Complete Steelers 7-Round Mock Draft for 2014
The Pittsburgh Steelers have nine picks in the 2014 NFL draft and a number of pressing needs at many positions. Luckily, this year's draft class is deep, allowing for the Steelers to fill many of these holes by adding rookies.
Their needs are wide-ranging, which means the team has the option of going in many directions with each selection. Needs, as always, will be balanced by the selection of the best players available, with the end goal being simply to improve.
The Steelers finished their last two seasons with 8-8 records and no postseason appearances. A return to their former dominance must require smart decision making in this year's draft.
Who could those players be? Here is a complete, seven-round mock draft for the Steelers that could shed some light on their selections next month.
Round 1, Pick 15: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
The Steelers are thin at cornerback, with just six on the roster after the team signed free agent Brice McCain on Monday. Only three have had starting experience in Pittsburgh, with the oldest, Ike Taylor, heading into what is likely his final season with the team.
Addressing the position in the first round is therefore not out of the question. Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard would be the ideal addition if he's still on the board at No. 15.
He had 62 tackles, 10 pass breakups and four interceptions in 2013. He plays with aggression and shows off excellent athleticism. However, as Bleacher Report's Ian Wharton points out, while he's not the fastest corner, he's still very good in man coverage. Dennard will need to work on his off-man coverage skills, but he'll have a year to develop with the Steelers. Despite this, he could be starter-ready as a rookie.
The Steelers need to not only get younger in the secondary but to find playmakers to replace their older veterans. With a little refining, Dennard could be a true shutdown corner for Pittsburgh. He's worth this first-round selection.
Round 2, Pick 14 (46th Overall): DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
The Steelers could address nose tackle in the first round, but with WalterFootball.com noting that Notre Dame's Louis Nix III is dropping down draft boards, he could be available in the middle of the second round.
If he is, the Steelers should waste no time in selecting him. Nix had 27 total tackles and two for a loss in 2013 before surgery to repair a torn meniscus ended his season in November.
He is a true nose tackle—something the Steelers lacked last year with Steve McLendon filling in. Nix is a chaos-maker for opposing offenses, and his presence in Pittsburgh's front seven should allow for Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones to get to quarterbacks with ease.
Bleacher Report's Ryan Lownes praises his quickness and "brute strength," and notes that his long arms and low center of gravity allow him to push back offensive linemen with one hand.
There is a chance the Steelers won't be able to snag Nix at such a value in the middle of the second round. However, if teams aren't as needy for a nose tackle or are scared away from his knee surgery, the Steelers could stand to gain a very important player.
Nix isn't well-suited to play other defensive line positions, but his nose tackle-only status could land him in Pittsburgh, where he'd be a perfect fit.
Round 3, Pick 33 (97th Overall, Compensatory): WR Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
The Steelers reportedly have told quarterback Ben Roethlisberger they will draft the tall receiver he's been wanting for years, per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. However, "tall" is relative when your three current presumed starters, Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore, all stand less than 6 feet tall.
At 6'1", Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis isn't the tallest receiver in this year's draft class, but he would add some height to Pittsburgh's receiving corps. And his skills make him more prepared than others to make an impact as a rookie.
He had 78 receptions for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013. As WalterFootball.com notes, he accomplished this as part of Wisconsin's run-heavy offense that featured "sub-par quarterback play." With a Super Bowl winner like Roethlisberger, Abbrederis could really shine.
WalterFootball.com goes on to describe Abbrederis as the "best route-runner" of the 2014 receiver class, something Bleacher Report's Ryan McCrystal echoes in his scouting report. Route running is generally where rookie receivers are most raw, which is one reason why the learning curve is so steep for the position.
Therefore, Abbrederis would come into Pittsburgh prepared to play for a professional offense and become a reliable target for Roethlisberger.
Round 4, Pick 18 (118th Overall): DE Deandre Coleman, California
Another position the Steelers are thin at heading into the draft is defensive end. Brett Keisel is gone and won't likely be re-signed, and the team needs at least depth to boost the ranks of the ends or, in the best-case scenario, a starter-ready rookie to join Cameron Heyward.
Because of the Steelers' many positional needs, defensive end could move up in priority. But if they wait until the fourth round, Cal's Deandre Coleman could be their target.
He had 40 tackles including nine for a loss and 2.5 sacks in 2013 as a defensive tackle. However, he is a very versatile player with skills at defending the run, which makes him a good fit for the Steelers at defensive end.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports says of Coleman that his "value in the NFL will come as a run-stuffing presence," despite possessing "undeniable tools," such as prototypical size and the upper-body strength to handle double-teams. However, he fits the mold of a Pittsburgh defensive end. This is a position of need the Steelers can afford to put off until the middle rounds if Coleman piques their interest.
Round 5, Pick 17 (157th Overall): S Terrence Brooks, Florida State
The Steelers have a starting strong safety in Troy Polamalu as well as his heir apparent in Shamarko Thomas, who was selected in the fourth round of last year's draft. They picked up free agent Mike Mitchell to take the starting free safety job that was Ryan Clark's and have Will Allen and Robert Golden to provide depth.
However, the Steelers now need to find a younger free safety, and this year's draft is a good time to do that. Florida State's Terrence Brooks could still be on the board come the fifth round this year, and if he is, he'd be a good choice for Pittsburgh.
He had 56 tackles in 2013, along with two interceptions, five pass breakups and two forced fumbles. As Bleacher Report's Ian Wharton points out, Brooks is a very good deep safety; this "allowed the Florida State defense to play aggressive fronts and not have to keep extra defensive backs in coverage," which is exactly what the Steelers would like out of their ideal free safety.
Brooks is fast, running a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the combine, per NFL.com. His speed works in concert with his high degree of skill at recognizing routes, and that makes him an attractive prospect, but he's not the kind of aggressive, hard-hitter that has fallen into fashion for NFL teams. This could push him into the fifth round depending on the market for safeties and directly into the Steelers' waiting hands.
Round 5, Pick 33 (173rd Overall, Compensatory): TE Marcel Jensen, Fresno State
The Steelers have four tight ends on their roster—do-it-all veteran fixture Heath Miller, blocking specialist Matt Spaeth, 2012 draft pick David Paulson and the recently re-signed Michael Palmer. However, they don't have a replacement for the all-important Miller, who turns 32 years old in the fall. Therefore, they could try to find him in this year's draft.
An interesting later-round possibility is Fresno State's Marcel Jensen. He possesses a lot of potential but had limited playing time in college that could push him into the fifth round. He had 26 receptions for 353 yards and three scores last season and has a career total of 48 catches.
He is not a deep-threat wide receiver-type of pass-catching tight end like Jimmy Graham. Ryan McCrystal of Bleacher Report describes him as more of a possession receiver because he's not exceptionally athletic, but that's the mold of Miller. He's a good blocker in the run game and has enough quickness to handle a pass rush.
Jensen needs more development as a receiver, simply because he didn't do much of it in college. But he's good at blocking as well as at special teams, which means he can learn on the job in his rookie season. If the Steelers are looking for a Miller-type player to eventually take over for the veteran, Jensen could be a steal in Round 5.
Round 6, Pick 16 (192nd Overall): OLB Trevor Reilly, Utah
Pass-rushing depth should be on the Steelers' list of draft priorities this year. They're set when it comes to starters—Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds will be the outside linebackers—while they will also have Arthur Moats and Chris Carter backing them up.
However, the Steelers would be smart to use a later-round pick this year on a developmental pass-rusher, such as Trevor Reilly from Utah. He had 100 tackles in 2013, along with 8.5 sacks, 16 tackles for a loss, two pass breakups, one forced fumble and an interception. He played both defensive end and outside linebacker in college but has more of the build to be solely an outside linebacker in the NFL.
As Bleacher Report's Darren Page notes, Reilly is a natural speed-rusher, with quick feet and the ability to slip through linemen to get to the quarterback. He's also quite strong in coverage with a fast backpedal and is a disciplined and dedicated tackler.
Reilly is 26 years old, having delayed college to go on an LDS mission. His age is only a concern in the sense that physically, he's not going to get much bigger. That should be fine for the Steelers' purposes—he is 6'5" and 245 pounds, while Jones is 6'2" and 245 pounds and Worilds is 6'2" and 262 pounds. He does lack strength, but he makes up for it in football intelligence and finesse.
Round 6, Pick 39 (215th Overall, Compensatory): G/T Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
With so many needs this year, the Steelers may have to push a common one, offensive line, into a later round. They have established starters at all positions, so it's just about keeping them all healthy. Depth is the biggest concern.
Ohio State lineman Andrew Norwell could be a good source of that depth. He played both guard and tackle on the left and right sides of the field and "was very reliable as a pass-protector and run-blocker," according to WalterFootball.com. He was named to the All-Big Ten First Team for 2013.
He is a better run-blocker than pass-protector, but the latter is not a liability. The Steelers need to find more versatile linemen who can step in at a moment's notice, and Norwell has proved he can do just that over the course of his collegiate career.
Round 7, Pick 15 (230th Overall): RB Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern
The Steelers have their one-cut feature back in 2013 second-round draft pick Le'Veon Bell. They have their bruising short-yardage back in veteran LeGarrette Blount. But outside of those two, the Steelers don't have much at running back, and they certainly don't have a speedy, change-of-pace back to complement their two workhorses.
Because running back is quickly becoming devalued in the NFL, the Steelers should have a lot of promising options to pick from even in later rounds. In fact, they could even find the right fit with their final pick of the draft in Georgia Southern's Jerick McKinnon.
He was an option quarterback at Georgia Southern but best fits in the NFL as a running back. He has impressive speed and an explosive burst—he had a 4.41-second 40-yard dash time at the scouting combine and was near the top at the position group in every drill, per NFL.com.
Bleacher Report's Ryan Lownes notes that McKinnon can "change speeds well and stop on a dime." In addition, he is a "patient runner that will let his blocks develop and will stay on his blocker’s hip before exploding through the hole." He works hard, and it hasn't gone unnoticed—not only did he get a combine invite, he also played in the Senior Bowl, despite his obscure background.
He does have some limitations, like a lack of power and small hands, which will prevent him from being a feature back. However, as a change-of-pace, speed-heavy rusher for the Steelers behind Bell and Blount, he could make an impact in his rookie year. He's a perfect seventh-round selection for Pittsburgh.