Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft Roundup
We have rounded the final turn and are headed down the home stretch. The 2014 NFL draft is only a few days away, and I think most fans are ready to get this party started.
The Pittsburgh Steelers front office should have their big board set and are ready to make steps toward improving on last season’s 8-8 record. The team’s primary needs are fairly well-established, but the order Pittsburgh will take them in is anyone’s best guess.
So let’s take one final run at a full seven-round Steelers mock draft. And as a bonus, we’ll take a look at some of these same picks from other draft pundits' mocks as well to compare. A mock draft is more about assessing value of a prospect, and attempting to pair that up with team need.
Being terribly accurate is a challenge, but in hindsight, looking back at this mock draft, we should see if these players ended up being selected in the same ranges. This indicates the value. And we can see how the distribution of picks by Pittsburgh is during the draft compared to these. That speaks to team needs. Sit back and enjoy one more Steelers mock draft.
The experts are all over the place on the Steelers’ first-round pick. Looking at the CBS Sports team of mock drafts here, you see some consensus as far as position, but not the player. Rob Rang and Dane Brugler both give the Steelers Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, while Pit Kirwan goes with Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby. The one dissenting opinion is Pete Prisco, who opted for offensive tackle Taylor Lewan.
Looking around the web, Don Banks of SI.com also shared the opinion of Gilbert. Meanwhile, the ESPN Wonder Twins, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, both have LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in each of their latest mock drafts (subscription required).
Meanwhile, Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller went a different direction completely and gave the Steelers Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy. Miller is unique among the top draft pundits because he goes the extra mile to put out full seven-round mock drafts periodically during the offseason.
For mine, I went with Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller. This follows the trend of giving the Steelers a cornerback in the first, and Fuller is a very good fit. The reason for no Gilbert here? It comes down to availability. With multiple teams picking ahead of the Steelers in need of a cornerback, it is difficult to imagine the top cornerback in the draft falls to them at No. 15.
Nevertheless, Fuller is no slouch. Physically, Fuller is a near clone of Gilbert. Both are 6’0” and nearly 200 pounds. Gilbert has a slight reach advantage, but Fuller’s hands are much bigger.
With the two of them, you have to make trade offs. Gilbert possesses better speed, both timed and on the field. Fuller, on the other hand is a much more well-rounded coverage player. Whereas Gilbert excels in man, Fuller has shown he can be successful in any system. Assuming Gilbert is gone and the Steelers want to draft a cornerback, Fuller seems like a great second option.
Moving on to the second round, the number of expert opinions falls off. In fact, only two guys went the extra mile and added in that next round.
Kiper mocked Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III to the Steelers. Makes sense. The Steelers are on the hunt for a big-bodied nose tackle to improve their run defense. Should Nix slide this far, the pick would make a lot of sense.
Miller went the other direction and gave Pittsburgh Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. Another smart pick that would fill an immediate need.
Interesting that both Kiper and Miller opted for players who were considered high first-round picks at one point, but have taken a considerable slide this offseason.
I go the other direction. I share Miller’s perspective that offensive tackle is the pick here, but I go with an ascending player instead. Tennessee offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James is one of the most underrated tackles in this draft.
Any criticism of James must be prefaced with the fact that he started all 49 of his career games for Tennessee. How many tackles in this or any draft can claim 49-of-49 in starts in the toughest conference in football? James is a right tackle in college, but his ability to manipulate blockers reads left tackle.
Drafting James would give the Steelers the freedom to play him on either side while they sort out if tackle Kelvin Beachum might be better suited to kick inside and play guard over Ramon Foster.
This is part of the program where opinions become scarcer. In fact, the only expert who takes his mock draft to infinity and beyond is Miller. Just one more example as to why Bleacher Report is the place for draft coverage.
In the third round, Miller’s pick is Penn State defensive tackle DaQuan Jones. Jones is a massive interior player who could be one of those scheme-versatile linemen the Steelers love. At 6’4” and 322 pounds, Jones is right on the line of being an ideal nose tackle and a beefy 5-technique end.
While I agree a player like this is necessary and to address it later in the draft, the pick here for me is Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines. The Steelers cornerback depth chart is a mess, so there is no harm in going back to the well for a second player.
Gaines’ stock takes a knock because he lacks the ideal height But make no mistake, he makes up for any size concerns with his physical nature. He is fearless in the run game and is a very good tackle. Gaines would have an immediate impact as a nickel corner, but he could easily work his way into a more prominent role down the line. He can influence the game in the short and intermediate with his football IQ and awareness.
As we head into the fourth round, things become more random. Outside of those original 100 prospects, picks become much more personalized, and it is hard to pair up with any sort of rankings.
Miller slotted Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood to the Steelers in the fourth round. Norwood is an interesting player I hadn’t considered at this point. He has excellent size, massive hands and has been incredibly productive during his time in the SEC.
The biggest downside to Norwood’s draft stock is that he will turn 25 before the start of the season. He has all the markings of an superb slot wide receiver, but you have to wonder how long he’s part of a plan, as he’ll be pushing 30 when he is looking for his second contract.
I went strictly "best player available" at this point, premised on rankings. I'm not sure why more people don’t have Florida State linebacker Christian Jones rated higher, but is the Steelers can snatch him up with pick No. 118, so be it.
Jones is a physical marvel and explosive athlete. Yes, he’s a little reckless. And yes, he needs to work on polishing up the rough edges to his game. It’s a trade Pittsburgh should be more than willing to make. Jones can have an impact at multiple spots, and a defensive coordinator like Dick LeBeau will be able to get the most out of him.
Here’s where this mock draft will likely go off the rails for most Steelers fans. Miller addressed the gap at cornerback here with Liberty cornerback Walt Aikens. Aikens is a nice player and as a second cornerback selection, would make a lot of sense.
However, who says this is about being sensible? Nope, having already addressed the Steelers’ main needs, I opt to roll the dice here. Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith is something of an enigma. During his time at Wyoming, he was incredibly productive while having very little talent around him.
The other side of that coin is he hasn’t honed his skills against elite defenses either. Nevertheless, Smith certainly passes the eyeball test. There is no cause for the Steelers to simply assume Landry Jones is the answer at quarterback.
In fact, as Ben Roethlisberger hits that point in his career where Pittsburgh must start looking down the road for his eventual replacement, drafting a quarterback each year is just good business. Smith isn't ready to start now, but has all the tools to be a starter at some point in his career.
Pittsburgh has an additional fifth-round pick, as part of the compensatory picks the league gives out. Miller opted to give the Steelers the massive Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel McCullers. There are few players in the draft who can match the 6’7”, 352-pound lineman physically. I’m not sure where he’d best fit for the Steelers, but if he can put it all together, he could have a long and prolific NFL career.
The irony is not lost that my pick at this point is the diminutive Oregon running back, De’Anthony Thomas. At 5’9” and 174 pounds, McCullers next to Thomas would be like Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins.
Thomas would provide the Steelers with an explosive weapon in the return game and on offense. Obviously, Pittsburgh isn’t going to force 15 touches a game to Thomas, but six or eight carries and catches total per game would be ideal.
With two bruising backs ahead of him in Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, Thomas could come in fresh against tired defenses and run right past them.
By the sixth round, teams are now looking at players who have fallen for one reason or another. It could be injury, or it could be non-football related character issues. Either approach, it becomes risk/reward for a franchise.
Miller embraces that by giving the Steelers Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla. If Lyerla can get it all together in terms of his personal life, there’s little doubt his football skills are as good as any tight end in this draft.
Pittsburgh has gotten burned on some character stuff in recent drafts, so I’m not sure if they’d do that way, but I fully endorse the notion of bringing him in.
Instead, I am going with the off-the-radar prospect no one seems to be talking about. UCLA wide receiver Shaquelle Evans is much more talented than a sixth-round pick. In the Steelers offense, Evans would line up inside and work the hashes with tight end Heath Miller.
Evans has nice size and sure hands. He isn’t likely to run away from anyone but could fill that Jerricho Cotchery role around the end zone from 2013.
This time around, Miller goes with Oklahoma wide receiver Jalen Saunders. This is essentially the equivalent of the Thomas pick from a round before.
Undersized and electric with the football in his hands, Sanders could be an instant impact type of player in the return game and would challenge for a spot in a crowded wide receiver depth chart.
Here is where I went for the fat boy. Whereas Miller took Jones in the third round, I go for Arkansas State defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers here in the sixth. Carrethers isn’t going to give you the versatility of Jones, but he does provide Pittsburgh with a real anchor in the middle.
Much like Casey Hampton was for years, Carrethers could provide them with that plug in the middle and free up those linebackers behind them. Carrethers this late in the draft would represent a real value for the pick.
Final round and all bets are off. Invariably when you do a mock like this, some players fall that likely shouldn’t, and a team can steal one. There are several ways to approach these late picks. You can look for a player who might have been productive at a lower level of competition, or try to find a guy who was steady and solid for a big-name program.
Miller’s final pick for the Steelers is Western Kentucky linebacker, Andrew Jackson. Jackson is a classic thumping inside linebacker. In the 3-4, he’d line up next to Lawrence Timmons and play downhill against the run. Jackson played at over 260 pounds during the season. So Steelers fans could have flashbacks of Levon Kirkland with him on the field.
My final pick, I add another piece to the defensive line. Stanford’s Ben Gardner didn’t get to participate at the scouting combine, but he showed up at his pro day fit and athletic. He was able to put up numbers comparable with the top defensive lineman who was in attendance.
The rub with Gardner is about his position. He weighed in at 262 pounds at his pro day, which makes him too light for a 5-technique end. However, Gardner was pushing 280 pounds during the season and has the frame to get back to that size with ease.
All scouting combine info courtesy of NFL.com.
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