Pittsburgh Steelers Day 1 Draft Primer
Pittsburgh is coming off consecutive seasons where they failed to break .500. This is so far out of character for this franchise that this draft is as important as any in the last 20 years. Could head coach Mike Tomlin or general manager Kevin Colbert be on the hot seat if this team doesn’t find itself back in the playoffs in 2014?
The trick to all that is figuring out which spots Pittsburgh can fill immediately with rookies, and which positions can be addressed more for depth and can be moved down the priority list. Drafting for need is never ideal, however sometimes necessity requires you to take action.
Which spots can the Steelers fill in this draft and get impact in 2014? The key positions are cornerback, wide receiver and defensive line. Luckily, there appears to be many talented prospects at those positions in this draft. Many of the starting spots are locked in, so approaching this draft with greater focus could be prudent.
The Steelers have the following picks in the 2014 NFL draft.
- Round 1, pick 15
- Round 2, pick 46
- Round 3, pick 97 (compensatory pick)
- Round 4, pick 118
- Round 5, pick 157
- Round 5, pick 173 (compensatory pick)
- Round 6, pick 192
- Round 6, pick 215 (compensatory pick)
- Round 7, pick 230
With that, let’s get you ready for day one of the NFL draft.
Look Back at Free Agency
Pittsburgh chose to partake in the purge this offseason, opting to jettison players and salary. Some players left via free agency, and others were released to make room under the salary cap. Here’s a quick rundown of the key players who are gone:
Emmanuel Sanders, WR
Jerricho Cotchery, WR
Larry Foote, LB
LaMarr Woodley, LB
Al Woods, DL
Ziggy Hood, DL
Jonathan Dwyer, RB
David Johnson, TE
Ryan Clark, S
However, Pittsburgh did make some moves to fill a few of these spots. Here’s a quick list of the top guys the Steelers brought in this offseason:
Lance Moore, WR
Mike Mitchell, S
Arthur Moats, LB
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR
Cam Thomas, DL
Even with the additions, there are still plenty of spots to consider. Pittsburgh could only delve so deep into free agency due to the salary cap. That makes this draft even more important.
Looking critically at the Steelers’ roster, there are easily a half dozen positions Pittsburgh could target in this draft. Even with a couple of positions that a draft pick could come in and start, there are five more where key depth could be addressed. And as we’ve seen, with injuries being how they are, a backup is only that until someone is injured.
5. Outside Linebacker: You would think with Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds on the roster, things at outside linebacker would be fine. However, that is not the case. Jones struggled a great deal as a rookie and there is no guarantee he’s ready this year. Worilds is playing on a one-year, transition deal so his future beyond 2014 is a complete unknown. That means finding another player to rush the quarterback from the outside is a must.
4. Tight End: Heath Miller has been steady and productive for Pittsburgh throughout his career. However, looking past Miller on the depth chart, there is very little to be confident in. Not to mention, Pittsburgh likes to employ two-tight end sets, requiring a second tight end that can be great in the passing game. This draft is deep at tight end, so the Steelers need to seriously consider drafting one.
3. Wide Receiver: Pittsburgh has a pretty robust wide receiver depth chart in place. Antonio Brown is one of the top talents in the league. And with Lance Moore, Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey behind him, things seem to be in decent shape.
However, what this team lacks is that big target. That player quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t have to throw open. The one who can make the contested catch in the end zone, and forces physical mismatches. This could be a wide receiver or a tight end, but regardless, that need must be addressed here.
2. Defensive Line: Differentiating between defensive end and defensive tackle is less significant here. In a 3-4 front, many of these players move around so much that teams can often get players with similar body types.
Along those lines, with Steve McLendon and Cam Thomas on the roster, Pittsburgh has some interior options. This means someone who fits the mold of more of a 5-technique end could be a better option.
1. Cornerback: Help in the defensive secondary remains the highest priority at this point. This is the unit with the most questions in terms of talent, and the least amount of certainty for the future.
Don’t be shocked if the Steelers go for more than one defensive back in this draft, possibly looking for a pure cornerback early, and more of a hybrid cornerback/safety later on.
Pittsburgh Big Board
Here’s a quick look at some of the top players at the Steelers’ primary positions of need:
1. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
2. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
3. Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
4. Bradley Roby, Ohio State
5. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
1. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
2. Dominique Easley, Florida
3. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
4. DaQuan Jones, Penn State
5. Kareem Martin, North Carolina
1. Mike Evans, Texas A&M
2. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
3. Allen Robinson, Penn State
4. Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
5. Kelvin Benjamin, FSU
1. Anthony Barr, UCLA
2. Dee Ford, Auburn
3. Marcus Smith, Louisville
4. Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
5. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
1. Eric Ebron, North Caroline
2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
3. Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
4. Colt Lyerla, Oregon
5. Troy Niklas, Notre Dame
What the Experts Are Saying
Even with just a few hours until the draft, there is almost no consensus as to which player the Steelers are going to draft in the first round. At this point last year, everyone and their mom knew that if Jarvis Jones was on the board, he was the pick. And that is exactly what transpired.
That isn't the case this year. This is partly due to the lack of agreement about just who the top players are. It also has to do with the variation of opinion about just which position is most important. Even Steelers fans cannot approach common ground. Here are some thoughts on whom the Steelers will take from some of the top names in the NFL draft media.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper has Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin going to the Steelers in his latest mock draft here: (subscription required)
Martin is up there with Joel Bitonio of Nevada for me as perhaps the most versatile offensive line talent in the draft, which is pretty useful for the Steelers. Pittsburgh could go cornerback here, but I don't like the value with the top two off the board. Receiver is also an option.
This feels really early for Martin. There’s no doubt he can be a very effective player, but at No. 15, it hints of desperation. If Pittsburgh chose to trade back, this pick makes much more sense.
Kiper’s ESPN cohort Todd McShay went a different direction in his latest mock (subscription required), instead opting for Virginia Tech cornerback Kyler Fuller.
I don't think the Steelers have to go with a cornerback here, but it's definitely a need position. The three players it came down to for me were Fuller, Justin Gilbert and C.J. Mosley. Mosley could be a fit, but I think the durability concerns will probably lead to his falling a little. I'm sure the Steelers would love to have Gilbert's playmaking ability, but they've always gone for more physical corners like Fuller over guys like Gilbert who don't get up and press and are poor tacklers. If they can find a way to trade back and add picks, that'd be a good move; they could get similar value to Fuller six or so spots down the board.
Cbssports.com’s Will Brinson took Pittsburgh in a whole different direction by giving the Steelers LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in his most recent mock draft.
Corner and defensive tackle might be bigger needs but Beckham's too good a talent to pass up at 15 for Kevin Colbert, even if drafting a wideout in the first seems strange for the Steelers.
At this point, with all the hype Beckham is getting, he could be long gone by the time the Steelers pick. However, if he’s on the board, I can absolutely see Pittsburgh pulling the trigger. Beckham doesn’t have ideal height, but would be a tremendous fit in the offense.
A Closer Look at Pick 15
Every year, a team’s first-round pick is important. This year for Pittsburgh, this pick is vital. The primary needs the Steelers have are all going to be well represented at pick no. 15. If you subscribe to the notion that cornerback, wide receiver and defensive line are the primary needs, Pittsburgh is going to be sitting in the cat bird’s seat when they go on the clock.
It is likely a cornerback will come off the board prior to their pick. Whether it is Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert or another prospect remains to be seen. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh should have it’s choice of all the cornerbacks remaining. This could be Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller or TCU's Jason Verrett.
At wide receiver, the top two prospects, Sammy Watkins of Clemson and Mike Evans of Texas A&M, should be long gone. If that's the case and the Steelers want to add another weapon in the passing game, LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. would be the top prospect. Pittsburgh could also go off script here and get their weapon by going with a tight end instead. If that’s the case, North Carolina’s Eric Ebron would likely be the top player remaining at the position.
Finally, we have defensive line. It isn’t clear if Pittsburgh is more apt to target a defensive end here or look for a nose tackle. Regardless of the position, there will be top players sitting available. At defensive end, there’s a good chance Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman will be on the board, and it could be tempting for the Steelers to select him. If Pittsburgh wants to go with a more pure interior defensive lineman, Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III could be the pick.
In theory, that’s six prospects who could all be on the board when the Steelers come on the clock who could come in and have a significant impact right away. This sort of scenario would tempt Pittsburgh to trade back (but more on that later).
This pick will determine the rest of the draft. With multiple positions in play here, how the first four rounds play out will be dictated right here.
Could the Steelers take FSU wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first round?
Pittsburgh-Post Gazette writer Gery Dulac intimated in a recent chat that the Steelers would have an interest in drafting the Seminole wideout tonight in Round 1.
There was a time when this seemed realistic. Unfortunately, that was February. At this point, Benjamin is more like a fringe first-round prospect, and if Pittsburgh was interested, they would probably trade down to get him.
Is Ike Taylor Lobbying for a cornerback?
According to Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor hopes the Steelers draft a cornerback in the first round, and follow it up with a wide receiver in the second.
It is saying something that Taylor is lobbying for a first-round pick at his position. He understands he is probably on his way out at the end of the season, and this team is woefully undermanned at cornerback.
Are the Steelers Interested in Running Back Andre Williams?
A third running back is certainly a need for Pittsburgh. How high do they draft one? That’s hard to say. A National Football Post article reported that Pittsburgh was among the teams most interested in Boston College running back Andre Williams.
If he could be taken late enough, Williams would be a nice third option. He doesn’t stand out in any particular area but is a solid all-around back. With Le’Veon Bell handling the bulk of the carries, Williams would make a nice third choice to spell him.
Is a trade in the works?
Bob Labriola of steelers.com reported on Monday via his Twitter that general manager Kevin Colbert would entertain a trade. However, he was clear to point out that the trade would be a trade down, and not up.
This feels like a lot of smoke. Pittsburgh has nine picks and future considerations. If there is a player the Steelers covet and they chose not to pull the trigger, it isn’t because they don’t have the picks to work with. With nine current selections, Pittsburgh should be able to find players to fill a significant number of needs. We will all know soon whether Colbert was just talking up the press, or if this rumor has teeth.
Final Mock Draft
Just over a week ago, I put out a full Steelers seven-round mock draft. This version was purely a projection of what I think could happen on draft weekend. This time around, I’m going to go for something a little unusual.
This time, the theme of this mock draft is, “If I were the GM”, and includes the picks I would make if I were in charge. This mock also includes a trade back with the Arizona Cardinals to the No. 20 pick. This would net the Steelers an additional fourth-round selection. The Cardinals can go up and get their quarterback, and the Steelers could still snatch up starter-quality talent.
First Round: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech-Fuller is a tremendous cornerback who can function at a high level in a multitude of schemes and coverage types.
Second Round: Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville-The Steelers snatch up an explosive edge rusher here to line up at outside linebacker.
Third Round: DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State-Pittsburgh gets a massive prospect who can play inside or outside in the 3-4 at a high level.
Fourth Round: Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers-The Steelers get an underrated, huge target for Ben Roethlisberger.
Fourth Round: Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama-Stinson is a long, natural 5-technique end, with excellent pass-rushing potential and a solid frame. Would offer scheme-versatility and depth along the defensive front.
Fifth Round: Crockett Gillmore, TE, Colorado State-Pittsburgh snatches up a Heath Miller clone in the fifth round.
Fifth Round: Dakota Dozier, OG, Furman-Small-school mauler with great feet and potential to play four spots on the offensive line.
Sixth Round: Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech-Developmental prospect with tons of upside and room to grow. Dominant physical tools, but needs refinement.
Sixth Round: Antone Exum, CB, Virginia Tech-Pittsburgh takes back-to-back Hokies here. Exum could end up as a real steal this late in the draft with his physical coverage skills.
Seventh Round: Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern-Converted quarterback with tremendous athleticism and natural physical gifts. A project.