Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Look at the Steelers Possible First Round Selections

The Steelers hold the 15th pick in the first round of the draft, which is set to kick off shortly after 8:00pm tonight. Rounds 2 and 3 will be on Friday night (while the Pens try to eliminate the New York Rangers) and Rounds 4 through 7 will be on Saturday afternoon. There is little doubt about what positions the Steelers need to address in this draft. Their top priorities in the first few rounds will be cornerback, wide receiver and defensive line. In addition to that, they could use depth at both inside and outside linebacker, and a "change of pace" 3rd down back. The Steelers very well may double-dip at corner and wide receiver, taking one early and another later on. Both positions along the defensive line - nose tackle and defensive end are thin and could use starter-caliber players. Since there are a number of different players being thrown around as possibilities for the Steelers to select in the first round, I compiled a list to get you prepared for tonight. Also, Brian from Blitzburgh Blog and I will be hosting a draft chat tonight, so stop on by and hang out with us!

Note: Due to the amount of gifs on the page (thanks to the Draft Breakdown gif-maker!) I put in a page break so that the front page of my blog wouldn't crash Chrome when it tried to load.

Justin Gilbert
CB - Oklahoma State

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: The top two corners in the draft are Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard and they are basically 1 and 1a. Both have elite potential with Gilbert being more of a play-maker with unlimited upside and Dennard being an aggressive shut-down corner. Gilbert has elite speed (4.3) and good size (6'0" 203) for a corner and has great ball skills. He was Oklahoma State's kick returner as well and is a threat to take it to the house any time he gets the ball in his hands.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: The knock on Gilbert is his physicality (or lack thereof). He isn't great against the run and will let up to avoid contact. This might not fit the Steelers style of defense where they like to see their corners stick their noses in against the run to seal off the edges.

Darqueze Dennard
CB - Michigan State

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Dennard is the most physical corner in the draft. He doesn't have the elite downfield speed that Gilbert has, but he is capable of totally wiping out opposing receivers. He earned the nickname "No Fly Zone" and is the draft's best press man corner.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: His physicality can work against him and he is susceptible to holding and pass interference penalties. He doesn't shy away from contact anywhere on the football field and lacks the elite downfield speed to stay with opposing receivers.

Kyle Fuller
CB - Virginia Tech

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Fuller is the third best corner on the board but might be a better fit for the way the Steelers play defense than Justin Gilbert. If Dennard is off the board, Fuller could be the Steelers target. Additionally, depending on how the draft goes, Fuller could be available to the Steelers if they trade down a few spots from 15.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: If Dennard or Gilbert are available, I have a hard time seeing the Steelers take Fuller. I think the only way they make him the selection is if both of the top two guys are gone.

Jason Verrett

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: In a trade down scenario, the Steelers might not be able to land any of the top 3 corners. Verrett is a physical corner with blazing speed and could fit the Steelers mold.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: He is slightly undersized at 5'9" and TCU was not a very good team last year. This might not mean much, but over half of Kevin Colbert's first round picks have been from teams that were ranked at the end of the season. The Steelers like to take players from good teams and have drafted more players from teams ranked in the final AP poll than any other team in the league.

Bradley Roby
CB - Ohio State

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Roby was one of the top projected corners at the start of this season after putting together a very good campaign as a junior. However, he did not show marked improvement as a senior, which caused him to slide down the board. He still has talent and is capable of becoming a very good corner.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: The watched him get lit up by Jared Abberderis in the Wisconsin game.

Mike Evans
WR - Texas A&M

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Evans has all the tools the Steelers are looking for in a receiver. He has elite size and jumping ability and the downfield speed to run away from defensive backs. If he is still available (which I will get to in a minute), the Steelers will run to the podium to draft him.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: He will get picked in the top 10 and could be the top receiver off the board. It is highly unlikely that he will fall all the way to the Steelers at 15, but then again there was no way David DeCastro would fall to them either.

Odell Beckham, Jr

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Beckham is the 3rd best receiver in this draft class and has been described as possessing a mix of Greg Jennings and Antonio Brown. He is incredibly talented and would give the Steelers a very good 1-2 punch at wide receiver with Brown and Beckham.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: There is a very good chance that he is off the board before the Steelers make their selection. Additionally, the Steelers may decide to use Beckham as trade bait and work a trade to move down a few spots in order to get back their 3rd round pick.

Kelvin Benjamin
WR - Florida State

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: If Mike Evans is gone, Benjamin is the next best receiver on the board with the size the Steelers are supposedly looking for in a wide receiver. At 6'5" 240 Benjamin is an imposing target down the field and in the red zone, as everyone saw in the National Championship Game.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: He has a questionable work ethic and inconsistent hands. He isn't the most polished route-runner but he has the leaping ability to make plays in the air and will still be a Top 50 talent in this draft. If the Steelers elect to go corner in the first round, Benjamin may still be there in the second.

Marqise Lee

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Lee was considered one of the best receivers in the nation coming into the 2013 season but injuries and bad quarterback play set him back and hurt his draft stock. The Steelers could luck into having him available at 15.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: How bad were the injuries he battled through this past season? How much of his dropoff in production was bad quarterback play and how much was him? There are questions surrounding Lee that have caused his draft stock to slip, but he is still an incredibly talented player with high upside.

Louis Nix III
NT - Notre Dame

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: The Steelers run defense was absolutely gashed last season and a big part of it was Steve McLendon's inability to anchor the middle of the defense and keep offensive linemen off the linebackers. Nix is the only first round-worthy nose tackle in this draft and could be the second coming of Vince Wilfork with his size and quickness off the snap.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Nix has had injury issues with his knee and with the propensity of cut-blocking nose tackles in the league right now, it might be a risky investment to use a first round pick on a nose tackle. Additionally, McLendon played only 33% of snaps last season so would the Steelers really use a first rounder on a player that is only going to play a third of defensive snaps?

Stephon Tuitt
DT/DE - Notre Dame

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Do you know why Manti Te'o was such a good linebacker? Because he played behind Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt at Notre Dame. The ability of defensive linemen to keep linebackers clean can not be over-stated and Tuitt was an excellent anchor in the middle of the Irish line. At 6'5" 305 he might not have the weight to play the nose tackle spot but could absolutely anchor the defensive end position opposite Cam Heyward with his massive frame and upfield quickness.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Kevin Colbert has never selected a player from Notre Dame. Additionally, they may believe they can land Tuitt in the second round (which is where a lot of mocks have him going). Tuitt could be a target if the Steelers trade down in the first round, and selecting him at 15 might be a reach.

Ra'Shede Hageman
DT - Minnesota

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Hageman's potential is off the charts and he showed flashes of greatness last year with Minnesota. He can be an interior pass rusher in the mold of JJ Watt and has a unique ability to get upfield quickly off the snap against interior linemen. The Steelers need a starter opposite Cam Heyward at defensive end.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Hageman is a boom-or-bust type of talent. He showed flashes of ability in college but was inconsistent and disappeared at times. The Steelers may be hesitant to use their first round pick on a 3-4 defensive end after using first round picks on both Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward within the last 5 years.

CJ Mosley
ILB - Alabama

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: Mosley is the best inside linebacker prospect in the draft. He is the only one worth a first round pick and has elite instincts and reaction abilities. The Steelers certainly need help next to Lawrence Timmons on the inside.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: Mosley has had a slew of injury issues throughout college and has shoulder, hip and ankle problems. His injury issues may scare some teams off (including the Steelers). When he is healthy and on the field, he is an elite talent, but he is injured so much that Alabama had a hard time keeping him on the field.

Anthony Barr

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: He is a raw but talented prospect with an excellent speed rush reminiscent of Aldon Smith. Barr could be a disruptive presence and would give the Steelers another option at outside linebacker if they are unable to sign Jason Worilds to a long term deal.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: The Steelers used a first round pick on an outside linebacker last year and may not want to do it again. They did use the transition tag on Jason Worilds and if they are able to sign him to a long term deal that alleviates the need for an outside linebacker in the immediate future.

Taylor Lewan
OT - Michigan

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: The Steelers sent Mike Munchak to Michigan's Pro Day to work out Lewan. If the Steelers aren't thrilled with the Beachum-Gilbert-Adams triumvirate at tackle, they could look to add an elite tackle in the draft. Lewan is the 3rd best tackle available behind Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: There are teams ahead of the Steelers that need help on the offensive line and it is entirely possible that Lewan is a top 12 pick (going to either Buffalo at 9 or the Giants at 12). Additionally, the Steelers have more pressing needs right now than a tackle.

Eric Ebron
TE - North Carolina

Why the Steelers Will Pick Him: The Steelers may want to throw their hat into the ring of teams that have added a "flex" tight end that is capable of stretching the field. Ebron is basically a wide receiver in a bigger body as he doesn't bring much in the blocking department.

Why the Steelers Won't Pick Him: What need do the Steelers have for a tight end that is essentially a glorified wide receiver and can't block? He doesn't fit their offensive scheme at all and while he may create matchup problems and compare to Jimmy Graham down the field, he is a total liability as a blocker.

Trade Down

Why the Steelers will Trade Down: If only 1 or 2 quarterbacks are taken ahead of them, the Steelers may be in position to garner some good trade offers from teams that are looking to get ahead of some of the teams in the early 20s such as Arizona or Cleveland that might be looking for a quarterback. In his press conference, Kevin Colbert mentioned a willingness to move back 3 or 4 spots in order to get back a pick in the 3rd round of the draft. Given the depth of this draft, that might be a smart decision because as it currently stands, 50 players will fall off the board between the Steelers second round pick (#46 overall) and their compensatory pick at the end of the third round (#97 overall).

Why the Steelers won't Trade Down: The Steelers are in a position where an elite talent could fall to them if a lot of teams ahead of them decide to draft quarterbacks. If that is the case, the Steelers will likely stay put at 15.

Someone Else

Why the Steelers will take Someone Else: I identified 16 different prospects here and didn't even touch on any of the players that are pretty much guaranteed to go before the Steelers make their pick. The Steelers aren't going to trade up but in a trade down scenario, they could open up their options to another linebacker like Ryan Shazier of Ohio State who can play both inside and outside or an offensive tackle like Zach Martin (Notre Dame) or defensive tackle like Aaron Donald (Pitt).

Why the Steelers won't take Someone Else: Cornerback and Wide Receiver are their biggest needs and two of the positions that are just loaded with talent in the first round. There are talented players elsewhere but the Steelers could get a long-term starter at one of these positions either at 15 or if they move down a few spots. Once you add in guys like Clowney, Mack, Robinson, Matthews, and Watkins who almost certainly will go in the Top 10, this list covers most of the players that will be taken between 6th and 32nd that fit the Steelers needs.

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