I've been somewhat quiet so far this draft season, but not to worry. I've been lurking and gathering as much information as possible for the past few weeks. I've now put together my list of prospects the Steelers should be targeting in the first round. I'll continue to post these in the coming months, and work my way down to the later-round prospects.
*prospects are in no particular order*
ILB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame- 6'2", 255 lbs.
Te'o has been phenomenal this year and has gained notoriety for being a rare defensive player nominated for the Heisman Trophy. My concern going into the National Championship game was that he benefitted too greatly from playing behind a dominant defensive line that could send 2 players into the top 15 of the 2014 Draft (Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix). Throughout the year Te'o was able to drop into coverage while his front four put tons of pressure on the QB. This helped him grab 7 INTs on the year, but by my count 5 of them were fluky passes that were either tipped or were passes that should have never been thrown by the QB. Unfortunately, my worst fears were realized against Alabama, as the the line was overwhelmed by an NFL caliber OL and Te'o was exposed. After flopping in the Title game, Te'o should no longer be viewed as a top 10 pick, and 3-4 teams will have to question whether he can take on blockers at the NFL level. Still, you have to give him credit for making splash plays, lucky as they were; and you must also remember that Te'o was still a 1st round prospect going into the season, before his DL became the dominant unit it was this year.
ILB Alec Ogletree, Georgia- 6'3", 236 lbs.
With Ogletree, the Steelers first and foremost have to decide whether to keep him on their board. He was suspended for the first 4 games of the season for failing multiple drug tests. If after their interviews they think he is worth the pick, they might just be getting the best athlete in this year's draft. A former Safety, Ogletree flies across the field and has excellent range. He even has room to add about 10 lbs without losing much speed, which would help him in taking on offensive linemen in our 3-4. I see him as every bit the prospect Te'o is, but the intangibles are no contest.
WR Terrence Williams, Baylor- 6'2"- 201 lbs.
Williams in my opinion should be the #1 receiver on the Steelers' draft board. The concern with him going into the season was that he wouldn't be able to match the production he had with Robert Griffin III. All he did was lead the nation with 1,832 receiving yards on 97 catches. That 18.9 yards per catch rate shows how great a deep threat he can be. But what I found most impressive was his ability to take a short screen and make it a productive play, something Todd Haley will love about him. I think he could be the receiver we wanted Mike Wallace to be.
S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas- 6'1", 215 lbs.
Vaccaro is widely considered the top Safety of the class, and the only one I would consider for the first round as of now. He spent a lot of time covering slot receivers and dropping into deep coverage. He also has the size and willingness to fill in against the run when asked. He seems versatile enough to backup both Clark and Polamalu while he learns the system and would be a good pick to ensure the future success of our defensive backfield.
OLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU- 6'5", 240 lbs.
Mingo is one of the more interesting prospects of the draft. He has a great first step and is explosive in his movements, but when that doesn't work he has no answers. He finished the year with only 4.5 sacks because he lacks any counter moves and is very raw in most parts of his game. Still, teams will salivate over his potential the way they did over Aldon Smith two years ago. A team that falls in love with him could take him in the top 10, but the lack of production will scare other teams away. He's one of the bigger boom-or-bust prospects of this class.
DT Jesse Williams, Alabama- 6'4"- 320 lbs.
Kevin Colbert will have to take a long look at Williams and decide if he thinks he can play DE in a 3-4. Williams has some experience playing there at Alabama, but I'm still unconvinced he would be able to do it at the NFL level. If the answer is yes, Williams would be a great pick to push both Ziggy Hood and Steve McLendon for playing time since both will only be under contract for one more year. He is still very raw, having only started playing football when he was 15, but he is also as impressive physically as anyone at his position this year.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee- 6'3"- 200 lbs.
While I believe Terrence Williams would be the best fit for Haley's offense, that does not mean he is the only receiver the Steelers should consider taking in the first round. Patterson is a one-hit-wonder because he's only had one productive season, but his elite size-to-speed ratio will have him skyrocket up boards when he blows up the combine. He wasn't otherworldly, but was a good deep threat with 16.9 yards per catch and even had 308 yards rushing with 3 rushing TDs on the year.
OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon- 6'6"- 239 lbs.
Jordan is tailor-made for a 3-4 defense. He has great length and while he is still developing his pass rush skills (only 5 sacks in 2012) he shows good speed in getting to the QB. What LeBeau will love about this kid is that he already shows a great ability to drop into coverage. He can line up on both sides of the defense and should be impressive at the combine. I expect his stock to rise as the draft process goes on.
TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame- 6'6", 251 lbs.
Eifert was the top receiving option on an undefeated team, so he must have been doing something right. He has good size for a TE, and is surprisingly well-rounded despite his reputation as a pure receiver. With Heath Miller's injury, the Steelers don't know what their TE group will look like to start next season. Drafting Eifert would ensure Ben another security blanket over the middle. It would also allow Haley to use more 2 TE sets when both are healthy, which would help confuse the defense when trying to guess pass or run. Think about the Patriots, it's no coincidence their running game was revived once their TE's became legitimate receiving threats.
OG Chance Warmack, Alabama- 6'2"- 322 lbs.
With rumors that the Steelers might be finally giving up on Willie Colon, Warmack could be a realistic option in the first round. He is as dominating physically as they come, and is a rare OG who could go in the top 10. However, if he falls to 17 due to positional value, he could be a steal like DeCastro last year. Personally, I would like to see us keep Colon since he was really starting to grow into his new position, but I'm not the one who has to keep paying him to sit on the trainer's table.