This is a solid but unexceptional year for Corners. There are a lot of good prospects who ought to go between the middle of the 1st and the early part of the 3rd, but no one who pops your eyes out as a potential superstar. But it's also a risky class because there are slim pickings in that 3-5 round area that the Steelers traditionally like to focus on for their secondary. It all has the makings of a terrible moment for Kevin Colbert. If the Board falls just the wrong way, he could easily be faced with the tough choice of picking a "solid" corner while they're available versus a potential star at a position of lesser need. Normally you'd go with the better prospect ... but does that hold true if the pool of corners is going to dry up before your next chance to get one?
3-4 OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS
If Jason Worilds returns, the team has a pressing need for developmental depth. Especially since Jarvis Jones has gotten injured twice in his first two years. I like Arthur Moats more than most, but he's best used as a turnkey, extremely competent backup - a Chris Hoke to someone else's Casey Hampton - and that creates a huge need for talent to fill the pipeline. And if Worilds departs... Gadzooks! The BTSC consensus pairs with most others. The Steelers will spend an early pick on a pass rusher, and may spend a late one too. Fortunately, it looks like an excellent class for OLB candidates between picks 15 (mid-1st) and 64 (end of the 2nd).
Casey Hampton was a fringe Hall of Famer for almost a decade, and he'd be a lock if Nose Tackles got the same amount of glory as pass rushers. Steve McLendon isn't going to make the Hall of Fame, but he's all you can ask for short of that. Except healthy. Every year the grueling punishment seems to cost him several games. So yes, the Steelers need a reliable and more-than-solid person to back him up. Big Dan McCullers? Maybe... but that's a call we on the outside can't really judge. This class has three Nose Tackles with enough size and athleticism to carry the possibility of playing on both run and pass downs: Danny Shelton of Washington, Eddie Goldman of Florida State, and Malcolm Brown of Texas. It would probably take a 1st-round pick to get either of the first two, and Tuitt- or Decastro-level draft luck to get Brown in the 2nd. The need isn't worth that high a pick... but the players might be.
3-4 DEFENSIVE ENDS
The Steelers have two good Defensive Ends to build on: Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. And then... Yikes. After those two the team had a bunch of developmental prospects who got poached from the practice squad during 2014. A high pick would give much needed depth and security, but do you spend like that for a backup? The answer may well lie in free agency.
Mike Mitchell deserves a year's grace, and Shamarko "Headache" Thomas stands ready to assume the reins when Troy finally hands them over. Or so you'd think. Mitchell underperformed all year, and Headache's been hampered by a constant series of injuries. If the team decides that either of those problems is likely to continue, and a special athlete appears by surprise, the FO might just pull the trigger. On the other hand, there aren't a whole lot of "special" safeties in this year's class, so breath-holding might be ill-advised.
3-4 INSIDE LINEBACKERS
For once we can write a problem off. With Timmons, Shazier, Spence and Williams the Steelers have both quality and depth.
The Steelers might grab a #1 dream prospect at Left Tackle with the idea that Kelvin Beachum could move inside, but other than that it's a question of bargain shopping in the later rounds. It's not a position they'll ignore, but neither is it one that screams for help. A lot depends on things we can't know, such as the amount of growth Coach Munchak expects for Kelvin Beachum and Mike Adams, and the amount of improvement the team thinks it might get from moving Beachum to guard.
We could use a true backup for LeVeon Bell, but that's it. If the team picks anyone before the 3rd I'd be shocked. OTOH, the 3rd and 4th rounds held some real bargains at this position over the past few years. A mid-round pick on a running back would therefore surprise no one.
If you look at the Steelers offense, the one thing they could really use is a proper heir to Heath Miller. This isn't the class to find it. There are none of those super-athletic basketball types we've grown used to seeing. On the other hand, there are a few very solid and multitalented prospects who'd be either excellent value on Day 2.
Brown is as good a #1 receiver as you could ever hope to find; Wheaton is a solid #2; and Bryant looks like he might be just the guy to push Wheaton down to #3. On top of that, Pittsburgh has solid talent on-hand to compete for the #4 and #5 spots. Wide Receiver is now a strength rather than a question mark, and it's hard to imagine the Steelers spending a pick on anyone who won't double as a Tight End.
Let's not write off Dri Archer completely. Between his to-be-expected sophomore leap, Markus Wheaton's fine performance on kickoffs, and AB as an ace punt returner, the Steelers are not in dire straits at this position either.
AUTHOR'S CLOSING NOTE
Most people agree that the Steelers biggest needs are for a better and deeper pass rush, a better and deeper set of corners, and an heir apparent at tight end for the aging Heath Miller. Other than that, the team could upgrade from good to better by finding either a great athlete or quality depth at any of several other positions, including the defensive line, the offensive line, and running back.
It looks like this year's Board should favor those priorities. There are nine or ten pass rushers with legitimate 1st-round aspirations and another nine or ten who should be gone by the end of Day 2. The corners are less top heavy, but very deep with seven or eight players grading out as mid- to late-1st rounders, another seven or eight as solid 2nd-rounders, with seven or eight more for the 3rd. The tight end class is very poor at the top - no miracle athletes or basketball stars - but deep with 2nd-3rd round prospects who've flashed a more well-rounded game than we've seen in recent years. And there are a ton of fine but undeveloped athletes at various positions who could be available when the Steelers (very late!) chance to pick finally arrives.
You want a crazy, four-day prediction? Here goes. Barring a significant free agent deal, on Day 1 the Steelers will select a talented pass rusher who would never have fallen so far in a different year. On Day 2 the team will get (a) a promising corner prospect who's laden with natural gifts but needs a redshirt year to develop, and (b) a well-rounded but not-startling tight end prospect such as Walford, Koyack or Heuerman. The eternal debate on value versus need will fill our electronic airwaves, but the underlying truth will be that the Board lined up in a happy coincidence of the two that made the FO's choices easy. Then on Day 3 the team will snag a variety of hit-or-miss athletes at odd positions, with at least one multipurpose offensive or defensive lineman. And then, beginning on Day 4, the members of Steelers Nation will look at that final tally and spend two solid weeks in their respective holy places sending prayers of thanksgiving to the wholly holy hole-filling trinity of Rooney, Colbert and Tomlin.
You heard it here first.