The 2015 NFL Draft is only a few weeks away, and experts are sharpening their pencils in an attempt to figure out who teams will take with their draft picks. ESPN.com's Mel Kiper Jr. is one of the leading experts when it comes to the draft, and he recently released a unique 3 round mock draft by giving each team his projections for their first three rounds of selections.
Before reading too much into Kiper's thought process, you should know his thinking behind how he makes his picks. He listed these ground rules at the beginning of his mock draft:
Please read the ground rules:
1. At each slot, I make a pick in the best interest of only the team with the pick. I won't pass on a player at No. 4 just because I like the team better at No. 5.
2. No trades unless they're already done. I note team needs, and I try to address them, but like the draft, value can supersede need.
3. Again: I'm not projecting. It's more a look at where I see value up and down the board.
With that said, let's take a look at who Kiper projects the Pittsburgh Steelers will take in their first three rounds in this year's draft selection process:
Top needs: CB, S, OLB, TE
Round 1 (22) CB Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest
Round 2 (56) OLB Hau'Oli Kikaha, Washington
Round 3 (87) S Derron Smith, Fresno St.
Analysis: Given the veteran losses we've seen on the defensive side of the ball this offseason, that's where my focus is. Johnson can cover and could be in line for a ton of snaps as a rookie. James Harrison will be 37 in May, and we need to add pass-rushing depth. Kikaha was wildly productive in 2014, though he's still on the board at No. 56 because he didn't test well. He's not going to come in and play every down, but we're simply not in good shape at outside linebacker in my assessment, and the best option available in either Round 1 or 2 was a certainty coming in. Smith's reputation outpaces his tape, but if you told me last year he'd be available at No. 87 in 2015, it would have surprised me. I know this team is going to be able to put points on the board in 2015, so the early rounds are all about making the defense better in any way I can.
Kiper, like almost anyone with a keyboard, sees the Steelers sticking to the defensive side of the football for their primary picks in the top 3 rounds. It is tough to disagree with this philosophy with the team losing so much veteran depth in the offseason with the retirements of Jason Worilds, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu, but fans could be weary of Kevin Johnson being selected in the first round. Johnson seems to be a project, and the defense needs a player who can contribute something to the team in 2015 if at all possible.
Nonetheless, the Steelers main needs at cornerback, outside linebacker/edge rusher and safety are all answered in Kiper's mock draft. Looking at who the Steelers have brought in, in terms of pre-draft visits, the team is certainly jiving with Kiper's projections in terms of position. As for the individual players, well that will have to wait until April 30th to shake out.