We have all heard it a thousand times (at least). This is one of the deepest drafts to happen in quite some time. There are about 6-7 "special" players coming out of this draft that could be superstars, but many, many players that can and will make a difference in their rookie season.
The Steelers are in an interesting rebuild/transition mode that no one wants to admit is happening, but it actually is. With many long time veterans and fan favorites exitingthe steelers over the last few years, the team that won championships is almost unrecognizable now. That is not the end of the bleeding either. Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, and Heath Miller are also nearing the end of their decorated careers. All that in addition to the pending loss of Brett Keisel and the loss of Lamarr Woodley and Ryan Clark and I would say that the Steelers are definitely in a transition period.
The Steelers made a couple quiet moves so far in free agency this year and the player pool is quickly diminishing in talent that could impact our team. I believe that the front office made a very good acquisition with the addition of Mike Mitchell FS and a good project move on Cam Thomas DT. As per the usual for the Steelers, the draft will be how we build up our team.
I have read many mock drafts over the past couple of months since the Steelers season ended with a shanked field goal by none other than Ryan Succop of the Kansas City Chiefs. As you can imagine I have seen many names linked to the Steelers in that time span. Given that none of the off season talent evaluations of potential draftees had started, it was a crapshoot trying to figure out who could possibly go to the Steelers.
With the NFL Draft a month and a half away the picture of who the Steelers need and who we might get has become a little clearer. Below is a list of players I have seen mentioned and an explanation of them:
- C.J. Mosley ILB Alabama - Mosley is a highly intelligent ILB that is a student of the game. He doesn't have amazing athletic tools at his disposal, but he makes up for it in knowledge of the game and instincts. Given that our run defense dropped dramatically last year, and many attributed that to Larry Foote's injury and rookie, Vince Williams filling in the whole year, many believe C.J. Mosley to be the answer.
- Ryan Shazier ILB/OLB Ohio State - Athletic freak at linebacker. Wowed everyone at his Pro Day by running and unofficial 4.36 40 yard dash. At 6'1" 237 pounds that is very impressive. He is a team leader and a tackle machine that helped Ohio State to a very good couple of seasons. He has questions about his size and his ability to add weight to his frame, but he is very good in pass coverage. Pair him up with Timmons inside and you could have one of the most athletic tandems in the NFL.
- Justin Gilbert CB Oklahoma State - An athletic freak with a very high ceiling at cornerback. He is lengthy and lightening fast. He also is an adept kick returner. Being 6'0" with a 4.37 40 time and a 35 1/2" vertical jump he has the potential to be great. His downside is he sometimes bites on fakes and gives up the big play. He also has questionable footwork which makes him questionable in press coverage. He is an able tackler, but sometimes not willing to get his nose in there. With the inevitable end of most of our old secondary's careers, Gilbert could be just what we need to pair with Cortez Allen. As most BTSC members and Neal Coolong himself like to say THERE IS NO WAY GILBERT FALLS TO US. Interestingly enough Mel Kiper mocked him to us.
- Darqueze Dennard CB Michigan State - It is a toss up between Dennard and Gilbert as the two best CB prospects. Dennard is the more polished and NFL ready of the two, but perhaps has a lower ceiling. He is lengthy and has very good press skills. He is very good in man coverage and good instincts. Also a very good tackler which is a huge plus in the Steelers eyes. His main question was his straight line speed and high end athleticism, but he answered that with a 4.5 40 in the NFL Combine. Not as impressive as Gilbert's 4.37, but plenty fast for a CB. There is a possibility he could be a liability in zone coverage and he has an injury history.
- Taylor Lewan OT Michigan - Taylor Lewan had a lot of gap to close between himself and the two tackles viewed as sure things in the NFL draft. At the combine he did just that by showing off his incredible athleticism. Great left tackles are often taken high in the NFL draft, but could Lewan fall to us? If he did fall to us would we take him? Some don't see Kelvin Beachum as a long term answer at LT, but could he be? I think Steeler Nation would groan if we took another OL in the first round of the draft.
- Mike Evans WR Texas A&M - Evans is the tall receiver that Ben Roethlisberger has been wanting for so long. His frame at 6'5" 231 lbs is ideal for what the Steelers would be looking for. His questions are about his athleticism in general. His hips aren't very fluid and he ran a pretty average 4.53. We need a better red zone target and Evans could be just that.
- Kelvin Benjamin WR Florida State - Another tall receiver at 6'5" 240 lbs he was a little bit slower than Evans clocking in at 4.61 at the combine. He is great at catching in traffic and making incredible catches but sometimes misses easy catches due to lack of focus. He lacks great speed so he has to rely on his in traffic ball catching to get the job done.
- Louis Nix III NT Notre Dame - A behemoth of a man at 6'2" 331 lbs. He is actually fairly athletic for his size. He is not just a sack of lard, but rather a legitimate athlete. He has nimble feet and good muscle definition. He could easily command that double team that the Steelers 3-4 defense so badly needs. He could be just what we need to boost our run defense back to its former glory. His downside is that the NT position is being devalued due to nickel and dime packages on third down. He also has a history of issues with his knee that could scare teams away from him. Maybe he falls even further to the second round? The Steelers signed DT Cam Thomas in free agency, so they could look at other positions in the draft.
- Aaron Donald NT Pittsburgh - Attending Pitt and playing at Heinz Field, it would certainly be interesting if Donald ended up with the Steelers. He amazed people at the combine with his speed of 4.68 weighing in at 285 lbs. Some saw this as being even more spectacular than Jadeveon Clowney's showing. Donald also possesses great strength, benching 225 lbs 35 times. He is smaller than most NT being only 285 lbs and only 6'1" and he would be a bit of a reach at pick 15.
- HaHa Clinton-Dix S Alabama - Good size, body length and instincts. Good tackler. Decent Speed. Still a bit raw. Could we pair him up with Shamarko Thomas in the long run to form a dynamic duo? Steelers signed Mike Mitchell for 5 years in Free Agency and invested a fair amount of money into him, so safety doesn't seem to be a high priority anymore.
- Eric Ebron TE North Carolina - A tall fast tight end that could fill Roethlisberger's desire for a tall receiver. He is 6'4" and runs a 4.6 40 time. He is a good route runner and would make a great receiving tight end. Would not be a great blocker due to his relatively lean frame. Could the Steelers jump on the trend of elite level receiving tight ends? My guess would be no due to the run first mentality that Pittsburgh has always had. With Le'Veon Bell looking to be a stud over the next several years, we should want a tight end that can also block. Maybe Austin Sefarian-Jenkins in the second round?