By: Zach Metkler, The Burgh Blog Writer
It is finally that time of the year again: the NFL Draft (well, sort of. In just over a month)
With the draft quickly approaching, I will be giving my projections for the Steelers with the moves they could and should make in this year’s draft. As an added bonus, I will also be adding a 1st round mock draft for the entire NFL. So without further ado, let’s get started!
NFL 1st Round Mock Draft
- Tennessee Titans: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
- Cleveland Browns: Carson Wentz, QB, NDSU
- San Diego Chargers: Jalen Ramsey, CB/S, FSU
- Dallas Cowboys: Myles Jack, ILB, UCLA
- Jacksonville Jaguars: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
- Baltimore Ravens: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
- San Francisco 49ers: Jared Goff, QB, Cal
- Philadelphia Eagles: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida
- New York Giants: Ronnie Staley, OT, Notre Dame
- Chicago Bears: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
- New Orleans Saints: A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
- Miami Dolphins: Noah Spence, OLB/DE, Eastern Kentucky
- Oakland Raiders: Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama
- Los Angeles Rams: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
- Detroit Lions: Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
- Atlanta Falcons: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
- Indianapolis Colts: Darron Lee, ILB, Ohio State
- Buffalo Bills: Shaq Lawson, DE/OLB, Clemson
- New York Jets: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
- Washington Redskins: Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
- Houston Texans: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
- Minnesota Vikings: Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame
- Cincinnati Bengals: Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
- Seattle Seahawks: Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama
- Green Bay Packer: Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA
- Kansas City Chiefs: William Jackson III, CB, Houston
- Arizona Cardinals: Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss
- Carolina Panthers: Kevin Dodd, DE/OLB, Clemson
- Denver Broncos: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
Steelers Mock Draft 1.0
–Round 1 (25): Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson (5’10”, 190 lbs.)
“His athletic, compact frame gives him a build closer to that of a running back than most corners, but Alexander passes the eye test. He doesn’t have the preferred height but offers excellent man-to-man cover skills and is described by coaches and teammates as a film junkie.
COMPARISON TO: Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers — Alexander is a smaller version and doesn’t have the same length as Norman, but they draw similarities due to their anticipation, confidence and brash attitude to get inside the head of receivers.
–Dane Brugler/Rob Rang (1/13/16)”
Just in case you somehow haven’t realized already, the Steelers have a huge problem in their secondary and this starts with the Steelers not putting a high priority on cornerbacks (as indicated by their last 1st round corner being in 1997 with Chad Scott). The team has been able to get by with a dominant pass rush over the years and having just a great overall front 7. The defense declined over the years but is currently on the rise again and adding an impact corner like Alexander would go a long way in improving the secondary and the pass coverage of the defense. With an experienced William Gay and young corners Senquez Golson, Doran Grant, Ross Cockrell, and Cortez Allen, the Steelers secondary can take a big step in becoming a dominant unit with the addition of Alexander.
–Round 2 (58): Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech (6’4″, 323 lbs.)
“Butler lined up all over Louisiana Tech’s multiple front, spending most of his time at three- and five-technique spots and moving inside to nose tackle in passing situations. He flashes on tape with the lower-body athleticism and upper-body power to stack blockers and make stops at or behind the line of scrimmage (23.5 tackles for loss as a starter).
Butler plays balanced on his feet with coordinated movements, but needs to improve his pad level to better clear single blockers when not squared up. Although he needs to develop his pass rush technique, Butler will appeal to both even and odd fronts with his relentless playing temperament, lateral quickness and power to control the point of attack.
COMPARES TO: Johnathan Hankins, New York Giants – Both Hankins and Butler have the quickness and point of attack power to push the pocket to give blockers all they can handle.
–Dane Brugler (1/28/16)”
With the loss of the versatile NT Steve McLendon, the depth of the Steelers defensive line is extremely shallow with experience and skill beyond stud DE’s Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. Butler was an extremely versatile lineman for Louisiana Tech’s multi-scheme defense, lining up all across the line from the nose tackle spot all the way out to defensive end. He plays with great balance, is strong at the point of attack, and plays with intensity ever play, very much like Heyward. Although his pass rush abilities need improved, he brings a big, athletic body to a defensive line that desperately needs to get deeper at every position. And as we all know, the Steelers love versatile players. Butler would be a smart pick in the second round.
–Round 3 (89): Jeremy Cash, S, Duke (6’0″, 212 lbs.)
“The best NFL prospect on defense for Duke in nearly 30 years, Cash underwent surgery in December on his right wrist, abruptly ending a senior campaign in which he was named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year. A native of Miami who initially signed with Ohio State, Cash is money near the line of scrimmage, projecting best as a run-supporting safety or even hybrid linebacker.
COMPARES TO: Deonne Buchannon, Arizona Cardinals
–Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) (2/11/16)”
Ever since the departure of S Troy Polamalu, the Steelers have had issues in their secondary and have not been able to find a safety that can be an impact player in the NFL. They have improved by signing S Mike Mitchell two offseason’s ago but still need another safety who can step in and be a force like Polamalu was for 12 years. Cash is considered to be one of the surest tacklers in this years draft and could bring a big, hard hitting body to a secondary that needs to get tougher. The Steelers drafted Shamarko Thomas to eventually be Polamalu’s replacement but it seems as though his playing days in Pittsburgh might not extend pass his rookie contract. The loss of S Will Allen also makes the position even shallower, with Mitchell and Robert Golden being the only two safeties with experience on the roster. Cash needs to improve in his pass coverage but his ability near the line of scrimmage and his ability to make plays in the open field are unparalleled by anyone in this years draft and are something the Steelers have lacked since the loss of Polamalu.
–Round 4 (123): Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame (6’2″, 223 lbs.)
“In today’s ultra-specialized NFL, defenses routinely substitute powerful linebackers on running downs and faster, more agile defenders on obvious passing plays. Teams won’t have to swap Smith out, however. He started all 39 games the last three seasons, but in a cruel twist of fate, Smith suffered a serious knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl, putting his draft stock in limbo based on his rehab.
–Dane Brugler & Rob Rang (2/18/16)”
Once considered to be a top 5 pick before a severe knee injury destroyed his stock, Smith has the strength and athleticism similar to LB Ryan Shazier. Although he is not that big size wise (6’2″, 223 lbs.), he is one of the hardest hitters in college football and has the versatility to play on the inside or the outside and is extremely effective in rushing the quarterback or dropping back into coverage. With LB Lawrence Timmons only having 1 year left on his contract and his long-term future in Pittsburgh being up in the air, the Steelers would be smart to take an elite prospect at this point in the draft since the only reason he is falling is due to his gruesome knee injury. With LB’s Sean Spence and Terence Garvin no longer being on the team, the Steelers lack any real depth beyond Vince Williams and LJ Fort, with Fort having no true experience on the field. Smith would not be pressured into playing right away due to his injury and the Steelers already having two established starters in the middle, giving him the ability to take a “redshirt” year his rookie season and come back ready to play in year two and form one of the most athletic middle linebacker corps with Shazier.
–Round 6 (220)(Compensatory Pick): Kolby Listenbee, WR, TCU (6’0″, 197 lbs.)
“Listenbee is a late-round prospect as a deep threat specialist. He has a very limited route tree due to how he was utilized at TCU, but if Listenbee can show scouts some route-running skills, less body catching and impress with his athleticism, he could rise a bit leading up to the draft.
To emerge as a regular contributor as third receiver, or potentially even a No. 2, he must expand his route tree, get stronger with a pro strength and conditioning program and attack the ball more aggressively with his hands.
COMPARES TO: Jerome Simpson – Minnesota Vikings. Similar in height and build while possessing good vertical speed, both struggle against more physical defenders. Listenbee has yet to show he can be a regular contributor to an offense other than as a deep threat. Like Simpson, we see Listenbee as more of a support player in an offense with the occasional flash of explosiveness and long gains.
–Spencer Hall (@SpinnerHall) (2/2/16)”
Although the Steelers have an already deep wide receiver group, they never shy away from taking receivers that other teams have overlooked; Listenbee could be this player. A talented deep threat with great length and height, Listenbee has the ability to take the top off the defense (4.39s 40 yard dash). With the loss of Martavis Bryant for the entire season due to suspension, adding another vertical deep threat to the offense would just add another weapon to QB Ben Roethlisberger’s arsenal. Although his route tree is not that developed, he can be put in the same role as Bryant during his rookie season. With Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Sammie Coates all locks to make the roster, Listenbee could be an additional body and another fast player that the Steelers have uncovered and made into an impact player. No team has been better at drafting wide receivers in recent years in the middle and late years, and this likely will continue this year.
–Round 7 (229): Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford (6’3″, 218 lbs.)
“One could argue that no senior quarterback prospect has helped himself more this season than Hogan, who has forced NFL scouts to take second and third looks at him. Although his elongated delivery and inconsistent passing vision are concerns, he’s built for the NFL game with the toughness, heart and intangibles that teams covet at the next level.
Does he have the arm talent to consistently make plays at the NFL level? That’s the debate and the key to whether or not he will receive draftable grades from teams.
COMPARES TO: Philip Rivers, Chargers – Hogan’s longated wind-up will earn plenty of criticism in the pre-draft process but like Rivers, Hogan’s instincts, accuracy and velocity are enough to overcome the quirky delivery.
–Rob Rang (11/29/15)”
Steelers fans have seen what life without Ben Roethlisberger has been like. Landry Jones was average at best during his starts this season in relief of the injured Roethlisberger but no one should be comfortable with Jones being under center. With Bruce Gradkowski and Michael Vick likely not to return to the team next season and Jones entering his contract year, the Steelers need to find a quarterback who can serve as a youthful back up to Roethlisberger and can be solid in relief. Hogan had a much improved senior season at Stanford and brings with him a powerful throwing arm and great size and intangibles, great vision, and smart instincts that are crucial for the NFL, which is very similar to Roethlisberger. Hogan would be an improvement over Jones and could potentially even develop into Roethlisberger’s eventual replacement. Giving a quarterback like Hogan the ability to develop under one of the best in the game could give him the confidence to be a nice addition to the team.
–Round 7 (246): Dean Lowry, DE, Northwestern (6’6″, 296 lbs.)
“He doesn’t play with anything less than full effort and that hustle, along with his instincts, allows him to be effective containing the edge. Lowry lacks athletic twitch and move-to-move transition to be a consistent pass rush threat in the NFL, but his initial power and unrelenting play style wears down blockers.
He lacks ideal traits to start at the next level, but shows the recognition skills and versatility to play various scheme techniques as a reserve.
–Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) (2/21/16)”
In the 7th round of the draft, most teams look for diamonds in the rough or guys that match the ideals of the team. Lowry can be both. He fits the mold of what the Steelers look for in their players: physically tough, a high motor, and a player that always gives full effort. Just like Vernon Butler, Lowry is a highly versatile player who can play in many different positions and schemes. He lacks the pure athleticism that many teams look for in defensive players, but he makes up for it with his great instincts in identifying plays quickly, a relentless effort, and great momentum. Lowry is the definition of a project player and has the frame to put on more weight, but in the 7th round, he could eventually make his way into the rotation and would be worth looking at at this point. Just as Kelvin Beachum was in 2012 and Antonio Brown was 2010, great players can be found in every part of the draft and Lowry has the potential to eventually develop into a solid player for the Steelers.
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