No one would question the Pittsburgh Steelers taking a defensive player in the first 3-4 rounds of the upcoming NFL Draft. After all, the team has certainly done a good job solidifying the offensive side of the football through free agency, and are primed for a very defensive 2016 NFL Draft class.
With that out of the way, the next question becomes which position will be targeted first? Most fans would say cornerback, but there are needs at safety and defensive line as well. Not to mention the sudden lack of depth at inside linebacker with Sean Spence and Terence Garvin both leaving via free agency.
The Steelers could target a safety in the first round, but which prospect would be available and a good scheme fit for Pittsburgh with the 25th overall draft pick? Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com's latest mock draft has the Steelers taking hard-hitting Keanu Neal of Florida with their first round selection.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Keanu Neal, S, Florida
The Steelers could use a safety upgrade. Will Allen is aging and never was very good. Shamarko Thomas has yet to break out as well. Adding another safety would make sense for Pittsburgh.
Neal racked up 77 tackles with a pass breakup and one interception in 2015. As a sophomore in 2014, he had 45 tackles with three interceptions and four passes broken up. Neal was a solid defender for the Gators, but he needs to continue to improve his coverage skills and work on wrapping up rather than looking for the knockout blow.
Neal (6-0, 211) is a big, strong and instinctive safety who has impressed NFL sources. Teams know that he can serve as an in-the-box run safety, but they also feel he has speed and athleticism to cover. He is a natural strong safety who, in time, could also flip to free safety pre-snap.
To say I have some reservations about Neal as the team's first round pick might be an understatement. Neal has proven he can play the run, and his tackling is one of his strong points; however, the Steelers already have that type of player in Mike Mitchell. I am not suggesting the Steelers look for a safety who is more of a ball-hawking type, but to spend a first round draft pick on a player with glaring coverage issues seems absurd with this team primed for several years of contention ahead of it.
In these mock drafts I don't simply look at who the experts have the Steelers taking with their top pick, but look at who the team potentially passed on to make their selection. In this scenario the Steelers could have taken CB William Jackson III, LB Daron Lee, CB Eli Apple and DT/NT Vernon Butler.
To be honest, I would take all of those players listed, maybe except Lee, over Neal as the Steelers' first round draft pick. Jackson, Apple and Butler could all be players who make an impact in their rookie season, while Neal seems more like a project.