Here's my attempt at projecting the Steelers top 20 prospects for the 2013 draft class. I've tried my best using the Steelers draft history, current team issues, and using all of the rumors floating around as to what prospects they seem interested in by interviewing them privately, at the combine, and at their pro days.
1. Eric fisher LT, Central Michigan
2. Luke Joeckel LT, Texas A&M
3. Lane Johnson LT, Oklahoma
The top three are all tackle prospects and with good reason. Not only are they three of the top players in this draft class but the Steelers will be going into the 2013 season with uncertainty at the left tackle position. Barring injury longtime stalwart Max Starks will not be on the roster, with the left tackle duties going to Marcus Gilbert. Option number two is Mike Adams but he should only be playing left tackle in emergency situations. While Gilbert has shown some promise he would be best left at right tackle, while the Steelers would be better of with Mike Adams as a reserve.
So why is Eric Fisher rated above Luke Joeckel? It's simply because of the Steelers change to a zone blocking scheme. While Joeckel is a better run blocker at this point, something that Fisher would get better at if he bulked up a bit, Fisher has the superior athletic ability combined with the added experience of playing guard.
4. Ezekiel Ansah DE/OLB, BYU
There have been conflicting reports that while the Steelers fear taking a defensive end in the first round because of the difficulty converting to outside linebacker they are also reportedly "drooling" over the potential of Ezekiel Ansah. Many have compared him to the Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, and not just because they are both from Africa. It's because they are both explosive athletes and not just for their similar size.
5. Dion Jordan DE/OLB, Oregon
While the Steelers have yet to be linked to Dion Jordan they have got to be interested in his potential as an OLB in their 3-4 system. Unlike Ansah or perhaps Barkevious Mingo, Dion Jordan has experience dropping into coverage so his conversion shouldn't be an issue. He may be the most athletically gifted prospect in this draft class.
6. Star Lotulelei NT, Utah
The recent signing of Steve McLendon to a 3-year contract might drop most nose tackles down this list but not Lotulelei. As Ezekiel Ansah might be compared to Tamba Hali, Star is getting comparisons to the Steelers hated nemesis Haloti Ngata. He's got the size to play nose tackle and the speed and pass-rush ability to play end. Another huge positive for the Steelers organization is that Lotulelei is a devoted family man and not considered a character risk in any sense.
Current defensive end Ziggy Hood is entering the final year of his contract and his sub par play may show him the door in 2014. As such there has been rampant speculation among the Steelers fan community of Steve McLendon possibly sliding over to end, opening a hole at nose tackle that Lotulelei would be perfect to fill.
7. Jarvis Jones OLB, Georgia
Jarvis Jones has been a lightening rod within the Steelers fan community but given that the Steelers entire front office, including Mike Tomlin, was on hand at his pro day when Jones ran that awful 4.92 forty and they still invited him for a private interview that shows that there's definite interest. And unlike many of the OLB prospects the Steelers would consider there's no projections needed about Jones' conversion because he played OLB in Georgia's 3-4 defense.
8. Kenny Vaccaro S, Texas
With Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu both on the wrong side of 30, plus Troys injury issues, it's not surprising that Kenny Vaccaro is high on the list. The Steelers have brought him in for a private interview so the interest is there.
9. Cordarrelle Patterson WR, Tennessee
If not for the Steelers matching the Patriots offer for Emmanuel Sanders it's likely that Patterson would be a couple spots higher on this list. The Steelers interest in him is well known at this point and he offers the big-bodied, red zone threat the Steelers have lacked from their wide receivers corp since Plaxico Burress' first stint in Pittsburgh.
10. DeMarcus Millner CB, Alabama
How is a prospect that's considered to be in the top ten overall not higher on this list? It's because while Millner is an excellent prospect, he has the size, speed, and requisite top competition faced in college, he's not well versed in zone coverage. While Alabama does employ a version of the 3-4 defense their cornerbacks play bump-and-run man coverage so Millner has absolutely no experience playing zone. For anyone worried about a defensive end's conversion to OLB they should be equally or more concerned about a CB who hasn't had to develop the instincts needed to play zone.
11. Jonathan Cooper OG, North Carolina
12. Chance Warmack OG, Alabama
The Steelers resigned Ramon Foster but that shouldn't preclude them from taking either Cooper or Warmack if their higher rated targets are off the board by 17. Warmack is the better run blocker but Cooper is far superior athletically and with as often as the Steelers pull their guards Cooper is just a better fit, especially now that they are going to a zone blocking scheme. Cooper also has the added ability to play center as well so his versatility is something that would appeal to the Steelers front office.
13. Tavon Austin WR, West Virginia
The Steelers will definitely have some interest in Tavon Austin, even though it's diminished by the resigning of Emmanuel Sanders, but they have had a lot of recent luck finding similar players in the middle rounds.
14. Desmond Trufant CB, Washington
Trufant would actually be a better fit of the Steelers defense than DeMarcus Millner. While tough and physical in man coverage, Trufant also had a healthy mix of zone while at Washington. He checks in a couple inches shorter than Millner but is just as athletic, but had he played for a more nationally prominent program like Alabama it's possible that he would be the highest rated cornerback in this draft class.
15. John Jenkins NT, Georgia
Jenkins is the classic zero technique nose tackle. He offers glimmers of a pass-rush but his game is all about the bull-rush, knocking opposing linemen down or into the backfield to disrupt the play. He's certainly not a sexy pick but a necessary one if the Steelers plan on dumping Hood next offseason and moving McLendon to end.
16. Sharrif Floyd DT/DE, Florida
17. Sheldon Richardson DT/DE, Missouri
It's highly unlikely that the Steelers would use their first round pick on a defensive end but Floyd and Richardson would definitely have to be in the conversation should the Steelers top targets be off the board.
18. Alex Okafor DE/OLB, Texas
The Steelers have shown some interest in Okafor, having interviewed him at his pro day, and he projects to play OLB in a 3-4 defense. He has the size and skill set need to play the position. At Texas they moved him around a lot to put him the optimum pass-rushing situations but he was never asked to drop back into coverage so there are conversion questions with him.
19. Justin Hunter WR, Tennessee
Justin Hunter is that other wide receiver from Tennessee. If not for an ACL tear during the 2011 season it's likely that he would be considered the top wide receiver in the 2013 draft class. Unlike Patterson who only has one year of starting experience, Hunter has been a relative mainstay in the Volunteers vertical passing attack. He was slow to start the 2012 season while shaking off the rust from his ACL injury but really started to heat up towards the end of the year and looks to be completely over the injury.
20. Barkevious Mingo DE/OLB, LSU
Mingo has the speed and quick twitch athletic ability you look for in a pass-rusher but he wasn't quite that effective in his final season at LSU and is just the sort of player that the Steelers organization will have conversion questions about. It seems unlikely that the Steelers would take him at 17 but if they traded back and he was available Mingo would be worth the gamble.