It's been a while since I posted anything draft related. I've been lurking and collecting my thoughts throughout the draft process. I just didn't have time to put anything together, especially when the combine and pro days change so much anyway. But with just over a week before the draft, it's time I get my thoughts out there.
When it comes to the Steelers, I've narrowed the first round prospects down to four players, and put together four mock drafts for each one. For those of you who are unfamiliar with a lot of these names, especially the later round picks, I've included a description of each draft with some info on each player and why I chose them.
Without further ado, the first round picks are: Jarvis Jones, Cardarrelle Patterson, Kenny Vaccaro, and.... wait for it... Manti Te'o. Sorry to those who are hoping for Tyler Eifert, but I just don't see it happening.
*- denotes player the Steelers have shown interest in during pre-draft process, according to WalterFootball.
Round 1: *OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia- 6'2", 242 lbs.
Round 2: RB Giovani Bernard, North Carolina- 5'8", 202 lbs.
Round 3: *S Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse- 5'9", 213 lbs.
Round 4: *TE Dion Sims, Michigan State- 6'5", 262 lbs.
Round 5: *WR Josh Boyce, TCU- 5'11", 206 lbs.
Round 6: OC Braxton Cave, Notre Dame- 6'3", 303 lbs.
Round 6: CB Travis Howard, Ohio State- 6'1", 196 lbs.
Round 7: DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Dame- 6'3", 304 lbs.
One of the most popular picks for the Steelers this year is Jarvis Jones. He was once considered a lock for the top 5, but injury concerns and bad numbers at his Pro Day have dropped him into Pittsburgh's range. His spinal stenosis issue has since been declared a non-issue, but teams and draft experts seem to have already made up their mind on him. In the second round, the Steelers grab a playmaker for their backfield in Bernard. He can be a dynamic returner as well as a weapon in the passing game. I could see him becoming a LeSean McCoy-type player for them.
Between Thomas, Sims, and Boyce, the Steelers grab great depth players that they have shown interest in with private workouts. All of them can provide good depth at their positions before hopefully earning starting roles in the future. In the late rounds, Cave shows promise as an effective replacement for Doug Legursky, and hopefully he can learn to play Guard as well. Howard is a project, and the Steelers have shown a tendency to draft players from Ohio State. Lewis-Moore is a player who had a good chance to go in the middle rounds, but tearing his ACL in the National Title Game put a wrench in that plan. He will absolutely start his career on the PUP list, and might have to be stashed on a team's IR altogether for his rookie season.
Round 1: WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee- 6'3", 205 lbs.
Round 2: *S Phillip Thomas, Fresno State- 6'1", 210 lbs.
Round 3: OL Barrett Jones, Alabama- 6'4", 306 lbs.
Round 4: RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina- 6'0", 218 lbs.
Round 5: ILB Nico Johnson, Alabama- 6'2", 245 lbs.
Round 6: CB Marc Anthony, California- 5'11", 196 lbs.
Round 6: QB Colin Klein, Kansas State- 6'5", 214 lbs.
Round 7: DL AJ Francis, Maryland- 6'3", 305 lbs.
Patterson is the only receiver I'd touch at 17, and even he comes with some risk as a one-year-wonder at Tennessee. Still, he has the highest ceiling of any receiver of this class and has physical gifts unlike any receiver Ben has ever worked with. He reminds me of Damaryius Thomas coming out of college, almost to a scary degree. They are very similar physically: extremely gifted but extremely raw. In the second, Thomas's best attribute is his ballhawking skills, leading the nation with 8 interceptions this year. He has some work to do in taking better angles and filling in against the run, but most of these deficiencies can be corrected with coaching.
I love the idea of pairing Jones and Lattimore together. Jones's best attribute is his versatility, as he can play any position on the offensive line, even left tackle in a pinch. He would be a great backup for Pouncey, and could battle Ramon Foster for a starting spot at Guard, which would round out a line full of top 3 picks. Lattimore would really appreciate that kind of quality from his blockers, because if not for a couple horrific knee injuries he would easily be a first round pick. Apparently he's regaining steam in scouts' eyes, though, and the 4th round might actually be a little low for him. Johnson and Anthony are depth players with decent potential to earn bigger roles in the future, while Klein is the definition of a project at QB. He displays good intangibles as a leader and great mobility, but has a Tebow-like release and needs serious development in the pocket. Francis is a DL flier, he has ideal size for a 3-4 DE but also has experience lining up at NT for Maryland.
Round 1: ILB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame- 6'1", 241 lbs.
Round 2: *WR Robert Woods, USC- 6'0", 200 lbs.
Round 3: *RB Jonathan Franklin, UCLA- 5'10", 205 lbs.
Round 4: *CB Will Davis, Utah State- 5'11", 186 lbs.
Round 5: S Robert Lester, Alabama- 6'1", 212 lbs.
Round 6: TE Joseph Fauria, UCLA- 6'7", 259 lbs.
Round 6: WR Rodney Smith, Florida State- 6'5", 218 lbs.
Round 7: OL LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech- 6'6", 330 lbs.
I know I'll catch grief from Te'o haters, but to me the facts are simple: this is a player who set the college world on fire last year, and is only discredited because of some poor testing and a severely misguided reputation which has nothing to do with football. However, when you think about how he'd fit in the Steelers defense, he makes sense. He doesn't need elite athleticism to play the Buck LB next to Timmons, and he has the football IQ to take over calling the defensive adjustments once he gets a handle on the defense. Not only that, but he's clearly very adept in zone coverage, as evidenced by his 7 INTs in his senior year. I view taking Te'o as very similar to taking Maurkice Pouncey in 2010. At the time, Pouncey was considered a late first round pick, and many people were upset the Steelers didn't trade back before taking him. But if the top pass rushers are gone, I have a hard time seeing why Te'o isn't one of the best players available at 17.
I think both Woods and Franklin would be great fits for Haley's offense, and they would give us the option of letting Emmanuel Sanders and/or Jonathan Dwyer walk after the season without a drop off. Davis is an ultra-athletic CB, and as Neal points out, shares a lot of similarities with Cortez Allen. Lester is a little underrated as a 5th round pick, in my opinion, as he proved to be an effective ballhawk for the nation's best defense over the last 3 years. Fauria and Smith are big receivers, and would give Ben some great redzone options, but have a lot of work to do in other areas of their game. Finally, Waddle was a 3 year starter at Left Tackle for Texas Tech, but has major issues blocking speed rushers and will probably have to move to the right side or inside to Guard in order to stick to an NFL roster.
Round 1: *S Kenny Vacarro, Texas- 6'1", 210 lbs.
Round 2: ILB Kevin Minter, LSU- 6'0", 246 lbs.
Round 3: WR Terrence Williams, Baylor- 6'2", 205 lbs.
Round 4: DE William Gholston, Michigan State- 6'6", 278 lbs.
Round 5: OT Xavier Nixon, Florida- 6'5', 311 lbs.
Round 6: RB Ray Graham, Pittsburgh- 5'9". 199 lbs.
Round 6: TE Michael Williams, Alabama- 6'6", 260 lbs.
Round 7: *OL Nik Embernate, San Diego State- 6'4", 300 lbs.
Dick LeBeau recently said that he wants to get younger at Safety, and Vacarro would be a great start in that regard. I think he could potentially play either Safety position for Pittsburgh, giving them a dependable option to back up both Clark and Polamalu. Minter is another linebacker prospect I like for the Buck position. He has good range against the run and can take on blocks with physicality, but is definitely not as effective in zone coverage as Te'o.
Without really trying to, I ended up filling this draft with a lot of my favorite sleepers. Many of you may have seen me chirping around draft posts about Terrence Williams; he's probably my favorite receiver prospect this year, especially if we can get him in the third. Graham has some lingering injury concerns after a 2011 knee injury, but looked stronger as the year went on and should be back to full strength for his rookie season. Meanwhile Williams showed phenomenal blocking ability for Alabama during their title run(s), and I think he has some hidden receiving talent that was underutilized during his time there. This draft also emphasizes the trenches more than the others, getting potentially great backups in Gholston, Nixon and a flier on Embernate in the 7th.
In general, I tried to emphasize wide receiver, safety, running back, and linebacker in the early rounds. As for outside linebacker, my philosophy was that unless the Steelers can get a can't-miss prospect in the first round, it was not worth adding another mid-round pick to the group of Worilds, Carter, and Robinson because it would clog the depth chart when they need to figure out what they have in those players. Also, I would've loved to include a couple other quarterbacks; but this class is simply not very talented, and a lot of guys will be overdrafted by teams desperate for signal callers. I think it will be hard for anyone to find good value at that position.
These are just a few discussion points though, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Also, it might be fun for some of you to mix and match some of these names and make your own drafts if you don't find any of these attractive.