Ranking the Pittsburgh Steelers' Biggest Needs to Address in 2014 NFL Draft

Curt Popejoy@@nfldraftboardContributor IApril 21, 2014

Ranking the Pittsburgh Steelers' Biggest Needs to Address in 2014 NFL Draft

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    Dave Martin

    With only days to go until the 2014 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers front office is putting the final touches on its big board. It has had four months of evaluation since the end of the college football season, and it is now time to put all that work into practice.

    There is a danger in a draft so deep at some positions. It really forces a front office to make the right choice first, without giving too much thought as to what might happen later on. It is dangerous to pass on a position in one round, assuming the depth of that position will allow a team to draft a comparable talent later.

    Pittsburgh needs to focus on the positions of greatest need, and in each round, find the player at one of those who can help the most early on.

    But, which positions are the most important? Here’s a look at five key spots the Steelers should focus on in the draft, along with a mini big board for each one.

    All stats provided courtesy of Steelers.com.

5. Wide Receiver

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    Believe it or not, things aren’t so bad for the Steelers wide receivers. Any depth chart that includes Antonio Brown is going to be productive. The key to this unit’s success will be how the rest of the group plays. That means Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey will be sorting out the backup spots to assist Brown.

    That’s not to say that the Steelers aren’t going to draft a wide receiver. However, it will be a very specific type of player. This wide receiver class is impressive, but much of the talent near the top doesn’t really fit what Pittsburgh is looking for.

    The type of wide receiver the Steelers need to target is a tall, physical player. This team doesn’t need another speedy 5’11” wide receiver.

    This means the pool of players Pittsburgh is going to be drawing from will be a bit smaller. The Steelers need a flanker-type of a wide receiver that can be a true threat in the red zone and can win physical battles against cornerbacks in the end zone.

    1. Mike Evans, Texas A&M
    2. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
    3. Kelvin Benjamin, FSU
    4. Martavis Bryant, Clemson
    5. Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
    6. Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley
    7. L’Damian Washington, Missouri

4. Offensive Line

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    Even though offensive tackle is a little bit low on this list, don’t be shocked if it isn’t the first position taken.

    If nothing else changes, the Steelers have both returning starters back from 2013. Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert did a very good job in the second half of 2013.

    Nevertheless, the Steelers understand that injuries can come in bunches, and you can never have enough healthy offensive linemen. And for Pittsburgh, you can never have enough linemen who can play tackle but kick inside to guard in a pinch. This is the reason why much of this list is populated by guys who would provide the Steelers with variety along the offensive line.

    1. Taylor Lewan, Michigan
    2. Zack Martin, Notre Dame
    3. Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee
    4. Joel Bitonio, Nevada
    5. Billy Turner, North Dakota State
    6. Dakota Dozier, Furman

3. Defensive End

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    Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense requires a very specific type of defensive end in its base sets. The Steelers ask these 285-pound-plus men to work off the edge with power and explosion. If that means they are required to set the edge to let the linebacker stuff the run or turn a running back inside so his fellow lineman can clean it up, that’s what they do.

    As of now, there is some serious unknown as far as who will start at defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward. The talent on the roster currently doesn’t inspire confidence, so expect the Steelers to address this position fairly early in the draft.

    This draft class is deep at the position, so whether the Steelers choose to go for a prospect early or late, they should be able to get someone who can contribute early.

    1. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
    2. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
    3. Dominique Easley, Florida
    4. Josh Mauro, Stanford
    5. George Uko, USC
    6. Ed Stinson, Alabama

2. Outside Linebacker

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    At this point, outside linebacker is a significant need for Pittsburgh. Jarvis Jones enters his second season, but that doesn’t mean he is ready to be a full-time starter.

    Jones’ development was slow in 2013, to say the least. The Steelers need him to play much bigger if they hope to be able to improve a faulty pass rush.

    Opposite of Jones is Jason Worilds. 2013 was something of a breakout year for Worilds, but nothing is certain. Worilds is playing 2014 on a one-year transition contract, and he might not return in 2015.

    Pittsburgh must add talent early to remain proactive.

    Pittsburgh was only able to register 34 sacks in 2013, which ranked 25th in the NFL. Without a consistent pass rush, the rest of the defense cannot do its job. Don’t be shocked if the Steelers draft a couple of pass-rush specialists at some point in this draft.

    1. Dee Ford, Auburn
    2. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
    3. Marcus Smith, Louisville
    4. James Gayle, Virginia Tech
    5. Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
    6. Christian Jones, FSU
    7. Prince Shembo, Notre Dame
    8. Michael Sam, Missouri
    9. Larry Webster, Bloomsburg
    10. Ethan Westbrooks, West Texas A&M

1. Cornerback

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    The clear top priority for the Steelers in this draft is cornerback. This is a defense that could only muster 10 interceptions on the season. This ranked 29th in the league last year. Of all the areas of improvement, this, along with more sacks, is the most important thing.

    This is likely Ike Taylor's last season, and Cortez Allen still has a lot to prove.

    If the right cornerback falls to the Steelers in the first round, you can bet they won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on one. Fortunately, there are several long, rangy corners sprinkled among this draft class. With nine picks, Pittsburgh should come up with one or more at various points in the draft.

    1. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
    2. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
    3. Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
    4. Phillip Gaines, Rice
    5. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
    6. Bashaud Breeland, Clemson
    7. Ross Cockrell, Duke
    8. Antone Exum, Virginia Tech
    9. Marcus Roberson, Florida