5 Positions of Need the Steelers Can Hold out on in the 2014 NFL Draft
In a perfect world, every round of the NFL draft would yield first-round talent. Every team would improve each year, and all their needs would be filled. This would be a dream scenario for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as they have significant holes on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
And with one first-round pick, filling those needs falls squarely on hitting big on the rest of the Steelers’ picks. However, finding players who can at least approach the potential of consensus first-round picks isn’t easy. But we see it every year, as teams haul in major talent beyond the first day of the draft.
The Steelers are in a great spot, because this draft is very deep at many positions. This means with some proper planning and a little luck, they can find guys who can come in and play like top picks without costing one. Here are a few players the Steelers can wait for, and pass on the top prospects.
Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
Much of the conversation about the Steelers’ top pick is to determine whether they will spend it on a wide receiver. Pittsburgh has a decent group behind star Antonio Brown. However, the skill sets of the rest of the depth chart are very similar to each other. No, what this team needs is a big body who can get down the field and cause mismatches with his size.
If the Steelers want to draft this guy in the first round, they would likely look to Texas A&M product Mike Evans. Evans is a tremendous prospect, without a doubt. He is easily the second-best wide receiver in this draft, and his expanded catch radius and sneaky athleticism give him an edge over the other wide receivers in this class.
However, if the Steelers can’t get Evans, all is not lost. Pittsburgh could wait until late on the final day of the draft and take a shot on Rutgers product Brandon Coleman. At 6’6” with 34-inch arms, Coleman casts just an imposing a shadow as Evans does.
Obviously, Coleman isn’t the polished product Evans is. However, at no point in his career did he have one iota of the talent around him that Evans did. You simply cannot deny that many of his shortcomings and lack of development in his game was due to the players he was stuck with.
Coleman has tons of potential and all the physical tools to become a highly productive possession and red-zone target in the NFL. With the amount of speed the Steelers have on the outside, Coleman boxing out linebackers and safeties on the inside is a recipe for production.
Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech
Pittsburgh nose tackle Steve McLendon was a disappointment in 2013. The Steelers opted to pull McLendon off the field often in exchange for an additional defensive back, even when, based on the situation, it didn't seem the opposing team was throwing the football.
The best thing for McLendon might be to move him to end, and the Steelers can add a true nose tackle. If we are talking first round, that would mean Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III. There’s no doubt Nix has all the potential to be a very good two-down nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. However, at the cost of a high first-round, he could be viewed as a reach.
Instead, the Steelers can wait until the middle of the draft and go after Louisiana Tech’s Justin “Jelly Bean” Ellis. At 6’1”, 334 pounds, Ellis has the requisite body type to anchor the middle of a 3-4 defensive line. Ellis has shown he can get excellent push off the snap, and uses those massive 10.125-inch hands. He can really push guys around.
The best thing about Ellis is he understands what his strengths are, and he embraces his role. He will force a double-team is needed and can win against a center, chasing down the football. When you consider the value Ellis would represent over Nix, waiting on him is an easy choice.
Antone Exum, CB, Virginia Tech
It isn’t a question of if, but when the Steelers will draft a cornerback. With Ike Taylor on his farewell tour, Pittsburgh needs to restock the cornerback depth chart. Does that mean they will spend a first-round pick on a guy like Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert or maybe Michigan State product Darqueze Dennard?
Possibly, but with a class this deep, there is no reason to rush into a pick. In fact, the Steelers could wait until the third or fourth round and get a player with just as much potential and athleticism as any of those who will be drafted ahead of him.
Virginia Tech’s Antone Exum has been fighting an uphill battle for draft recognition, and it is finally drawing to a head. Exum is a six-foot tall, 193-pound corner with legit 4.5 speed and one of the most physical natures in the entire draft.
However, we all know what Exum can do physically. In 2011 and 2012, Exum was one of the top man-coverage cornerbacks in all of college football. Part of what made him so effective was his intelligence. Exum’s football acumen is tremendous. It is evident watching him play that he is a student of the game, as well as his opponents. NFL franchises love guys like this because they respond so well to coaching and can show amazing growth in his career.
Shamar Stephen, DL, UConn
Pittsburgh found itself a star last year with defensive end Cameron Heyward. Heyward came on strong in the final 10 games of 2013, and he can build on that momentum this year.
However, the player who will be opposite him in base defenses is something of a mystery. The lack of activity could indicate the Steelers are going to find themselves with a new 3-4 defensive tackle in the draft. And if they get it early, Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman makes the most sense. Hageman is massive and powerful, with the kind of length required for the position.
Nevertheless, Pittsburgh could choose to wait until the fifth or sixth round and draft a very similar player instead. UConn defensive tackle Shamar Stephen was a terror for offenses in 2013. And he did it with very little help around him on that Huskies defense.
Stephen faced constant double-teams, but he kept bringing it every single play. At almost 6’5” and 309 pounds, Stephen has the build to line up on the edge in base and slide inside as a pass-rushing defensive tackle on passing downs. Stephen is far from the most agile guy, but he certainly has enough quickness at the snap to come off the edge and force plays back inside to linebackers.
James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
There is a distinguished tradition in Pittsburgh with their pass-rushing outside linebackers. This defense is predicated on its ability to get pressure on the quarterback from the outside. Going into 2014, Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds will be manning the edges, but there is always room for more.
There is a real possibility that if UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr falls to the Steelers in the first round, they would draft him. It makes sense. Barr is a freakish, albeit raw athlete with gobs of upside. However, this team might want a presence who can come in and be productive right from the start.
That means passing on Barr and looking to the middle rounds for a guy like Virginia Tech defensive end James Gayle. The reason Gayle slides is because his potential never matched production in college. Gayle is more effort than athleticism, and that’s fallen out of favor some in the league.
However, Gayle, as a situational pass-rushing linebacker, could be devastating. He could come in with fresh legs on passing downs and just come hard off the edge. This team needs a big, beefy linebacker to play the strong side, and Gayle can be that guy. No one is asking him to come in as a rookie and get double-digit sacks. However, Gayle’s game would allow him to get pressures from the outside, something this team lacked in 2013.