It's no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers had one of the worst secondaries in the NFL in 2015. So it makes sense that the majority of mock drafts published over the last few months have the Steelers selecting a defensive back with the 25th overall pick. Recent history, however, suggests Pittsburgh's front office will use a different strategy.
The Steelers mantra under General Manager Kevin Colbert and Head Coach Mike Tomlin, has been to take the best available player in the first round, and to fill positions of need in the middle to later rounds of the draft. Pittsburgh doesn't value cornerbacks and safeties as much as most NFL teams, choosing instead to use their top picks to bolster their front seven.
Should the Steelers decide to employ this same strategy in 2016, they could end up targeting a player like West Virginia strong safety KJ Dillon in the middle rounds, to add quality depth to the safety position.
Dillon played his college ball alongside teammate Karl Joseph, who I wrote about for the site back in late February. When people talk about the West Virginia defense, Joseph's is the first name that usually comes up; and rightfully so. Joseph was an absolute monster throughout his career in Morgantown. But Dillon is a dynamic player in his own right.
Standing at six foot, and weighing in at 210 pounds, Dillon played the spur safety position in the Mountaineer's 3-3 stack scheme during his junior and senior seasons. Dillon was the perfect fit as the spur in Tony Gibson's defense, because of his size and athleticism, which allowed him to be equally effective playing as an extra linebacker near the line of scrimmage, or lining up 20-25 yards deep as a safety. Add in Dillon's ability to play in man coverage against speedy slot receivers, and his ability to blitz against the run and the pass, and you're looking at one of the most versatile defensive playmakers in this year's draft class.
There's a spot on any NFL defense for a player that can play the run and the pass, and blitz. Dillon can stay on the field in any given situation, making him a particularly intriguing prospect for a team like the Steelers, who's defense plays the majority of its snaps in nickel-based sub packages designed to be equally effective against the run and the pass.
Height: 6' 0"
Weight: 210 lbs.
Arm Length: 31 5/8"
Hands: 9 5/8"
2012: 20 tackles, 1 forced fumble
2013: 28 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 6 passes defensed
2014: 62 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 7 passes defensed
2015: 47 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 8 passes defensed
NFL Combine Results
4.53 second 40-yard dash, 11 reps bench press (225 lbs.), 121-inch broad jump
Dillon was asked to do a little bit of everything in West Virginia's defense, so it makes sense that he has a very well-rounded game. His long, angular build allows him to contest throws and play in man coverage against wide receivers and tight ends. The senior ball hawk finished with five interceptions and 14.5 pass breakups over the last two seasons combined.
Dillon isn't as big as some of the other safety/linebacker hybrids in the draft class, but he is stout against the run when asked to play in box. A physical player and a willing tackler, he racked up over 100 total tackles, and 15 tackles for loss during his junior and senior seasons combined.
Like most hybrid safety/linebackers, Dillon struggles in coverage at times against shiftier receivers and running backs. His backpedal, as his NFL.com Draft Profile states, looks "mechanical and stiff" at times on tape. He's also an extremely aggressive player, which causes him to miss tackles when coming downhill toward the line of scrimmage.
After an impressive Senior Bowl, in which he blocked a field goal and blew up several plays in the backfield, and a solid performance at the NFL Combine, Dillon has seen his stock rise over the last few weeks. NFL Draft analyst Mike Mayock recently listed Dillon as the No. 5 safety prospect in his positional rankings.
It's hard to say exactly where Dillon will be taken in this year's draft. He should provide excellent value for a team looking to address it's secondary in either the third or fourth round, and could be an option for the Steelers if they choose to not target a safety in the first.