the second round too soon for the Notre Dame defender?
When he is on top of his game, Tuitt is a fringe first-round prospect. So if he slides to the middle of the second, he would represent a nice value pick. His value to the Steelers comes from the fact he is a natural five-technique defensive end.
Tuitt is a strong player off the ball and understands his role on defense. He's very difficult to block with just one man and can finish at the football.
If the Steelers are able to bolster their defensive front via free agency, this pick could shift to the defensive secondary and a cornerback like Lindenwood's Pierre Desir or Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller.
Third Round: Phillip Gaines, Cornerback, Rice
There is significant transition taking place in the Steelers' secondary. Veteran cornerback Ike Taylor restructured his contract to keep him in Pittsburgh for one more year. Looking at the rest of the depth chart, there is very little to get excited about beyond Cortez Allen. Changes are coming now.
This means that the Steelers must draft at least one cornerback, possibly two, in this draft if they don't seek out any veterans in free agency. Gaines is an interesting prospect because he looks like one of those guys who teams are going to like more than the media.
Gaines has excellent speed and tremendous length. After measuring 6'0" and 193 pounds at the scouting combine, he followed it up with a 4.38 40-yard dash. That should be enough to send teams back for film on Gaines.
What they will find is an exceptionally quick player with very good instincts and tremendous burst. In zone coverage, Gaines drops his hips and can move well laterally. He tracks the quarterback, and when the ball is in the air, he closes in a hurry. He has solid hands and isn't afraid to stick his nose in the run game, which is a huge plus.
Gaines would likely start as a nickel cornerback as a rookie, giving him time to work on his downfield coverage, where he lets himself get a little sloppy at time.
Fourth Round: Dakota Dozier, Offensive Tackle, Furman
Pittsburgh's offensive line situation isn't as dire as many would assume. This group improved as the season went on and by the end of the year was playing pretty darn good football.
In fact, there might not even be a starting spot up for grabs at this point. If not, the Steelers can instead turn their attention in terms of the offensive line more toward adding depth. If 2013 taught the Steelers anything, it is that any player on the roster must be ready to play at any time.
Furman offensive tackle Dakota Dozier is a classic tweener lineman, a college tackle who projects better as a guard in the NFL. Dozier's athleticism is underrated, and his technique is very good. He would give the Steelers a very good developmental prospect who can play four spots on the line.
If the Steelers are able to re-sign their remaining free-agent offensive linemen, this may not be a priority at all. This would give the Steelers the freedom to perhaps focus on adding a pass-rushing linebacker a little bit sooner.
Fifth Round: Aaron Lynch, Defensive End/Linebacker, USF
At this point, the only pass-rushing outside linebackers the Steelers have on the roster of any ability are Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. This isn't a bad thing, as both are tremendous players and penciled in as the starters for 2014. However, with the release of LaMarr Woodley, depth at this spot must be addressed.
Going into the season, there were high hopes for USF defensive end Aaron Lynch. He was going to be the man at USF and dominate games. All this was going to assure him a high draft pick. Unfortunately, Lynch came into the season lighter and struggled most of the season to get any traction.
Nevertheless, Lynch has been able to use the offseason to impress teams with his athletic ability. At 6'5" and 249 pounds, Lynch plays very long and really uses that length to his advantage. Lynch also ran a 4.64 40-yard dash at the USF pro day, cementing his explosiveness and athleticism. He slips because the film just isn't there, but this late in the draft, his physical gifts are enticing.
Lynch is the ideal developmental pass-rusher for the Steelers' defense. Having coaches Dick LeBeau and Joey Porter to mentor Lynch and cultivate his skills could really pay off for him. It would also make getting Lynch in the fifth round a real steal.
Sixth Round: Jeff Janis, Wide Receiver, Saginaw Valley State University
When you see a wide receiver who measures up at 6'3" and 219 pounds running a 4.42 40-yard dash, you have to be interested. Then you sprinkle in 4,305 career receiving yards and 46 touchdowns, and now you are even more interested. Then you see him projected as a sixth-round pick and are just plain confused.
Jeff Janis of Saginaw Valley State University has been one of the most productive wide receivers in all of college football the past four seasons. However, because he plays at a small college, some teams are going to question whether or not he can replicate all that production in the NFL.
On film, Janis' speed really pops. He is a sure-handed receiver who is very quick in and out of his breaks. For a player his height, Janis is smooth, not wasting a lot of energy like many taller wideouts. This has served him very well. Janis is far from NFL-ready at this point, but assuming the Steelers can work something out with free-agent wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, there should be little rush to get him on the field.
Seventh Round: Rajion Neal, Running Back, Tennessee
At this point in the draft, there will always be those prospects who slip through the cracks, successful and talented athletes who just can't seem to find a landing spot. Tennessee running back Rajion Neal is part of a very crowded and very talented running back class, which hurts his stock.
However, Neal can still play. He's a powerful, compact running back with exceptional vision and a downhill style that matches well with what the Steelers like to do. Neal isn't a particularly shifty back and lacks the long speed to break off lots of long runs. That's not why the Steelers would want him.
With the starting spot covered by Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers need a complementary back. Bell is another punishing, physical back who batters defenders. Bell softens them up, and Neal can finish them off. If this team wants to be successful, they must be consistent running the football, and Neal has the look of a real sleeper.