If the Steelers will ever again draft a cornerback in the first round, this is the year to do it, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.
In a conference call with ESPN NFL Nation reporters Thursday, Kiper spoke specifically on the burgeoning battle between Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard - widely considered the two best cornerbacks available in this draft.
"This is the year to get one," Kiper said of the Steelers taking a cornerback, wrote ESPN's Scott Brown. "A corner, wide receiver, d-line and o-line would be the positions of need, I think for the Steelers."
He referred to Gilbert as 1, and Dennard as 1a as far as the top corners in this draft.
The Steelers are retaining veteran CB Ike Taylor on a restructured one-year contract. Cortez Allen is a free agent in 2015, and William Gay's contract is up in 2016. There is little to no depth behind those three, making it highly likely the Steelers look to invest in a cornerback early in this draft.
Gilbert's athleticism is rivaled by very few in the draft and even in the league. Dennard is a savvy, solid player who likely could see the field with better results earlier than Gilbert. Given Gilbert's athleticism and potential, he's a possible top 10 pick, while Dennard appears more suited for the late teens.
The other positions Kiper mentioned are also likely targets at some point in the NFL Draft - which runs from May 8-11. The Steelers have picks in each round, along with two picks in the fifth and sixth rounds.
The Steelers have nine offensive linemen signed heading into the draft, including four of five starters from 2014. The one exception being the return of All Pro center Maurkice Pouncey. Still, that doesn't preclude the notion of the team taking a tackle, given the up-and-down career to this point of Marcus Gilbert, who is playing in the last year of his rookie contract - he was a second round pick in 2011. The Steelers have also had night-and-day performances from 2012 second round pick Mike Adams. A seventh-round pick from that draft, Kelvin Beachum, started at left tackle for the team's final 12 games after Adams was benched and Levi Brown, acquired from Arizona last year, was lost for the year.
They lost Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery to free agency. It appears the plan is to replace Sanders with second-year WR Markus Wheaton, and Lance Moore was signed to take over Cotchery's slot duties. In a deep receiver draft, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Steelers looking to add one in one of the first three rounds.
They added defensive lineman Cam Thomas to help fill the void of Ziggy Hood (signed with Jacksonville) and Brett Keisel (expired contract, still unsigned), but with just two players behind them, 2013 seventh-round pick Nick Williams and undrafted free agent Brian Arnfelt, the Steelers may want to bring in another younger player to develop.