Who Are the Experts Predicting to Pittsburgh in the First Round of the NFL Draft
Mock drafts are a fascinating exercise. There are actually two ways to approach doing a mock draft, whether you are an expert or just a fan. You can complete the mock based on whom you would draft for a given team. This is the “you are the GM” approach.
The other way to do a mock draft is to do it strictly as a prediction. You remove as much bias as you can about a particular player or franchise, and you simply try to put yourself in the head of that team’s GM. This sort of mock draft is an effort to closely reflect what will happen in May.
What constitutes an “expert” when it comes to the NFL draft depends on your point of view. There are certain stars of the NFL draft like ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and NFL Network’s Mike Mayock. However, being the most recognized and the most publicized doesn’t necessarily make you the most qualified.
Draft coverage has become a huge media event in its own right. That means it needs entertainers. While many of the high-profile experts get the attention, there are scores of draft analysts and writers who put in their work and do a great job.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have some serious decisions to make in terms of the draft this year. Their fundamental needs at this point are cornerback, wide receiver, outside linebacker and defensive line. This really leaves the door open in terms of their first-round pick. But whom do the experts think the Steelers will take in the first round? Read on and find out.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Consensus is very hard to come by in the draft world. So when two highly respected members of the draft community agree, it should be noted. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. both have the Steelers selecting LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. You can view Jeremiah's mock here, and Kiper's can be seen here (subscription required).
On some level, the Beckham pick makes sense. Or at least was logical. The LSU speedster is an impressive prospect. His short-area quickness and speed give him the ability to get separation, and he can turn short throws into long gains.
Nevertheless, it's difficult to view this as the best use of a first-round pick. This wide receiver class is deep. Beckham doesn't really provide the Steelers with the big target the passing game needs. Throwing another wide receiver into an already crowded depth chart could mean a first-round pick ends up buried for a season. No, this team needs a return on its investment earlier than what Beckham can provide.
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
CBS Sports NFL insider Pat Kirwan mocked UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr to the Steelers. This pick makes perfect sense for Pittsburgh considering their linebacker situation. The Steelers have second-year linebacker Jarvis Jones on one side, and Jason Worilds on the other. This appears to be enough, right?
Don't be so sure. Worilds is playing on a one-year transition deal, and he could easily be gone at the end of the season. And for all the high hopes of Jones, it is going to take a significant improvement over last season to justify him as a full-time starter.
Barr is a naturally gifted athlete with tremendous upside. He's very new to the position, but with the type of physical tools he has, he should be able to have an impact on the pass rush early. You pair that with a coaching staff that includes defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, position coach Joey Porter and Pittsburgh becomes an ideal landing spot for the talented Barr.
Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
There are times when a player just seems to fit what a team wants to do, even if they aren't considered a top priority. Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller mocked Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy to the Steelers in his most recent mock.
Ealy is a fascinating pick because his game and body type offers them some versatility. At 273 pounds, Ealy appears to be a more natural fit in a 4-3 defense. However, his frame suggests he could just as easily drop 10 pounds to play outside linebacker as he could add 15 pounds to play a 3-4 defensive end.
With both of these positions a need, Ealy's talent would certainly be enticing for the Steelers in the middle of the first round. This is one of those smart picks that the Steelers have made in the past and would be tempted to make in May.
I'd project Ealy to play more of a J.J. Watt-type of role as a defensive end. Ealy and Cameron Heyward as base defensive ends would allow the Steelers to open up the defense and dial up more exotic pressures.
Ha Ha Clinton-DIx, S, Alabama
Understanding that any mock draft pick is just the educated opinion of the expert, some picks just don't make sense. Such is the case with ESPN's Todd McShay and his selection of Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. You can read McShay's mock draft here (subscription required).
The reason the pick doesn't make sense at this point is because the Steelers made a point this offseason to go out and get a young, talented free safety to replace Ryan Clark. Paired with the idea that Troy Polamalu is still playing at a high level and second-year player Shamarko Thomas is waiting in the wings, and the need for Clinton-Dix simply isn't there.
There was a point at the beginning of the offseason where this pick made perfect sense. However, at this point, just dropping a safety into a mock draft to the Steelers in the first round is lazy.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Cornerback appears to be the most obvious need that Pittsburgh has at this point. The other side of that coin is that the cornerback class is very deep this year. This means as glaring as the need may be, it could be prudent to address a position that is a bit weaker early and save cornerback for later.
Sports Illustrated draft writer Chris Burke thinks Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert fits the bill for what ails the Steelers secondary—and he might just be right. Gilbert is a long, athletic cornerback with tremendous speed. Gilbert's strength is in off-man coverage, which would enable him to slide into the Steelers defense with ease.
The biggest problem with this selection might be that some other team might snatch up Gilbert before he makes it to the Steelers. However, should he slide that far, he would be tough to pass up.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Following the theme of adding talent at cornerback, Rob Rang of CBS Sports has Michigan State Darqueze Dennard going to the Steelers in his most recent mock draft. Drafting Dennard would give the Steelers a starter-quality player who would ease the transition from Ike Taylor on defense.
This is a completely reasonable selection for Pittsburgh, particularly if Gilbert is off the board. Dennard isn't an ideal prospect, but is among the top-three cornerbacks who would fit what the Steelers do on defense.
Dennard's overly physical style is worrisome, especially downfield where those plays turn into offensive pass interference. He would need to learn to mirror receivers better and understand the route tree to save him from having to be so grabby in the NFL.