Five spots to address in five days: Odds of the Steelers taking a defensive lineman at 15

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It's usually the case the ultra-athletic defensive lineman is considered a boom-or-bust prospect, but the general consensus suggests the Steelers won't look at a defensive lineman with the 15th pick. Two of them may be really hard for the team to ignore.

We believe the best way to build a football team through the draft is to select players, not positions. The subgroup needs to be addressed, however, and we've tried to mix the two philosophies together to drill down the contenders for the 15th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft

We're eliminating quarterback, running back, interior offensive line, safety and anyone who's primary function is to kick the ball.

Outside of that, the remaining positions are considered, to varying degrees, open for the team to select in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Previous:
Outside linebacker
Offensive tackle
Wide receiver

At No. 2, defensive line

The Steelers lost two starters on its defensive line, as well as their utility player. Ziggy Hood signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Brett Keisel remains a free agent (with the possibility of returning to Pittsburgh). Al Woods signed with the Titans, leaving the Steelers with emerging star Cameron Heyward, incumbent nose tackle Steve McLendon and recently signed free agent Cam Thomas. Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams, acquisitions from last year's draft, are inexperienced but could compete for playing time.

The future of the position, though, is cloudy, at best, and the versatility of the players on the roster isn't ideal. Adding a multi-position lineman at some point is a solid bet.

Why the position needs to be addressed

Much of this is simply rooted in depth. There are two players who took significant snaps with the team last season - Heyward and McLendon. Thomas is an experienced NFL player, but he's new to the team and has basically a Prove-It contract - the $2 million roster salary for next season is easily expunged if he doesn't show he belongs in 2014.

The evaluation of Arnfelt last season was very positive, having earned a helmet in the team's last few games after having been cut in training camp and signing with the practice squad. That isn't enough to say the team is locked at the position for the next few years, however. It took Heyward three seasons to develop into what he'll be in 2014 (one of the best 5-technique players in the league), and he was a first-round pick in 2011.

While Heyward provides an excellent level of versatility, another player of that ilk would do wonders for a struggling run defense as well as an anemic pass rush. The time it's taken for younger defensive linemen to get to a point they can play consistently in the defense is long enough to think the team has to address the future of the line constantly. This year is no different.

Who are the candidates?

The two who stand out the most for the 15th pick provide that kind of versatility - Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman and Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt. While the stock of both of these players has fallen from top 15 to, at best, end of Round 1 over the months leading into the draft, both have shown the kind of strength and explosion needed to win at the line of scrimmage.

Hageman in particular. He's a tremendous athlete, if not an inconsistent one. There are questions about his motor and his desire on the field, but the tape doesn't lie. The whipping he put on Syracuse in the Gophers' bowl game in January was Hageman playing at his potential.

Tuitt is a raw, powerful athlete with the kind of athleticism and size that could be utilized as a base 5-technique defensive end who has the ability to move inside on passing downs - much like Heyward did in 2013. Scouts were turned off by a less-than-expected 2013 season in which it could be said he underachieved. He had foot surgery this offseason, but has been medically cleared.

The wild card of the group is Tuitt's teammate, NT Louis Nix III. He suffered the same kind of 2013 hangover Tuitt did, and despite having a prototypical build for a nose tackle, issues with his knee may have put him out of the first round. He could be a trade-down target, and a player most would expect the Steelers to take in the second round if he's available.

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