Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Pittsburgh Steelers' Top 3 Picks
After two consecutive missed playoff appearances, the 2014 offseason is a critical one for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have already made several big moves in free agency and will use the NFL draft to help position the roster to get back into playoff contention.
While each selection in the draft is important, those made in the first three rounds will have the best opportunity to contribute this year. That means that Colbert must make the most of these choices.
In recent years, Colbert has found quality starters early in the draft with players such as Maurkice Pouncey, Cameron Heyward, David DeCastro, Jason Worilds and Marcus Gilbert. But with disappointments including Mike Adams and Curtis Brown, there is always room for improvement.
What will the 2014 NFL draft bring the Steelers? We will have to wait and see, but here is a preview of the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Steelers as they make their first three picks in the draft.
First Round: Best Case—Trade Down or Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
With so many needs in such a deep draft, a trade down in the first round would be an ideal scenario. It is something that Colbert has at least thought about, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Colbert on possibility of trading down in 1st rd:"It makes more sense in this draft than trading up.I'm sure everyone shares same thought."— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) March 23, 2014
In such a deep draft, the Steelers have three selections in the top 100 but could take a big step forward in addressing their many needs by dropping in the first round and adding another second- or third-round pick.
Even at the bottom of the first, a player such as Kyle Fuller or Bradley Roby could still be in play. Acquiring an additional top-100 draft choice and still grabbing a top cornerback would be an ideal situation.
However, if talent dropped, Colbert would keep his place and select his guy. A perfect choice for the Steelers would be cornerback Justin Gilbert.
Pittsburgh’s secondary was a strength only two seasons ago, but it had a significant drop-off last season. One of the major reasons for this was the decline of Ike Taylor. He is likely in his final season with the Steelers, and Gilbert could be a potential shutdown cornerback to replace him.
Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com believes that Gilbert is at the top of the class when it comes to cornerbacks:
The most talented cover corner in this year’s draft class, Gilbert has size, speed and flexibility to blanket receivers at the next level. Also brings impact ability as a kick returner. Is capable of stepping into the starting lineup from Day One and playing at a high level if he adheres to a professional approach to the craft. Could stand to improve in run support.
The 6’0” and 202-pound cornerback has blazing speed (4.37 40-yard dash) and has proven to be a big-time playmaker in the secondary, which has struggled to create turnovers in recent years. Last year, Gilbert had seven interceptions.
Even if he doesn’t start as a rookie, Gilbert profiles as a top cornerback and would provide a significant upgrade to the Steelers’ secondary.
First Round: Worst Case—Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame
Quality play from the nose tackle position is essential to the Steelers defense. After having Casey Hampton man the position for over a decade, the team had a change of pace last season with Steve McLendon.
McLendon isn’t a traditional run stuffer, and the run defense suffered. The decline against the run can’t be attributed solely to McLendon, but that does not mean he wasn’t part of the problem, either.
It is possible that the Steelers may want to go back to their run-stopping roots and select Louis Nix with their first pick. The problem is that McLendon only played 32.7 percent of the defensive snaps last season, according to Football Outsiders.
“Nix is a guy who doesn't have much pass-rush ability. He’s got some stamina issues. Coming off the knee tendinitis and the knee injury concerns me a little bit. But I think both ([Ra’Shede] Hageman and Nix) of those guys are going to be high second-round values.”
As much as Nix could help the Steelers, selecting a player who will play less than one-third of the defensive snaps with the 15th overall pick would not be the best use of this selection.
Second Round: Best Case—Ra’Shede Hageman, DE, Minnesota
If cornerback is the weakest position on the roster, then defensive end is the second weakest.
Besides Cameron Heyward, the Steelers lack a starter at defensive end—or any proven depth for that matter. Though it remains possible that they could re-sign Brett Keisel to a one-year deal, that would not be a long-term solution.
Ra’Shede Hageman would be a terrific option in the second round. He is the 32nd-rated player in the draft and would provide the defensive line with a versatile player who can play end or tackle.
At 6’6” and 310 pounds, Hageman’s massive frame would be a force against the run, yet his power and explosiveness would be a factor when rushing the passer.
Bleacher Report’s Ryan Lownes acknowledges that he has plenty of potential but will need coaching at the NFL level:
“An immensely talented prospect with the length, mass and athleticism to entice evaluators and defensive coaches, Hageman is one of this class’ premier defensive tackles. While he possesses all of the physical tools to be a dominant player, inconsistent effort and leverage have limited his effectiveness.”
At the next level, he projects well to 1-technique in a four-man front or 5-technique in a 3-4 scheme. If a coach is able to light a fire underneath him and teach him the nuances of the position, he has the potential to be the cornerstone of a team’s defensive line.
Hageman will get plenty of coaching from John Mitchell. After a year or two in Pittsburgh’s system, he could join Heyward and provide the Steelers with a dominating duo at defensive end.
Second Round: Worst Case—Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Pittsburgh has invested plenty into the offensive line in recent years. This includes first-round picks Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro as well as second-round picks Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams.
They still have plenty of room to develop but have finally shown signs of life. But as much potential as these players have, the Steelers still have questions at tackle, where former seventh-round draft pick Kelvin Beachum is expected to start.
With so many questions still, Pittsburgh’s front office may try to take advantage of new offensive line coach Mike Munchak and provide him with a player of his own choosing to work with.
Frank Schwab of Yahoo! Sports believes that Kouandjio may not be dominant but can develop into a quality tackle:
Kouandjio played right tackle throughout high school and said at the combine that he’s comfortable on either side, and maybe some teams would prefer him on the right. Kouandjio is still expected to be a late first-round or second-round pick. He might never be an elite athlete at tackle, but he was an exceptional college player at a great program, and with the right line coach to perfect his footwork, he could be a good NFL starter.
As nice as it would be for the Steelers to settle on a pair of quality tackles, they have three young players to work with and too many needs elsewhere to select yet another in the second round.
Third Round: Best Case—Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
An early focus on the defensive side of the ball should be a priority for the Steelers, but at some point, they need to add another weapon to the mix.
Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton should be the top two receivers to enter the season, while Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey round out the depth chart.
Moore will be a nice slot receiver, but Heyward-Bey is no lock to make the final roster. This is where a highly touted rookie will have an opportunity to find a role on the depth chart as a fourth receiver before moving up as the season progresses.
Donte Moncrief provides size (6’2” and 221 lbs) and speed (4.40 40-yard dash) that many Steelers fans desire. Whether the team desires the same remains to be seen, but he has been in Pittsburgh for a visit.
Over the years, the Steelers have had success with receivers selected in the third round. Hines Ward was a third-rounder, as were recent receivers Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Markus Wheaton. Moncrief could join this tradition and, like the others, has starter potential, according to Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com:
“Big, physically gifted ‘X’ receiver with deep speed, ‘above-the-rim’ potential and playmaking ability. Has a ceiling as a No. 1 or No. 2 in a vertical passing offense, and his best football is in front him. Likely to elevate his stock at the combine and in workouts.”
Third Round: Worst Case—Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Another predraft visit, Lache Seastrunk would provide the Steelers with a change-of-pace back.
Unlike Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, Seastrunk has breakaway speed. At his pro day, he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash, per Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com. Combined with his ability to change directions, Seastrunk could be a dangerous option out of the backfield.
Ryan Lownes of Bleacher Report believes that he may be best as a complementary back:
An incredibly smooth and athletic runner, Lache Seastrunk has a chance to be a dynamic player at the next level. Lacking the power or rugged style of some NFL feature running backs, he may fit best in a committee with a bruising backfield partner. Though he was unable to show proficiency in the passing game at Baylor, he possesses considerable upside. A zone-blocking scheme may be able to utilize his burst and agility properly.
The Steelers need to add at least one more running back to the equation, but the third round is too high given their other needs. Seastrunk would be no higher than third on the depth chart over the next season or two, and that is not enough return on investment for a third-round selection.
All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com, draft rankings are courtesy of CBS Sports, and all predraft visit information is courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (subscription required). All combine results courtesy of NFL.com’s results tracker unless otherwise noted.