We know the Steelers will be drafting a defensive player with their first pick in the NFL Draft.
What specific player and position remains the question.
On Thursday, ESPN NFL Draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay had the Steelers taking Connecticut senior cornerback Byron Jones with the No.22 pick in their most recent mock draft. But just a day earlier, Kiper and McShay had Pittsburgh taking Kentucky outside linebacker Bud Dupree.
Jones enjoyed a sterling career with the Huskies, tallying 222 total tackles to go with 21 passes defensed and eight interceptions. A consistent theme in regards to Jones draft reports is his intelligence, athletic ability and leadership. According to his draft bio on NFL.com, an NFC scout praised Jones as a "high-character player with the vision and instincts you want from an NFL cornerback. I'm not sure I like him in man coverage but there is a place for him in our league. Really nice young man who you cheer for."
Kiper and McShay's recent mock analysis stated that Jones's "recognition skills in coverage can improve, but he's an exceptional athlete with good size and great intangibles." ESPN's draft bio of Jones lauded him for his tremendous physical attributes, as the 6'0'', 197-pound Jones set a combine and Olympic record with a 12 foot 3 inch broad jump while also recording a 44.5-inch vertical leap. Jones was also given many positive intangible that includes being a team leader, a quick learner and a player that utilizes film study and applies it to the field. Jones, who was called Senator Jones by his college teammates, was also characterized as "respectful and polite" in the report.
The main question surrounding Jones is in regards to the left shoulder injury that required him to have surgery on it this past October. Jones first injured the shoulder last summer and protected it with a brace throughout the 2014 season. His season ended prematurely after re-injuring his shoulder against East Carolina on October 23. Jones had enjoyed a durable career prior to his shoulder injury, playing in all 36 games his first three seasons.
Jones's peerless leaping ability was on display in his 2013 interception against Michigan at about the two-minute mark of this highlight video. He also showcased his toughness on running plays and when faced in one-on-one situations with receivers and running backs. The Steelers at times struggled making plays in space last season against the oppositions running backs on pass plays, and if Jones has fully recovered from his shoulder injury, this could be a place where he could make an immediate impact on Pittsburgh's defense.
Once thought to be a possible draft option, it appears that Trae Waynes will not be in the Steelers plans. Slated to be picked with the 11th pick by the Vikings, the Steelers don't appear to move up from their No.22 slot in the first round. Another interesting option would be Shaq Thompson, the 2014 Paul Hornung Award given to the nation's most versatile player. The 6'0'', 228-pound Thompson could help the Steelers in a multitude of ways as Thompson thrived at Washington at outside linebacker, safety, kick returner, special teams hawk and at running back.
Regardless of who Pittsburgh drafts first, it's imperative that General Manager Kevin Colbert selects someone that can contribute right away to a Steelers team that's ready to win now. The Steelers window to win is open, and if the Steelers pick an impact defensive player in this draft, their chances of achieving their overall goal could be well within reach.