The college and NFL seasons are in full swing and we are about six months away from the 2013 NFL Draft. At this point in the college season, there are some prospects who have clearly stood out as first round picks and many other prospects who have caught the eyes of scouts and fans alike. With the Steelers currently struggling, they are inline for a pick ranging from seven to 13. I am going to profile about five prospects we can watch the rest of the year who are likely to go in that range for the first, second, and third rounds. Before I do that, here is what I think the strategy should be going into this year.
First Round Strategy
Find a stud for the defense. It does not matter what position because every position needs some help. Take the best defensive player available and use him as the future of our defense.
First Round Draft Prospects
Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame - Te'o is an athletic freak who will probably run in the 4.5 to 4.6 range. He is an incredible hitter, has great instincts, makes great reads, and just flat out does not have a flaw. He will likely be a top ten pick at worst and possibly a top five pick. He would instantly take over as a starter at the linebacker spot next to Lawrence Timmons.
David Amerson, CB, N.C. State - Amerson, who is 6-foot-3, is the best ballhawk that college football has seen in a long time. Last year, he had 13 interceptions and so far this year he has three picks. He uses his size incredibly well and locks people down in man coverage. He would be the Steelers best cornerback and could be a Pro Bowl level player very early in his career.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia - Jones is the best outside linebacker in college football and his game translates very well to the NFL. At 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, he has the size that you want in a 3-4 OLB and he also has incredible speed. So far, he has 5.5 sacks in five games along with an interception. He has been unblockable and has made an impact in every game he played in. Unfortunately for Steelers fans, there is a chance he is a top five pick and I doubt he makes it out of the top five.
Johnathan Hankins, NT, Ohio State - While Steve McLendon has been solid and could be a good starter for the Steelers, there is no question in my mind that Hankins would be an instant improvement. Hankins, who is 6-foot-3, 320 pounds, appears to be an immovable object when you watch him play for Ohio State. He is constantly causing trouble in the backfield and is a very good athlete. He probably won't get out of the top 10.
T.J. McDonald, S, USC - McDonald is the best safety in college football and he has proven to be very good in man coverage and also a guy who can play in the box. He has had three games this year with over eight tackles, but he has not made many splash plays. So far this year, he has only one interception. However, that is mostly because opposing quarterbacks don't throw to the side of the field he is on. At this point, he seems to be a top 20 prospect and would be a great replacement for Ryan Clark or Troy Polamalu when they hang up the cleats.
Second Round Draft Strategy
Find more talent on the defensive side of the ball. At this point in the year, it is clear that the Steelers weak link is their defense and they will have to address the needs in the draft. If they don't get a secondary player in round one, they will have to do so here. They could also look at defensive end.
William Gholston, DE, Michigan State - Gholston is massive at 6-foot-7, and 280 pounds and he uses that size to reek havoc. He has deflected three passes this year and has over 30 tackles on the year. He is stout against the run and can provide a little bit of a pass rush. He has one sack on the year but in the games I have seen him play, he had at least two pressures in each game. He could possibly play himself into the first round but right now he is an early second round prospect in my book.
Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State - Banks is a very good man cover corner and he uses his size, at 6-foot-2, to shadow receivers all the way down the field. He has good hands, as shown by his three interceptions, and can make plays once he gets the ball in his hands, as shown by his 78 INT return yards on those three picks. He is a solid tackler and would be an instant improvement over Ike Taylor.
Khaseem Greene, OLB, Rutgers - Greene, the defending Big East Defensive Player of the Year, has been even better than he was last year. Despite being only 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, he has out-muscled, out-smarted, and out-maneuvered his opposing offensive linemen and has dominated in each and every game he has played in for the past season and a half. So far this year, he has 63 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 4 pass deflections, and even though ESPN does not have him down for any forced fumbles, he also forced 2 fumbles in the Syracuse game. He is flat out unblockable and could end up playing himself into the first round despite being a little on the small side for an OLB.
Round 3 Strategy
At this point in the draft, I believe it still has to be defense. The offense has been impressive and does not need much help. The defense is awful though.
Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers - Ryan is probably the best cover corner in the draft this year but he is slightly on the small side at 5'11". However, while that may hurt his draft stock a little bit, it won't effect his play that much. He has locked down every WR he faced this year and also has 2 interceptions. He could play his way into the second round and also might go back to college next year, but if he is available, he would be a great pick.
Eric Reid, S, LSU - Reid has great size at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds and he is a big hitter. He has above average speed and can make some plays on the ball, as shown by his two interceptions. I think he is more of a Ryan Clark replacement than a Troy Polamalu replacement but he could contribute on special teams until Clark is ready to move on.
Kevin Reddick, ILB, North Carolina - Reddick is a bruising inside linebacker at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds. However, he is still a quality athlete. So far this year, he has 2.5 sacks and 41 tackles and has actually looked very good in pass coverage despite his big stature. He might end up going much higher if he keeps playing this well but currently he is a third round prospect.
If the draft were tomorrow, here would be my hopes for the first three rounds (assuming the Steelers have the 10th pick in the draft)
Round One Pick 10 - David Amerson, CB, N.C. State
Round Two Pick 10 - Khaseem Greene, OLB, Rutgers
Round Three Pick 10 - Eric Reid, S, LSU