Steelers Draft Stock Watch: 8 Players Rising and Falling Down Pittsburgh's Board
As the 2014 NFL draft approaches, the needs of every NFL franchise are starting to come into focus. The free-agent signing period affords teams an opportunity to fill some needs on their roster and shuffle their respective big boards around.
The same can be said for the Pittsburgh Steelers. As they have made moves this offseason, the players they target early in the draft will change. Pittsburgh has done a nice job adding talent as well as retaining talent for 2014.
However, a team's big board can be impacted by more than just free agency. News continues to come in about all of these young men, and not all of it is positive. This can also negatively impact the draft stock of a player.
With the draft less than two months away, here are some top prospects who are rising and falling for the Steelers for one reason or another. That's not to say these players won't still be targets of Pittsburgh, but in a deep draft, they could be had in a trade down, allowing the Steelers to accumulate more picks.
So let’s take a look at some risers and fallers for Steelers fans.
Rising: Justin Gilbert, Cornerback, Oklahoma State
The Steelers have made no effort to upgrade their cornerback depth chart thus far. Fortunately, the cornerback class in this draft is deep and very talented. However, after running a 4.37 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, per NFL.com, Gilbert has cemented himself as the top cornerback.
His combination of speed and length is rare. His ability to play that off-man coverage the Steelers use makes him an ideal fit for Pittsburgh.
If the Steelers should opt to draft a cornerback in the first round, Gilbert makes the best sense. This team can afford to have a rookie play a reserve role in his first year, giving him a chance to get acclimated to the more physical nature of the league as a nickel cornerback.
Falling: Mike Evans, Wide Receiver, Texas A&M
It's important to understand that any fall from a player like Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans is not about any lack of talent. In a very talented wide receiver class, Evans' size and athleticism puts him among the very best in the class.
No, the reason Evans is falling for the Steelers is because wide receiver doesn't appear to be a first-round priority. Pittsburgh already has Antonio Brown, who is among the top wide receivers in the league. After adding Lance Moore via free agency, fans can breathe easier that the wide receiver position is in very good hands.
That's not to say if Evans isn't there when the Steelers select in the first round they won't take him. Pittsburgh's front office typically goes for the best player available, so if Evans represents the best value, he could still be the pick.
Rising: Carlos Hyde, Running Back, Ohio State
Pittsburgh's running back position is something of a mystery. Le'Veon Bell is fully entrenched as the starter. This isn't in question. However, the Steelers must be studious in how they handle Bell and his carries. After racking up 382 carries in 13 games his senior year at Michigan State, he averaged nearly 19 carries per game as a rookie.
With the total lack of depth behind Bell (no additional running back under contract), the position appears to be a priority once again this season. Obviously, after taking Bell with the 48th pick in 2013, the Steelers are not scared to pull the trigger on a player they think can contribute.
Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde looks like the type of back the Steelers might covet. Hyde is much like Bell in that he is big, bruising and prefers to deliver a blow. If the Steelers are determined to get back to a power running game, Bell and Hyde divvying up 24 to 26 carries per game would be perfect.
Drafting Hyde or any running back would depend on value. However, in terms of fit, Hyde is rising mainly because he looks like the perfect complement to Bell in the Pittsburgh offense.
Falling: Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan
First and foremost, understand that Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan can play. Make no mistake about that. He is a mauling left tackle prospect with startling athleticism. In terms of fit, Lewan might be the best of the big three tackle prospects in this draft.
So why is he falling? Because Lewan is dealing with some off-field issues. With the news that he has been charged with one count of aggravated assault and two counts of assault or assault and battery, he has put his draft stock in some jeopardy.
The Steelers have had to deal with some players who battled non-football concerns in recent seasons, and it really has not worked out for them. It is hard to imagine that the Steelers won't be cautious when evaluating Lewan as a possible candidate to start at left tackle.
Fortunately, Lewan will have his day in court well before the draft, so should things go well there, he can mend some fences as far as this would go.
Rising: Dee Ford, Defensive End, Auburn
Understand that during this time of year, there is a lot of misinformation about teams and prospects. However, when your general manager attends a pro day, there's a reason. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert was in attendance for the Auburn pro day and had to like what he saw.
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford didn't get to work out at the scouting combine, so this was his first chance to go under the microscope. He did not disappoint. Running at a svelte 244 pounds, Ford had an unofficial best 40 time of 4.53 seconds, as per Auburn football's official Twitter account.
Nevertheless, why is he rising for the Steelers? A couple of reasons. First, beyond Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones, the Steelers have very little in terms of talent at the outside linebacker position. Second, Worilds is playing on a one-year contract under the transition tag. If he continues to develop, he could price himself right out of a job in Pittsburgh for 2015.
Falling: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Safety, Alabama
Fortunately for the Steelers, they were able to work the free-agent market to bolster their defensive secondary. Signing Mike Mitchell gives the Steelers a viable starter in place of Ryan Clark and removes safety as a first-round need. That means Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix no longer needs to be considered a priority.
It appears as if the Steelers safety position is set for the future. Mitchell should assume the starting free safety spot, with a combination of Troy Polamalu and Shamarko Thomas at the strong safety spot. For all the things Clinton-Dix does well, it's hard to say he's as talented as Mitchell or Thomas as this point.
As talented as Clinton-Dix is, there is no reason to even consider him at this point. In fact, there's really no reason to target any safety in this draft.
Rising: Eric Ebron, Tight End, North Carolina
The signing of wide receiver Lance Moore gave the Steelers an additional talent among the wide receivers. What it failed to do is give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a big, tall target in the passing game.
Considering that any wide receiver drafted at this point would see limited reps, the Steelers could turn the focus of their search to a tight end instead.
North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron is a phenomenal athlete with incredible upside as a receiver at the tight end position. The Steelers aren't shy about using two-tight end sets, which would give Ebron more chances to be on the field over a fourth wide receiver.
Ebron would represent solid value as a first-round pick, and he should be a player the Steelers keep a very close eye on in the weeks leading up to May. Heath Miller cannot play forever, and beyond him, the tight end talent on this roster is very average.
Falling: C.J. Mosley, Linebacker, Alabama
The Steelers made a move to bolster their depth at inside linebacker by signing veteran Arthur Moats. While Moats isn't a tremendous talent, he's a nice, young player who looks to be scheme-versatile enough to be able to back up both Lawrence Timmons and Vince Williams. He's sort of a younger Larry Foote, if you will.
As far as the draft goes, that makes Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley less of a prospect for the Steelers. While Mosley is talented enough to play all four linebacker spots in a 3-4, his future appears to be on the inside. With Moats in the fold, it is hard to imagine Mosley representing the best value when the Steelers pick in the first round.