5 Risky Picks Pittsburgh Steelers Must Consider in 2014 NFL Draft

Andrew WatkinsCorrespondent IApril 17, 2014

5 Risky Picks Pittsburgh Steelers Must Consider in 2014 NFL Draft

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    Michael Conroy

    The NFL draft is easily one of the most fascinating times for football fans. And that’s not just because they get to see which of college football’s best and brightest will be joining their teams.

    No, much of the intrigue comes from what takes place behind the scenes. How players perform on the field is obviously a major factor in deciding whether or not they’re a fit, but it’s not the only one.

    Everything from size, injuries and the dreaded off-field issues come into play when drafting a player. And just like 31 other teams, that holds true for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    What the Steelers have to decide with the following players is if the potential reward outweighs the risk. And that won’t be easy with any one of them.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

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    If the Steelers truly covet a big wide receiver in this year’s draft, then there may not be a more tantalizing option than Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin. At 6’5” and 240 pounds, Benjamin’s easily got the measurements to take over NFL games.

    The difference is that Benjamin can’t solely rely on his size advantage to beat professional cornerbacks. While he may have been the biggest receiver any of his opponents saw last year, he’ll be just another in a long line of big receivers that NFL defenses see on a weekly basis.

    A redshirt sophomore, Benjamin played in two collegiate seasons and hauled in 84 passes before declaring for the NFL draft. Considered a raw, yet potential-laden prospect, Benjamin struggled with drops and route running during his Seminole career.

    However, when it counted most last season, Benjamin refused to wilt under pressure. In the BCS National Championship game, Benjamin hauled in the go-ahead score and assured Florida State of its first title in more than a decade.

    If the Steelers think they can hone Benjamin’s potential and get him making those clutch plays on a regular basis he’d be a no-brainer.

Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

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    With Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams all holding down roster spots, offensive tackle isn’t considered a major need for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Still, if the likes of Mike Evans and Justin Gilbert are off the board, Pittsburgh may opt to go with the best player available. If Michigan’s Taylor Lewan slides to 15, then he’d almost certainly be in the discussion.

    Lewan, once considered a top-10 prospect, could almost certainly step into a starting role immediately. In fact, that might open up trade possibilities for one of the Steelers' former second-round picks in Adams and Gilbert.

    However, the Steelers must consider if the risk in selecting Lewan is worth the potential reward.

    Lewan faces three misdemeanor charges, per MLive.com's Kyle Feldscher (via Michael David Smith of NBC Sports), which stem from an altercation with two Ohio State fans shortly after the Wolverines' 2013 loss to the Buckeyes. Lewan denies assaulting anyone.

    Lewan could turn out to be a cornerstone of Pittsburgh’s offensive line for the next decade or could prove to be a hothead who’s out of the league in three seasons. If Pittsburgh sees him as the former, then he’d be tough to bypass.

Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame

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    While Steve McLendon performed well in his first year as a starter, he didn’t command multiple blockers the way fans had grown accustomed to with Casey Hampton. Thus, it stands to reason that the Steelers could be looking for a big body to clog the middle.

    If so, Louis Nix fits the prototype to a tee. Nix is listed at 331 pounds, which is very close to the weight Hampton was listed at for much of his career. Of course, how accurate that figure was remains debatable.

    Nix was instrumental to the success of Notre Dame’s stellar 2012 defense and helped clear the way for teammates like Stephon Tuitt and Manti Te’o to make plays. However, his 2013 season left something to be desired.

    Much of that can be attributed to playing through the ’13 season on a torn meniscus, as reported by Yahoo! Sports' Sam Cooper. While playing through such an injury is admirable, it’s also cause for concern.

    Asking a bum knee to handle such a gargantuan frame while doing battle with the titans of the NFL on a week-to-week basis could be a recipe for disaster.

Jason Verrett, CB, Texas Christian

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    With Ike Taylor’s time in the “Steel City” nearing an end and no clear replacement on the roster, many anticipate that the Steelers will target a cornerback early in this year’s draft.

    However, if both Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard are off the board at 15, it’s fair to wonder if there’s suitable value in selecting a cornerback. There is one player, though, whose meteoric rise up draft boards may supply an answer to that question.

    TCU’s Jason Verrett’s ascent up draft boards began with him blowing the roof off the combine. In fact, he finished in the top three at his position in each of the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle.

    The one knock on Verrett is his size. At just 5’9” and 190 pounds, many personnel men fear bigger, stronger receivers will push him around.

    With Verrett, the Steelers must decide if they believe size trumps talent or vice-versa.

Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon

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    Earlier this week, I wrote a piece detailing why Eric Ebron could be a good fit for the Steelers. However, if the Steelers see Ebron as too much of a luxury pick, they could land a tight end of similar size and athleticism much later in the draft.

    Colt Lyerla, previously of Oregon, actually bested Ebron in both the vertical and broad jumps. Not to mention his 40-yard dash time of 4.61 was just a hair slower than Ebron’s 4.60.

    Physically, Lyerla’s got all the tools to succeed in the NFL. The concern lies with where he’s at mentally.

    Lyerla up and left Oregon just a few weeks into the ’13 season. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested for, and plead guilty to, cocaine possession.

    It’s hard to see Lyerla succeeding at the next level if he voluntarily left one of the better college teams in the nation. But if the Steelers think there’s any chance he could become a successful reclamation project then he may be worth a late-round flier.


    All combine results courtesy to NFL.com's results tracker.