Pittsburgh Steelers' Ultimate 2014 Draft Primer
The Pittsburgh Steelers have nine selections in the 2014 NFL draft, which kicks off Thursday. They also have as many needs on both the offensive and the defensive sides of the roster. In a deep draft, this is not a bad situation to be in, but the Steelers still must make the right picks if they are going to improve on their 8-8 record from 2013.
Here is your ultimate Steelers draft primer, loaded with all the information you need to prepare for the team to begin picking its rookie class Thursday night. In it, you'll find a position-by-position big board, round-by-round options at many positions and the latest rumors of the team's draft plans.
Think of this as your one-stop shop for everything Steelers and the draft.
List of 2014 Draft Picks
The Steelers have nine picks in the 2014 NFL draft. Here's where they fall in each round:
Position-by-Position Big Board
Here are a few players at each position that the Steelers could have their eyes on in the 2014 draft:
AJ McCarron, Alabama
Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Connor Shaw, South Carolina
De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
Dri Archer, Kent State
Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
Allen Robinson, Penn State
Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Eric Ebron, North Carolina
C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
Joe Don Duncan, Dixie State
Marcel Jensen, Fresno State
OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
OT Joel Bitonio, Nevada
OG David Yankey, Stanford
OG Jon Halapio, Florida
G/T Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame
DE Deandre Coleman, Cal
DE Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
DE Dominique Easley, Florida
DT Chris Davenport, Tulane
OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
ILB Chris Borland, Wisconsin
OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
ILB Khairi Fortt, Cal
OLB Trevor Reilly, Utah
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Jimmie Ward, NIU
Terrence Brooks, Florida State
Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
E.J. Gaines, Missouri
Round 1, Pick 15
Team Needs: CB, WR, DL
The Steelers have three major roster needs that the draft must fulfill: a starting-caliber cornerback, a No. 2 wide receiver and defensive line, both starters and depth. One of these positions will doubtlessly be addressed with their first-round selection.
At wide receiver, the Steelers won't likely be in play for Clemson's Sammy Watkins or Texas A&M's Mike Evans. However, the position is a deep one in this class. They will have other, high-quality options available to them at 15th overall.
Two choices are LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. and Penn State's Allen Robinson. Beckham had 59 receptions for 1,152 yards and eight scores in 2013. However, at 5'11", he's certainly not the tall receiver Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would prefer; he could also end up playing heavily in the slot, which the Steelers don't need after signing Lance Moore in April.
Robinson could thus be the better pick, even though talk of him being a first-round prospect has died down. He's 6'2" and has great size but not explosive speed. Still, he caught 97 passes in 2013, for 1,432 yards and six scores. The Steelers don't need Robinson to be their No. 1 wideout—that job belongs to Antonio Brown. As a No. 2, possession-style receiver, he could be a good fit.
The Steelers might be able to get Robinson or another receiver in Round 2. As such, they might opt to use their first-round pick on an elite-level cornerback like Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard or Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert. Gilbert has all the tools to be a great cornerback in the NFL, with good man- and off-man coverage skills and the right size and speed. He'd be an ideal replacement for Ike Taylor.
Round 2, Pick 14 (46th Overall)
Team Needs: WR, DL
Should the Steelers go with a cornerback in Round 1, their pick in the middle of Round 2 would be a good time to select a wide receiver. The two best options would be the aforementioned Robinson or perhaps Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin.
Like Robinson, Benjamin doesn't possess blistering speed. However, he does have impressive size, coming in at 6'5" and 240 pounds. He caught 54 passes for 1,011 yards and 15 scores in 2013. He can be a major red-zone target for Roethlisberger, and his physical style of play will make him a mismatch for defenses anywhere on the field.
The Steelers could also address their many issues on the defensive line in Round 2. Currently, the Steelers have just four defensive tackles on their roster: Steve McLendon, Hebron Fangupo, Al Lapuaho and Cam Thomas. Thomas or McLendon could take on the starting nose tackle job this year, but if they aren't completely sold then Notre Dame's Louis Nix could be in play for them.
Nix had 27 tackles and two tackles for a loss in 2013 before undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus in November. The injury could turn the Steelers off; it depends on how he medically checked out this offseason.
The Steelers could also look at defensive ends in Round 2, especially if versatile Minnesota defender Ra'Shede Hageman falls far enough. Hageman could play defensive tackle or end in Dick LeBeau's 3-4 defense, which would certainly boost a Steelers front that has little in reserve at either position.
Round 3, Pick 33 (97th Overall, Compensatory)
Team Needs: DL, S, TE
The Steelers will need to invest a number of their draft picks this year on the defensive line, considering how lacking in depth they are at both tackle and end. If they address it in Round 2, don't be surprised if they do so again in Round 3.
Should defensive tackle be the position they select in Round 2, defensive end will be a high priority in the next round. California's Deandre Coleman should be available at the end of Round 3, where the Steelers have their lone pick in the round, a compensatory one.
Coleman had 40 tackles in 2013, including nine for a loss, as well as 2.5 sacks. He's got ideal size for a 3-4 defensive end though he did play tackle in college. Coleman is more of a run-stopper than a pass-rusher, but that should suit the Steelers system just fine.
Another option at defensive end is Alabama's Ed Stinson, whom Bleacher Report's Darren Page compares favorably to current starting Steelers end Cameron Heyward. Stinson's draft stock is all over the map, so the Steelers may be able to wait until a later round to snag him should he interest the team. He had 42 tackles in 2013 and 1.5 sacks. Like Coleman, he's a better against the run than rushing the passer.
The Steelers could also pick up a safety in Round 3. Mike Mitchell will be starting at free safety this year with Troy Polamalu at strong safety, but the Steelers don't have much depth behind them. Only Will Allen and Shamarko Thomas have any experience playing the position in Pittsburgh.
Florida State's Terrence Brooks would be a good use of the Steelers' late third-round pick. He had 56 tackles in 2013, as well as two interceptions, five pass breakups and two forced fumbles. At 5'11" and 198 pounds, he's a bit small, which will push him to the third round. However, he's incredibly fast and his leaping ability makes him play taller than he is.
Round 4, Pick, 18 (118th Overall)
Team Needs: S, TE, OL
The Steelers could get a safety in Round 4, especially if Brooks is still available. They could also take a different safety with the pick, such as Stanford's Ed Reynolds. Reynolds had 87 tackles in 2013, along with an interception and four pass breakups.
Reynolds has a lot of the desirable fundamental traits of an NFL free safety, but CBS Sports' Rob Rang brings up a very good point: Reynolds leads with his head when tackling, which could make him a penalty magnet if he doesn't change his technique.
The fourth round could also be a good time for the Steelers to add another tight end to the ranks. Heath Miller is 31 years old and just over a year removed from a devastating, multiple-ligament tear in his right knee. It's time the Steelers start thinking about finding his successor.
In Round 4, the Steelers may luck out and be able to pick up C.J. Fiedorowicz from Iowa. The Steelers need a tight end who can both catch and block, which rules out the likes of Jace Amaro or Eric Ebron; however, Fiedorowicz possesses both skills.
Fiedorowicz was primarily a blocker in college, but he showed off his impressive speed and athleticism at both the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine. He had just 30 catches for 299 yards in 2013, but he did have six touchdowns. He'll get more opportunities to work as a receiver in Pittsburgh and to show off his considerable talent.
Round 5, Pick 17 (157th Overall)
Team Needs: TE, OL, LB
The Steelers could pick up a sleeper gem in tight end Joe Don Duncan in Round 5 if they don't address the position earlier. Duncan, from Dixie State, was invited to the Senior Bowl. He didn't play, due to an injury, but the fact that the small-school prospect was able to attract enough attention to get an invite says volumes about his NFL potential.
Duncan had 71 receptions for 1,045 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, but he's more than just a receiver. Though not asked to do much blocking in college, he could easily develop this part of his game sitting behind Miller for a season or two.
Pittsburgh has had a long history of injuries affecting their offensive line, so it would be smart for the team to add at least another guard or tackle to its roster this year.
At guard, Alabama's Anthony Steen and Florida's Jon Halapio would be two good options in the fifth round. Both Steen and Halapio are better run-blockers than pass-protectors, with Steen more familiar with the zone-blocking scheme likely to be implemented by new Steelers position coach Mike Munchak.
If the Steelers want a more well-rounded lineman, they could opt for Ohio State's Andrew Norwell. Norwell can play both guard and tackle in the NFL, and he has good pass-protection skills along with strong run-blocking credentials. He also doesn't have the spotty injury history of Halapio.
Round 5, Pick 33 (173rd Overall, Compensatory)
Team Needs: LB, RB, WR
Though the defensive line certainly deserves a lot of attention in this year's draft, the Steelers should also look to add a few linebackers to the roster—particularly pass-rushers.
Utah's Trevor Reilly looks like a project outside linebacker worth the Steelers' time. In 2013, he had 100 tackles with 16 for a loss, along with 8.5 sacks, two pass breakups, one interception and a forced fumble. He's not exceptionally quick, but he does play with finesse and passion and is very athletic. An added bonus is that he has also played defensive end and middle linebacker.
Missouri's Michael Sam could also be a good developmental outside linebacker for the Steelers. Sam had 48 tackles in 2013, along with 11.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed. Because of his size, he'd be a better fit as a 3-4 linebacker than a 4-3 defensive end, but his explosiveness certainly helps make up for being a smaller prospect at the position.
The Steelers could also choose to boost their running back depth in Round 5. While they have a bell-cow back in Le'Veon Bell and a powerful short-yardage and goal-line back in LeGarrette Blount, they could use a speedy, change-of-pace runner to accompany them.
Jerick McKinnon from Georgia Southern could fill that role well. McKinnon was a college quarterback but will be a running back in the NFL. He had 1,050 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns in 2013 and followed it up with an impressive scouting combine performance. Only Dri Archer ran a faster 40-yard dash time, and his 32 reps on the bench press led the position, as per NFL.com.
Because he played quarterback, McKinnon is somewhat of a project. However, for the amount of work he'd do in Pittsburgh, he'd be fine to hit the field on a limited basis as a rookie.
Round 6, Pick 16 (192nd Overall)
Team Needs: RB, WR, DL
The Steelers could just as easily select a change-of-pace running back with their first of two sixth-round picks. McKinnon could still be on the board, enabling them to take him later on, mitigating the risk of having a quarterback-turned-running-back on the roster or at least getting him at a better value.
They could also go with a different running back, such as Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas. Thomas had just 96 carries for 594 yards in 2013, though he did have eight rushing touchdowns. He missed time with an ankle injury, further increasing chatter about his durability. However, in a limited role in Pittsburgh he'll be a bit better protected.
Pittsburgh could also look to add a backup slot receiver in Round 6. Wyoming's Robert Herron, with 72 catches for 937 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013, is one option. Another is Michigan's Jeremy Gallon, who had 89 receptions in 2013 for 1,373 yards and nine scores.
The Steelers could also return to defensive line, considering their staggering lack of depth. Defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins from Virginia Tech could play multiple positions on the line. He had a very good 2013 season with 51 tackles, including 10 for a loss, to go along with 3.5 sacks. Though short, at 5'11", he has good speed and technique, which is more than enough to make him a solid backup in Pittsburgh.
Round 6, Pick 39 (215th Overall, Compensatory)
Team Needs: CB, LB
Near the end of the draft, the Steelers can look for project players who may someday contribute on defense but for now can make an impact on special teams. One such prospect is Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen.
Allen had 50 tackles in 2013, including four for a loss. He also had six interceptions and three pass breakups. He has good speed and hits hard, but at 5'9", his future beyond special teams is in the nickel.
Auburn's Chris Davis could be a good sleeper cornerback for the Steelers to steal in Round 6. Like Allen, Davis is a good special teams player, working as a punt returner, where he averaged 20 yards per return. He had 74 tackles in 2013 and 15 pass breakups.
The Steelers could also look to improve their depth at inside linebacker. Oklahoma State's Caleb Lavey had a great 2013 season and has the type of versatility the Steelers covet. Lavey had 93 tackles in 2013, including 12.5 for a loss. He also had 2.5 sacks, four interceptions, three passes defensed and three forced fumbles.
Like most inside linebackers, Lavey is strong against the run, but he also is impressive in coverage, despite not being the fastest prospect. He has a lot of potential and could someday be a starter for the Steelers.
Round 7, Pick 15 (230th Overall)
Team Needs: WR
The Steelers could use the final pick in this year's draft to add yet another wide receiver to their pool of young, developmental prospects.
Saginaw Valley State's Jeff Janis was impressive enough in 2013 to earn an invite to the Senior Bowl, where he played well but did not particularly stand out. He had 83 receptions for 1,572 yards and 14 scores last season, but his adjustment to the NFL may take some time. His 6'3" height is also a compelling plus about him.
Another 6'3" receiver, Alex Neutz from Buffalo, could also catch the Steelers' eye with their final pick. Neutz doesn't have a lot of speed, but he did have a good 2013, with 61 receptions for 1,024 yards and 12 scores.
Latest Draft Buzz
Here's a roundup of the latest draft rumors swirling around the Steelers leading up to Thursday's start of Round 1:
- Pro Football Talk's Mike Wilkening has a list of every player whom the Steelers met with and/or worked out leading up to the draft. They include potential first-round targets like cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Kyle Fuller and linebacker Anthony Barr.
- ESPN's Todd McShay picked North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron for the Steelers in last week's mock draft; his colleague and former NFL general manager, Bill Polian, does not think this is a good idea.
- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac believes there is "a very good chance" the Steelers take Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin with their first-round selection.
- Dale Lolley of the Washington (PA) Observer-Reporter believes the Steelers will target a pass-catching running back at some point.
- Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke has the Steelers drafting LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the seventh iteration of his mock draft. He also has them trading down with Miami in Round 1.
- Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert says the Steelers won't be trading up in Round 1, but they may trade down, as Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.