2012 NFL Draft: Analyzing Pittsburgh Steelers Pre-Draft Visits and Mock Draft

Chris Gazze@ChrisG_PITCorrespondent IApril 20, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Analyzing Pittsburgh Steelers Pre-Draft Visits and Mock Draft

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    With less than a week until draft day, the draft picture for the Pittsburgh Steelers is starting to become clear.

    They concluded their pre-draft visits this week after bringing in over 30 prospects from around college football for a closer look.

    Pittsburgh does not tip their hand when it comes to their pre-draft visits, but they come pretty darn close.

    Last year, the Steelers had visits with four of their draft picks and four of the undrafted free agents that they signed.

    Marcus Gilbert (second), Curtis Brown (third), Cortez Allen (fourth) and Keith Williams (sixth) were all in Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit, and three of them made the final roster.

    Gilbert settled in as a starting tackle, and Allen was a contributor as a defensive back in passing packages while Brown made his mark on special teams.

    Weslye Saunders, Corbin Bryant, Anthony Gray and Mario Harvey all signed with the Steelers after the draft, with Saunders making the squad as a backup tight end.

    The 2010 pre-draft visits who were drafted included Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, while four players, none of which are still on the roster, were drafted in the fifth round or later.

    If the Steelers continue this trend, expect three or four players brought into Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit to be drafted with a number of others to sign after the draft.

    Here is a position-by-position look at the Steelers' pre-draft visits.

Running Back

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    The Steelers have a lot of depth in their backfield, but lack a true game-breaking threat.

    There is a lot of power with Isaac Redman and John Clay, a more balanced back in Jonathan Dwyer and a good prospect for a third-down back with Baron Batch.

    This is a well-rounded back field, but the Steelers need speed, something that they lack without Rashard Mendenhall.

    Pittsburgh brought in LaMichael James and Isaiah Pead for pre-draft visits. Both should go between the second and fourth round, and they would provide the Steelers with a role playing back who have the ability to break a big play.

    James is an elite athlete who averaged 7.3 yards per carry last season while running for 1,805 yards and 18 touchdowns. For his career, James averaged an impressive 6.6 yards per carry and finished with 53 rushing touchdowns.

    The Steelers would not need James to start, but would use him as a change-of-pace back. He has decent hands as a receiver and Todd Haley could surely find a creative way to use him as a second option to the power running of Redman.

    Pead is a back that the Steelers have shown a lot of interest in, and for good reason. He was the MVP of the Senior Bowl and, like James, he may not be a feature back, but he offers a lot of versatility.

    While Pead is not the home run threat that James is (averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season and 6.0 for his career), he is a more accomplished receiver with 39 receptions last season and is a better blocker.

    Both players could find a spot in the offense almost immediately as a third-down back or second option to Redman. They each can impact in the return game as well.

Tight End

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    Pittsburgh has a quality tight end with Heath Miller, but will look to upgrade behind him and possibly find a legitimate option to add a threat in the passing game.

    The Steelers signed Leonard Pope, and they still have Wesyle Saunders, though he is suspended for the first four games of the season.

    This is a relatively weak draft class, but there are some quality tight ends that will be available who visited Pittsburgh, headlined by Ladarius Green.

    Green is a mid-round prospect who has great size at 6'6" and runs very well with a 4.53-second 40-yard dash.

    The problem with Green is that he is a pure receiver at this point, and given his weight, 238 pounds, he looks to be primarily a receiving tight end at the next level. That is not a bad thing for how the NFL is played today.

    It is hard to argue against his production, as Green has 149 career receptions and had 15 touchdowns over the past two seasons.

    Pittsburgh could wait a little longer and take Michael Egnew, who caught 50 passes last season and 90 in 2010.

    Egnew is an inch shorter than Green and is a bit heavier, which affects his speed. Even so, Egnew has the speed to be a receiving threat.

    David Paulson is a limited upside prospect for late in the draft who could challenge David Johnson for the H-back role.

    Pittsburgh also visited with Adrien Robinson.

Wide Receiver

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    Stephen Hill may have more upside than any other player in the draft.

    Hill can run a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash. Combining that with his 6'4" frame and leaping ability, he can become one of the top receiving threats in the league.

    While at Georgia Tech, Hill was not given a lot of opportunities, but he did make the most of them, averaging 29.3 yards per reception on 28 receptions last season. He only had 49 for his career.

    Coming from a running offense, Hill is a good blocker, but has not refined his route-running skills. His ceiling is extremely high and could add another dynamic threat to Pittsburgh's offense.

    T.Y. Hilton is a small-school receiver with elite speed, but is undersized at just under 5'10" 183 pounds.

    Despite his lack of size, Hilton is a solid route runner and profiles as a potential slot receiver in the NFL. He put up 72 receptions for 1,083 yards last season and seven touchdowns.

    Hilton can also impact the return game, an area that the Steelers need help with Antonio Brown focusing on being a starting receiver.

    If the Steelers wanted a bigger option, they could look to Gregory Childs, a 6'3" receiver. Childs had a blazing sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash time at his pro day after putting up a 4.55 at the combine.

    Childs had a down year last season coming off a knee injury.

    The Steelers also brought in Keshawn Martin and Toney Clemons as potential late-round or undrafted prospects.


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    One of Pittsburgh's biggest needs is at guard and this is a deep draft for the position. The Steelers brought in mostly mid- and lower-level school prospects who have pretty high upsides.

    The most intriguing prospect is Amini Silatolu of Midwestern State.

    Silatolu is all about upside, and he has a lot of it.

    At 6'3", 311 pounds, Silatolu has some room to grow and improve his already good strength. He is also athletic, something that the Steelers need on their line.

    However, he would be a work in progress, given the level of competition that he played against.

    Brandon Brooks was not invited to the combine, but he was invited to Pittsburgh.

    He is a force in the ground game, in part due to his 346 pound frame. Those weight issues could be a concern, as it may limit his athleticism at the next level.

    Brooks stock is pretty high after having a solid performance at the East-West Shrine game.

    Lucas Nix is a Pitt product who never achieved his full potential, but was a solid player.

    He is a better run blocker than pass blocker, and has experience at both tackle and guard.

    Kelvin Beachum is a late-round or undrafted free-agent prospect.

Defensive End

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    Derek Wolfe is a great prospect to play defensive end in the Steelers' system. There is a need for depth at the position with the retirement of Aaron Smith.

    Wolfe had an extremely productive year at Cincinnati last season, registering 70 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks.

    At 6'5" and 295 pounds, Wolfe has the size necessary to play the run at defensive end and already has the ability to get to the quarterback. He would be a great project to work with John Mitchell.

    Chas Alecxih of Pitt also visited.

Nose Tackle

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    Casey Hampton is coming off of an ACL injury and Steve McLendon is a quality backup, but does not to be a full-time starter. For these reasons, and the importance of nose tackle in the Steelers defense, it is one of their biggest needs.

    Dontari Poe is one of the most polarizing players in this year's draft.

    Analysts fell in love with his unbelievable performance at the combine, but then remembered that he was not overly productive while at Memphis.

    Poe is unbelievably strong and his massive body (6'4" and 346 pounds) make him a perfect fit to anchor the center of a defense.

    Though he was never dominant and has many things to work on, John Mitchell always strips defensive linemen of what they know, and then build them up. Poe has the potential to be an elite defender, but is a risky choice.

    Hebron Fangupo is a stout nose tackle who could be had later in the draft. Akiem Hicks and John Hughes could be late picks or undrafted free agents.

Outside Linebacker

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    Pittsburgh brought in more outside linebackers than any position. Does that mean that they are not satisfied with the development of Jason Worilds and Chris Carter?

    James Harrison cannot play forever, and the Steelers need to find an answer to play opposite of LaMarr Woodley. Nick Perry could be that guy.

    Perry is an athletic 6'3", 271-pound defensive end who would convert to outside linebacker in the Steelers' defense.

    At USC, Perry had 21.5 sacks in three seasons and had a career-best season last year with 54 tackles and 13 tackles for a loss.

    Perry has the size to play well against the run, and has proven to be productive at getting to the quarterback. There are reports that he has been stiff in his workouts, so he will be a work in progress dropping into coverage.

    Andre Branch is another top prospect who exploded last season with 85 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks.

    Branch is taller than Perry at 6'4", but only weighs 259 and had a slower 40-yard dash time.

    Clemson has produced a lot of quality pass rushers lately, and Branch would like to join that list. He would also have to convert to outside linebacker which will take time.

    Cameron Johnson is a mid-round prospect who is a better pass rusher than run defender. He doesn't have the athleticism as the top two prospects, but would not command such a high investment.

    Pittsburgh brought Olivier Vernon, Pitt products Brandon Lindsey and Greg Williams as well.

Inside Linebacker

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    Dont'a Hightower has been a favorite of mock drafts for a while now.

    Hightower has plenty of experience in the 3-4 defense, and his football intelligence is very high, making him an ideal replacement for James Farrior.

    While Hightower is not the fastest linebacker and could struggle in coverage. He maintains his assignments well, and would be a force in the middle of the Steelers' defense. He can also line up as a rush end on passing downs.

    If the Steelers want a more athletic linebacker, Mychal Kendricks could be an option.

    Kendricks ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash, but is undersized at 5'11" and 239 pounds, a contrast to the 6'2", 265-pound Hightower.

    The small stature may not be a problem, since he can run with the speedy tight ends and running backs in the league.

    Kendricks was outstanding last season with 106 tackles, 14.5 for a loss and three sacks. He had 8.5 sacks in 2010.

    Jerrell Harris and Max Gruder also visited the Steelers.


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    Pittsburgh drafted two quality cornerbacks last season, so it may not be a high-priority position in this draft.

    However, that does not mean the Steelers will not select one. They lost William Gay to the Arizona Cardinals, and Ike Taylor is a year older.

    Keith Tandy is a late-round prospect who had a productive college career. He had 24 passes broken up and 13 interceptions.

    Pittsburgh also brought in Jeremy Jones of Wayne State and Antwuan Reed of Pitt.

Round-by-Round Analysis of Prospect Visits

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    Here is a round-by-round breakdown of the Steelers draft board according to Matt Miller’s NFL draft big board.

    First Round

    8. Nick Perry, OLB, USC

    22. Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech

    24. Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama

    28. Andre Branch, OLB, Clemson

    29. Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

    Second Round

    35. Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis

    47. Mitchell Schwartz, OT, California

    Third Round

    71. Cameron Johnson, OLB, Virginia

    73. Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati

    76. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

    83. Mychal Kendricks, ILB, California

    87. Amini Silatolu, OG, Midwestern State

    92. Bobby Massie, OT, Mississippi

    Fourth Round

    100. Greg Childs, WR, Arkansas

    110. Ladarius Green, TE, Louisiana-Lafayette

    127. Brandon Brooks, OG, Miami (Ohio)

    Fifth Round

    144. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Florida International

    152. Derek Wolfe, DE, Cincinnati

    156. Lucas Nix, OG, Pitt

    160. Olivier Vernon, OLB, Miami

    Sixth Round

    191. Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia

    196. Brandon Lindsey, OLB, Pitt

    Seventh Round

    214. Hebron Fangupo, NT, BYU

    220. Akiem Hicks, NT, Regina (Canada)

    231. Max Gruder, ILB, Pitt


    257. David Paulson, TE, Oregon

    294. Kelvin Beachum, OG, Southern Methodist (294)

    320. Jerrell Harris, OLB, Alabama (320)

    323. Keshawn Martin, WR, Michigan State (323)

    Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado (unranked)

    Adrien Robinson, TE, Cincinnati (unranked)

    Chas Alecxih, DE, Pitt (unranked)

    Greg Williams, OLB, Pitt (unranked)

    John Hughes, NT, Cincinnati (unranked)

    Jeremy Jones, CB, Wayne State (unranked)

    Antwuan Reed, CB, Pitt (unranked)

Prospect Visit Mock Draft

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    Here are the rules:

    The players selected can only come from the list that visited the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

    Players cannot be drafted past their ranking on the big board. For example, since the Steelers select 24th in the first-round, Nick Perry (8) and Stephen Hill (22) cannot be selected because they are rated ahead of the Steelers selection slot.

    1.24: Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis

    Nose tackle is the most important position in the Steelers' defense. Poe may need a year to develop, but the Steelers have time with Hampton coming back for one more season.

    2.56: Mychal Kendricks, ILB, California

    Farrior played just fine as an undersized linebacker, so I anticipate no issues with Kendricks. His athleticism is unbelievable, and he will make a nice pairing with Lawrence Timmons

    3.86: Amini Silatolu, OG, Midwestern State

    Silatolu may need time to develop, but his upside is very high and he fills one of the Steelers' biggest needs.

    4.119 – Derek Wolfe, DE, Cincinnati

    A great prospect to play defensive line this late in the draft. The Steelers invested a lot in the position with Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward, but remember that Brett Keisel cannot play forever.

    5.159 – Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia

    With the passing game so open, cornerbacks are a must. Pittsburgh’s depth is pretty good right now, but they need to keep the depth chart full.

    6.193 – Hebron Fangupo, NT, BYU

    Best player available at this point.

    7.231 – David Paulson, TE, Oregon

    Competition for David Johnson.

    7.240 – Keshawn Martin, WR, Michigan State

    Attempt to find a diamond in the rough late in the draft, as they did with Antonio Brown.

    7.246 – Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado

    See previous selection.

    7.248 – Jeremy Jones, CB, Wayne State

    Small-school prospect with some ability. Will try at safety as well.

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