The wait for the 2016 NFL Draft is almost over, and that means it's now time for some of the writers here at Behind the Steel Curtain to make their first round selections for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
West Virginia safety Karl Joseph
You'd have to go all the way back to 2003 to find the last time the Pittsburgh Steelers took a safety in the first round of the NFL draft. That year, the Steelers held the No. 27 overall selection, but traded their first, third, and sixth round picks to the Kansas City Chiefs to move up to No. 16 and grab the legendary Troy Polamalu. Fast forward to 2016, and the Steelers once again find themselves in desperate need of another playmaker on the back end of the defense.
There are a handful of promising safety prospects in this year's draft class, but only one is a true first-round talent, and that's West Virginia senior Karl "The Hitman" Joseph. Despite suffering a torn ACL in October of last year, Joseph should be able to contribute as a rookie, even if it means starting on the PUP list for the first six weeks of the season.
Joseph would provide the Steelers with a well-rounded defensive back who possesses exceptional range and ball skills (9 career INTs), and takes pleasure in knocking the snot out of opposing wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends. A team captain at West Virginia, Joseph is a fierce competitor, who could become one of the leaders of the Pittsburgh defense for years to come.
Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings
The Steelers are usually conservative in the draft. They typically will trade off a little ceiling for a little more of a sure-thing pick. Even the Steelers two worst first-round picks under Kevin Colbert -- Ziggy Hood and Jarvis Jones -- have been regular starters. And that's half the reason the team won't select a cornerback in round one. Outside of Jalen Ramsey and Vernon Hargreaves, there aren't any guys who look like a sure bet.
Billings, though, is about as sure of a bet as you will find available at the 25th pick. He's a great athlete with the size to play either defensive end or defensive tackle in a 3-4 defense, and he's the perfect player to allow the team to switch to a three-man nickel front. He moves well, and has more than enough strength -- and he's solid enough to contribute from day one.
Alabama defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson
I'm one of the many people who think the Steelers will continue to invest in building their defensive front seven. The defense still is built around shutting down the ground game and generating a relentless pass rush; Robinson's tape shows that he accomplished both of those tasks throughout his college career. His huge frame and tenacious play could dominate the line of scrimmage, and he could be a solid option to play nose tackle as well as be one of the down linemen when the defense goes to their 2-4-5 nickel package.
Robinson was one of the players the Steelers visited in pre-draft interviews, and he comes from one of the most prestigious programs out of the power five NCAA conferences in Alabama. Robinson should be able to sneak past the early and middle parts of the first round, and if he does, look for either him, Andrew Billings or Vernon Butler to get a call on draft day.
Houston cornerback William Jackson III
The Steelers are going to let the draft come to them, and in that regard, aren't going to be trading unless they feel all of their potential prospects worthy of a first round grade are gone. With that said, the big name players they would covet are likely to be gone, and they should have a handful of players to choose from to help aid their secondary.
Of the group, I believe William Jackson III is the most NFL ready prospect. Sure, he doesn't come from a dominant SEC school, but his tangibles are hard to ignore. His size, speed and length make him a tremendous prospect, and someone the Steelers could use in 2016 to help get them up that fabled 'Stairway to Seven'.
Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings
I'm one of the many Steelers fans who is really hoping the team goes corner in the first round for the first time since 1997. And if I had my wish, William Jackson III of Houston would be the choice at 25. However, Jackson's stock began to rise before the Combine, and his impressive showing in Indianapolis--including a sub-4.4 40 time--certainly didn't hurt his rise up the draft boards. I believe had Jackson played at a Clemson or Florida State, there'd be no way Pittsburgh would even have a prayer of picking him in Round 1.
However, I think the fact that Jackson played in the American Athletic Conference will allow Jackson to slip into the latter portion of the first round, but not quite to Pittsburgh's position.
With that in mind...
I'm going with the popular choice: Andrew Billings, the beast of a defensive lineman from Baylor, will be the Steelers' selection. A number of weeks ago, I predicted that, by now, Billings' post-Combine stock would be so high, there'd be no way the Steelers would even have a chance at him. However, most mock drafts have Billings either landing in the latter portion of the first round or early in the second, so it's likely he will still be available. At 6'1" and 311 pounds, Billings obviously possesses the ideal size to play nose tackle for the Steelers. And as others have mentioned, Billings also has the closing speed and athleticism to rotate in at defensive end and spell either Cam Heyward or Stephon Tuitt. Billings was a productive player at Baylor and was named the Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2015. Billings is the kind of college prospect the Steelers seem to go after--productive with a high-motor--and defensive line coach John Mitchell will probably be counting the days until training camp so he can get a chance to work with him and hone those skills.