5 2014 NFL Draft Picks That Could Be Opening Game Starters for the Steelers

Curt Popejoy@@nfldraftboardContributor IApril 13, 2014

5 2014 NFL Draft Picks That Could Be Opening Game Starters for the Steelers

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    When it comes to the NFL draft, everyone has an opinion about which prospects can help his or her team best. And philosophically, franchises take very different approaches as to how they draft.

    Some teams approach the draft as the first and foremost way to fill spots on their roster. If they think their team needs a wide receiver, that “need” moves to the top of the line. Other teams approach the draft based on the best player available. This means the choice might not play right away but is considered to be be more talented than the other players available.

    When teams draft for need, fans often say they have “reached” for a prospect, and when they draft best player available, fans complain that their team missed out on a player who can help now.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in a position where they have some significant and identifiable needs on both sides of the football. If this team is hoping to turn around a two-season slump, this draft needs to focus on needs and getting players who can get onto the field early.

    Here are five positions of need, and five first-round options who can come in and start early and contribute.

Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

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    One spot the Steelers are searching for help is along the defensive line. Right now, the line is anchored by defensive end Cameron Heyward. He had a huge 2013 season and looks to be poised to put himself among the elite at the position.

    Opposite Heyward there are more questions than answers. Do the Steelers move Steve McLendon to end and find a new nose tackle? Are one of the young defensive ends ready to step up?

    The easiest fix might be for the Steelers to draft University of Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman. Hageman is adept at effectively playing both a 3- and a 5-technique in the NFL. The Steelers love to move their ends inside on passing downs, meaning Hageman wouldn’t have to leave the field.

    Hageman is a massive player at 6’6” and 310 pounds. He plays with tremendous power and leverage, often times just physically overwhelming offensive linemen. Hageman’s long arms and imposing physical gifts make him a natural for the Steelers’ offensive line.

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

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    It appears as if the Steelers’ wide receiver depth chart is getting pretty crowded. That means if a rookie is going to come in and win a starting spot, he needs to be pretty special.

    Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans definitely falls into that category. His size is something this team hasn’t had since Plaxico Burress was in his prime. For all the talent this team has, Evans would be a perfect fit opposite Antonio Brown. Having Evans would allow Markus Wheaton to come along gradually and Lance Moore to work in the slot.

    The Steelers need to get quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a big target in the passing game, and there is no better option in the draft or free agency than Evans. His talent would make it impossible to keep him off the field.

Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

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    Pittsburgh’s offensive line really gelled the second half of the season, and there is reason to be excited for the future. However, the unit does not have an elite player at either tackle slot. Pittsburgh could start the year with Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert and probably do well, but why not help the line go to the next level?

    Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan is a great mix of athleticism, physicality and a strong pedigree. Drafting Lewan would give them a 10-year starter on the left side and permit Beachum to slide back inside to his more natural position at guard.

    Offensive line coach Mike Munchak would really like to get his hands on a talent like Lewan. It wouldn’t take long to mold him into an elite NFL left tackle.

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

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    Is inside linebacker a need? I guess the answer is...maybe.

    Vince Williams did a nice job paired with Lawrence Timmons on the inside in 2013. The problem was Williams was a liability in coverage and forced the Steelers to play more of their big nickel package in which he came off the field.

    Ideally, the Steelers would have an inside 'backer next to Timmons who could drop into coverage and allow the defense to get much more creative with its inside pressure packages. Adding more talent gives the linebackers more options, and that would really help a secondary that struggled last season.

    If this is the objective, then the best pick might be inside linebacker C.J. Mosley of Alabama. Mosley is very much a complete linebacker prospect who can do a little of everything on the field. He would be a perfect complement to Timmons and could even slide outside and rush the passer if need be.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

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    Another primary area of need for Pittsburgh is cornerback. Yes, the starters appear to be set with Ike Taylor on one side and Cortez Allen on the other. That doesn’t mean the Steelers should be comfortable with this pairing.

    Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert is one of the best all-around cornerbacks in this draft. He has ideal NFL size and speed. Gilbert is a terrific fit for Pittsburgh because his man-coverage skills are the best in this draft.

    Drafting Gilbert would allow Taylor to take his farewell tour as a nickel cornerback and give Allen the opportunity to develop further.

    Nothing is assured at cornerback as of now. Will Allen ascend to elite status or again struggle with consistency?