Pittsburgh Steelers fans finally have something to look forward to after a disappointing 8-8 season.
Let's take a look at five players on the Steelers' draft radar, in alphabetical order. Then you can vote for who you want the Steelers to draft in the first round.
The Steelers have the No. 17 pick in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. It's their highest pick since they chose Lawrence Timmons with the No. 15 pick in 2007. That worked out pretty well.
Steelers' general manager Kevin Colbert has not missed on a top-20 pick since he took over in 2000. If he can maintain that record, April 25 will be the best day to be a Steelers fan since Shaun Suisham split the uprights at Baltimore in December.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Weight: 245 pounds
Jarvis Jones presents a conundrum for any team. He's the most prolific pass-rusher in the draft but has a health problem that could shorten his career.
Jones led the nation in 2012 with 14.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss, both school records, as well as seven forced fumbles. In 2011, he led the SEC with 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks.
The Steelers might be willing to see if Jason Worilds can fill the void left by James Harrison, but those plans could change if Jones is available at No. 17. NFL.com says Jones would fit best as a 3-4 outside linebacker. That's just what the Steelers need.
The caveat to drafting Jones is his spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spine. A neck injury exposed the condition when he played at USC, and he wasn't medically cleared to return. That prompted his transfer to Georgia.
Spinal stenosis ended the careers of San Diego Chargers offensive lineman Marcus McNeill, Washington Redskins offensive lineman Chris Samuels and Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, according to NFL.com. McNeill was forced to retire at 28.
Jones has full medical clearance to play, and the spinal stenosis isn't an immediate concern. However, his work ethic might be.
Scouts at the East-West Shrine Game, according to WalterFootball.com, said that Jones doesn't exactly dedicate himself in the weight room. He might have been able to get away with that and still dominate in the SEC, but can he do it in the NFL?
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Weight: 216 pounds
The Steelers' draft spotlight is shining a little brighter on Cordarrelle Patterson with the New England Patriots signing Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet.
If the Steelers lose Sanders, they'd get a third-round draft pick as compensation. They also could match the Patriots' offer and keep Sanders.
Without Sanders, the Steelers would be left with Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress as their top three receivers. Cotchery and Burress combined for 20 receptions last season. Cotchery will be 31 next season, and Burress will be 36. Behind them on the depth chart would be such immortals as David Gilreath and Derek Moye.
The Steelers still would be thin at wide receiver if they kept Sanders. With the situation so dire, it would behoove them to select NFL Draft Scout's top-rated receiver in the draft.
Patterson "runs with the belief that no one can tackle him," NFL Draft Scout says.
A junior college transfer, Patterson has played just one season at the FBS level. But in that one season, he set a school record with 1,858 all-purpose yards and an SEC single-season record with a combined kick and punt return average of 27.6 yards.
Patterson also led the Volunteers with 10 touchdowns. Five of those came as a receiver, three as a running back and one each as a kick returner and punt returner. Patterson became the first NCAA player since 2008 to score a touchdown four different ways in the same season.
Still, if the Steelers took Patterson, they not only would have a receiver but also a kick returner and someone who's frequently been used as a running back. The Steelers still would have to pick a running back later in the draft, but at least Patterson would be good for a few carries. He'd be a multi-purpose weapon for the Steelers.
The Steelers have done well the last two times they drafted a receiver in the first round. They took Burress in 2000 and Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes in 2006.
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Weight: 210 pounds
At first glance, cornerback might seem like a primary need for the Steelers with Keenan Lewis having gone to the New Orleans Saints in free agency.
However, the Steelers got their ducks in a row preparing for Lewis' departure. Cortez Allen figures to replace Lewis as the starter opposite Ike Taylor, and the Steelers brought back William Gay to be the nickelback after he was released by Arizona.
The Steelers might seem OK at cornerback in the short term, but Taylor will be 33 next season and is coming off the first major injury of his career. Behind Gay, the depth chart doesn't look promising. Curtis Brown hasn't developed much as a cornerback in his two seasons. Josh Victorian was exposed more than a Victoria's Secret model after Taylor was injured last season.
Cornerback is a position the Steelers will look at in the first round, and Xavier Rhodes is likely to be the best one within their reach at No. 17.
Rhodes is more of a press corner, so to fit in with the Steelers he'll have to learn how to play zone. He intercepted eight passes and broke up 31 passes at Florida State. Four of his picks came in 2010. Teams shied away from throwing to his side of the field after that.
NFL Draft Scout says Rhodes is a hard hitter, although he can be undisciplined at times.
NFL.com says Rhodes is an inconsistent tackler and doesn't give the same effort if the play doesn't involve him.
If those problems can be fixed, Rhodes could provide the Steelers' cornerback corps with some size and physicality.
Kenny Vaccaro, FS, Texas
Weight: 214 pounds
If there's one thing Kenny Vaccaro can do, it's sell himself.
"I think I can line guys up. I can be a quarterback of the defense and bring that athleticism on the back end,” Vaccaro told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Vaccaro demonstrated sound tackling technique with 92 tackles in 2012, according to NFL.com. He also broke up seven passes in each of the last three seasons. In his career at Texas, Vaccaro intercepted five passes, forced four fumbles and blocked two punts.
Safety isn't an immediate need for the Steelers but could become one if Troy Polamalu suffers another injury or if anything happens to Ryan Clark.
The Steelers are aging at safety—Polamalu will be 32 next season, and Clark will turn 34—and the departure of free agent Will Allen has left them with little depth. Robert Golden and Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith are the only safeties still on the roster who saw any discernible time on the field last season.
Vaccaro is the highest-rated safety in the 2013 draft class, according to NFL Draft Scout. He's strong in man coverage and is difficult for wide receivers to block in the run game, according to NFL.com.
The Sporting News says Vaccaro "can do a little bit of everything needed at the position."
According to NFL.com, Vaccaro might not have the speed to cover elite NFL receivers. Also, the Steelers will need to look into a couple of character red flags.
Vaccaro was reportedly arrested in 2009 after a fight with another Texas student, according to NFL Draft Scout, and in 2012 for "failing to obey a lawful order."
Teams have to assume character risks in the draft. The Steelers just can't afford to take as many chances as they did in the 2012 draft.
Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Weight: 266 pounds
Bjoern Werner was regarded as a top-five prospect early in the pre-draft process. But as of April 8, Pat Kirwan and Pete Prisco of NFL Draft Scout had Werner going to the Steelers at No. 17 in their mock drafts.
NFL.com says Werner projects as a 4-3 defensive end.
These varying opinions on Werner could mean some scouts are wrong or that he's so versatile that he can do all those things.
Werner's height and weight are more similar to that of LaMarr Woodley, although his 18 career pass breakups at Florida State are more reminiscent of Keisel.
Born in Germany, Werner didn't begin playing football until he was 15. But according to NFL.com, "He has developed his football knowledge and technique substantially the past five years, flashing a top football IQ and instincts."
Werner led the ACC in 2012 with 13 sacks and led the Seminoles with 18 tackles for loss. He amassed 23.5 sacks in three years at Florida State. He's also stout against the run. NFL.com says he "swallows running backs after shedding his man in the run game, has athleticism to make tackles in space."
NFL Draft Scout says Werner can wear down late in games, although he lost 20 pounds entering 2012.
National Football Post says Werner could be a Day 1 starter as a 4-3 defensive end but might have to wait a year to start at outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
If the Steelers draft Werner, Jason Worilds would have someone looking over his shoulder as he tries to nail down the starting outside linebacker job opposite Woodley.
If the player you want the Steelers to draft in the first round isn't among these five, it's because he falls into one of the following categories:
Gone by No. 17
Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Sharrif Floyd, Dee Milliner, Dion Jordan, Lane Johnson and Star Lotulelei all will be wearing their new teams' caps by the time the Steelers pick at No. 17. The Steelers shouldn't trade up for any of them, because they would have to give up picks later in the draft. With all their immediate and long-term needs, the Steelers need as many picks as they can get in the 2013 draft.
Not worth the No. 17 pick
The Steelers can draft the following players, but it wouldn't be prudent to draft them with the No. 17 pick.
West Virginia's Tavon Austin is a fast, productive receiver. NFL Draft Scout ranks him as the No. 15 overall prospect, but at 5'9", 174 pounds, it's uncertain he can hold up at the NFL level.
Alabama's Eddie Lacy is the top running back in the draft, but he's a late first-rounder or early second-rounder, according to NFL Draft Scout.
If the Steelers would draft Austin or Lacy in the second round anyway, then why not take either one in the first round? Because with the 17th pick, the Steelers want a player who's one of the top 17 or so players in the draft, not the 25th-best or 30th-best player.
To get Austin or Lacy, the Steelers could trade out of the No. 17 spot for a later pick in the first round and get another pick or two later in the draft.
The Steelers won't draft a quarterback until Day 2 at the earliest.
They also should avoid a tight end in the first round even though they might be without Heath Miller early in the 2013 season. They brought back Matt Spaeth and shouldn't use a first-round pick to address a concern that will last only a few weeks.
After drafting David DeCastro in the first round last year and re-signing Ramon Foster, the Steelers won't be looking for any guards in the first round.
Off the board
The Steelers should avoid drafting the following players in any round:
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Brigham Young: He's too raw.
Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU: His production declined between 2011 and 2012, and he's never played outside linebacker, according to NFL Draft Scout, even though he's listed at that position.
Sheldon Richardson, DE, Missouri: NFL Draft Scout says, "There is some concern about how motivated he'll remain once he signs a big NFL contract." Next.
D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama: Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams might not inspire all the confidence in the world as the Steelers' starting tackles in 2013, but the 6'5", 339-pound Fluker wouldn't be a good fit for new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr., who prefers athleticism over size in his offensive linemen.
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