Pittsburgh Steelers: 7-Round Mock Draft and Top-100 Big Board
With less than two weeks until the 2016 NFL draft, general manager Kevin Colbert has a clear plan in mind for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Already with a championship-caliber offense in place, he will focus his attention toward the defensive side of the ball.
Prior to the NFL Scouting Combine, Colbert was upfront when discussing the draft, explaining the talent pool is deep with defenders, per Bob Labriola of Steelers.com:
It looks like it’s more of a defensive draft. The secondary looks to be a deep position, both at safety and at cornerback at this point. Again, we are still guessing on a lot of the underclassmen that we talked about earlier. We don’t know sizes, speeds, or personalities, especially on those kids.
In the next couple of weeks, once we get through the combine and the next couple of months with pro days, we will have a much better feel for it. But at this point, where we stand with our evaluations, it looks like it will be more of a defensive draft. But the secondary is deeper than it has been for sure.
Even with the defense showing signs of improvement under first-year defensive coordinator in 2015, the Steelers must upgrade their talent in the defensive backfield. Given the depth at both cornerback and safety, this is the perfect draft for Pittsburgh to invest heavily in the back end of the defense.
The front seven is in good shape assuming the young talent continues to develop. Over the past five years, the Steelers have invested five first- or second-round draft choices on defensive linemen and linebackers. With a starter for every position except nose tackle, the front office can focus on upgrading the depth at each position.
Offensively, the Steelers are set for what could be another record-setting season. Despite losing Heath Miller and Kelvin Beachum from a talented offense, Colbert wasted no time finding replacements. He added Ladarius Green to take over at tight end and Ryan Harris to compete with incumbent Alejandro Villanueva for the starting spot at left tackle.
With a plan in place, the Steelers will look for the best possible fits in the draft to take another step closer to building a championship contender. To preview this, here is a look at Pittsburgh’s top-100 big board and full mock draft.
Top 100 Big Board
Between the Senior Bowl, scouting combine, pro days and predraft visits, Colbert, Mike Tomlin and the rest of of the Steelers staff have spent the past few months scouting hundreds of prospects. Whether it is a potential top-10 selection or undrafted free agent, the front office wants to leave no stone unturned.
This process provided insight to the top players available for the Steelers when the draft begins in less than two weeks. When putting together a big board, teams must consider production, potential and team need. As a result, some prospects—such as Jared Goff and Carson Wentz—are left off the board. Other times, a higher-rated prospect is ranked below a lower-rated prospect
Here is a look at the top 100 prospects the Steelers will target during the 2016 draft.
|1||Jalen Ramsey||CB||Florida State|
|2||Joey Bosa||EDGE||Ohio State|
|3||Laremy Tunsil||T||Ole Miss|
|6||Vernon Hargreaves III||CB||Florida|
|7||Ronnie Stanley||T||Notre Dame|
|10||William Jackson III||CB||Houston|
|13||Laquon Treadwell||WR||Ole Miss|
|14||Noah Spence||EDGE||Eastern Kentucky|
|15||Vernon Butler||DL||Louisiana Tech|
|16||Eli Apple||CB||Ohio State|
|19||Taylor Decker||T||Ohio State|
|20||Karl Joseph||SS||West Virginia|
|22||Darian Thompson||FS||Boise State|
|26||Jack Conklin||T||Michigan State|
|28||Vonn Bell||SS||Ohio State|
|29||Kamalei Correa||EDGE||Boise State|
|30||Darron Lee||LB||Ohio State|
|31||Ezekiel Elliott||RB||Ohio State|
|32||Emmanuel Ogbah||EDGE||Oklahoma State|
|34||Michael Thomas||WR||Ohio State|
|37||Chris Jones||DL||Mississippi State|
|41||Austin Johnson||DL||Penn State|
|44||Shilique Calhoun||EDGE||Michigan State|
|46||Will Fuller||WR||Notre Dame|
|47||Robert Nkemdiche||DL||Ole Miss|
|48||Braxton Miller||WR||Ohio State|
|50||Harlan Miller||CB||SE Louisiana|
|51||Kendall Fuller||CB||Virginia Tech|
|53||Will Redmond||CB||Mississippi State|
|55||Jaylon Smith||LB||Notre Dame|
|56||Carl Nassib||DL||Penn State|
|57||Javon Hargrave||DL||South Carolina State|
|62||Germain Ifedi||T||Texas A&M|
|67||DeAndre Houston-Carson||FS||William & Mary|
|68||Adolphus Washington||DL||Ohio State|
|69||D.J. White||CB||Georgia Tech|
|73||Cody Whitehair||OL||Kansas State|
|74||C.J. Prosise||RB||Notre Dame|
|76||Nick Martin||C/G||Notre Dame|
|77||Miles Killebrew||SS||Southern Utah|
|79||Deiondre Hall||FS||Northern Iowa|
|81||Sheldon Day||DL||Notre Dame|
|84||Le'Raven Clark||T||Texas Tech|
|86||Nick Vannett||TE||Ohio State|
|88||Rees Odhiambo||G/T||Boise State|
|89||Joshua Perry||LB||Ohio State|
|90||Justin Simmons||FS||Boston College|
|92||Christian Westerman||G||Arizona State|
|95||Dak Prescott||QB||Mississippi State|
|97||Kyler Fackell||EDGE||Utah State|
|98||K.J. Dillon||FS||West Virginia|
|99||Joe Haeg||T||North Dakota State|
Round 1, Pick 25: William Jackson III, CB, Houston
Colbert and Tomlin may make the personnel decisions during the offseason, but team president Art Rooney II gave them a direction—improve the pass defense.
“If you look at us statistically, we weren't where we'd like to be in terms of pass defense, and so that's an area we know we want to improve upon,” Rooney said, via Bob Labriola of Steelers.com. “We certainly made progress on defense. We got better as the year went on, but we all agree we need to be better in general as a pass defense.”
In terms of improving the pass defense, Houston cornerback William Jackson III is the best option and the Steelers are not hiding their interest.
“For the head coach to come down here, that's a big deal,” Jackson told Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “I was like, ‘Wow, they're here to see me.’ It was crazy, I never thought I'd be in that predicament. That was a great atmosphere and a great dinner. It's a blessing to go from not talked about to talked about.”
Already an impressive physical specimen at 6’0” and 189 pounds, Jackson put himself in the first-round discussion after he blew up the combine with a 4.37-second 40-yard dash. Beyond his workout numbers, he was a key piece of Houston’s defense last year with five interceptions and 23 pass breakups.
The Steelers have not taken a cornerback in the first round since 1997, but 2016 will finally be the year they break this trend. With a front seven loaded with high draft picks, it's time for Pittsburgh to turn its attention to the secondary, and selecting Jackson at pick No. 25 would be a coup for Colbert and Tomlin.
Round 2, Pick 58: Karl Joseph, SS, West Virginia
The Steelers are more than a cornerback away from fixing the secondary. With the loss of Will Allen and Robert Golden set to move into the starting lineup, there is an immediate need to find an upgrade at safety.
Karl Joseph has first-round talent, but has a chance to fall into the second round as he recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in a non-contact drill last season. Before the injury, he was one of college football's hottest defenders, leading the nation with five interceptions through four weeks and nine for his career.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler would love to have that type of playmaker roaming the secondary. Joseph would provide Pittsburgh’s defense not only with a safety capable in man coverage, but also with one willing to step up and play a physical brand of football, as described by Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com:
"Pound-for-pound one of the most physical players in the country and plays much tougher than he looks. He loves violent contact and times his hits well to jar the ball loose. He plays fast and low to the ground to generate his power as a tackler, using leverage and reckless abandon as a finisher."
Joseph has quick reflexes to make explosive decisions and movements, shooting out of a cannon with an aggressive play style and never attacking half-speed. He strikes through his target and is a big hit waiting to happen.
By the end of the draft's second day, the Steelers will have totally transformed their secondary. While Jackson would provide the Steelers with a much-needed shutdown cornerback, Joseph has the potential to develop into the quarterback of the secondary for the next decade.
Round 3, Pick 89: Jihad Ward, DE, Illinois
Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt provide the Steelers with one of the most talented defensive end duos in the league. However, these two players rarely leave the field, and the Steelers are interested in adding a player who can help ease the load.
Jihad Ward is a talented prospect Mike Tomlin paid careful attention to while at the Senior Bowl, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He added, Tomlin encouraged the defensive end with: “Let’s go 17.”
Ward gained more than Tomlin’s attention for his Senior Bowl performance. Eric Galko of Bleacher Report believed he was a player on the rise:
Illinois' defensive lineman Jihad Ward certainly maximized his 2016 Senior Bowl opportunity, impressing physically at his weigh-in and throughout the week of practice. Entering the week with zero buzz, Ward left Mobile, Alabama, forcing scouts to re-evaluate his game film and see if his flashes at the Senior Bowl could be more than just flashes at the NFL level.
At 6’5” and 297 pounds, Ward has perfect size to play defensive end in Pittsburgh’s defensive scheme. He has the mass to hold the edge against the run, yet has enough strength to penetrate and make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Ward would not make an instant impact as a rookie. Instead, developing into a rotational player by the end of the season would be an accomplishment. His ability to play the inside would provide the coaching staff with another option with the four-man line in sub-packages.
Round 4, Pick 123: Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina
Already stacked with some of the league's most talented skill-position offensive talent, the Steelers looked to be in even better position heading into the 2016 season with star running back Le’Veon Bell's return and receiver Sammie Coates' development.
That all changed with news that Martavis Bryant was suspended one year for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Wide receiver instantly became an offseason need, albeit not a significant one.
Antonio Brown is still a star. Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey provide additional veteran options. Coates, who is entering his second year, is poised for a breakout season following a strong performance in his playoff debut.
But with four receivers with at least 20 receptions last year, the Steelers are one injury away from lacking the options necessary for Ben Roethlisberger to spread the ball around.
Pharoh Cooper is an intriguing mid-round option for the Steelers. Even though he doesn’t pop out with impressive size or speed, he is an excellent athlete who was highly productive while at South Carolina. Over the past two seasons, he finished with 135 receptions for 2,109 yards and 20 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Cooper proved to be a versatile player as well with 513 rushing yards in his three-year career. He also contributed as a punt and kick returner—two areas the Steelers must address prior to training camp.
Dane Brugler and Rob Rang of CBSSports.com believe his versatility will make him a valuable commodity for NFL teams:
Cooper is an electric athlete in the open field with light feet and creative moves to easily redirect his momentum without slowing down. And those change of direction skills allow him to separate in his routes with the speed and vision to eliminate pursuit angles. Cooper lacks ideal size and strength, but can impact the game in several ways on offense and special teams, which boosts his NFL value.
Kevin Colbert has struck gold with mid-round wide receivers, and Cooper could be next in line.
Round 6, Pick 220: Cory James, LB, Colorado State
The Steelers are always in the market for linebackers, and they have some inside information on Cory James.
Joey Porter coached James when he was a defensive assistant at Colorado State in 2013. Now Porter has input on Pittsburgh’s draft as the Steelers’ outside linebackers coach.
“This isn't just business. It's personal,” Porter told Cameron Wolfe of the Denver Post. “It's more than football with me and Cory. I know who he is as a man.”
The personal relationship between Porter and James may be enough to get the talented linebacker to Pittsburgh. Although undersized at 6’0” and 229 pounds, he is a proven playmaker and has potential as an edge defender at the next level because of his ability to rush the quarterback.
Lance Zierlein of NFL.com explained what makes James so good at getting to the quarterback:
Used as an edge rusher in obvious passing downs during his time at Colorado State. Rushes with upfield burst and is able to dip and bend under the arc to attack the passer. Made switch to middle linebacker in this year and improved along the way. Athletic in space and accelerates into his tackles. Flashes awareness needed to weave under traffic and find running backs.
James had 22 sacks over his first three years before adding only two as a senior while playing middle linebacker. He also had 41.5 career tackles for a loss.
James has the athletic skills to succeed in the NFL, but he will have to refine his technique and get strong if he wants to find a role in Pittsburgh’s defense. Of course, his connection with Porter will only help with this transition.
Round 7, Pick 229: Tavon Young, CB, Temple
Whether it was drafting Senquez Golson in the second round last year or starting Antwon Blake on the outside—both 5’9” inches—the Steelers do not shy away from small cornerbacks.
Tavon Young is built in a similar mold, but has not let his size hold him back. He plays a physical style of football, highlighted by Eric Galko of Bleacher Report:
"Young offers both initial physicality in press coverage and the ability to knock a receiver off-balance in his initial route. He can hold his hands tight to his body and keep his receiver vertical to make the pass-catcher uncomfortable in tracking the ball."
He is effective at diverting a receiver's route by accurately and subtly positioning his hands in a receiver's chest plate off the press or under the arm during the route, a skill set that few college corners truly possess. His physicality isn’t without concern, however, as he often has “either-or” penalty calls that go against him.
The Steelers can live with that if he is capable in coverage. Over the course of his career, Young finished with seven interceptions and 21 passes defended. However, four of those came as a junior and he finished his senior year with no interceptions.
According to Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, Young “allowed a passer rating of just 46.9 to opposing quarterbacks when targeted in 2014, but 80.8 in 2015.”
Young’s downward trend is a concern, but if he can regain his 2014 form, he has the chance to be a sub-package player in the NFL.
Round 7, Pick 246: Caleb Benenoch, OL, UCLA
Ben Roethlisberger is the most valuable asset on the Steelers, which is a reason why the team heavily invested into stockpiling talent along the offensive line. Yet, all seemed lost when Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum went down with season-ending injuries.
Losing 40 percent of the offensive line could devastate many teams in the NFL, but not the Steelers. Under the guidance of Mike Munchak, Cody Wallace and Alejandro Villanueva stepped into the lineup and helped pave the way for one of the top offensive units in the league.
These two backups' performances highlighted the importance of having quality depth along the offensive line. Even with the addition of tackle Ryan Harris, the Steelers have room for a developmental player with the ability to play multiple positions.
Curt Popejoy of Steelers Wire believes Benenoch’s style of play would be a nice addition to the offensive line:
Benenoch is a finesse tackle that doesn’t play with a ton of power, but excellent technique. He could make a nice guard in a scheme that requires a kid that can get to the next level and work in space. The Steelers have plenty of maulers and so adding a player like Benenoch that brings more athleticism would be welcome.
Benenoch’s athleticism will work well on the outside at tackle, but he will need to add size and strength to his 6’5” and 305-pound frame to shift inside to guard. He is purely a developmental player, but one that Munchak could eventually turn into a quality backup.