By: Zach Metkler, The Burgh Blog Writer
As the draft quickly approaches, more and more names are circulating around teams as potential targets and the Steelers are no different. Teams can begin making official pre-draft visits and Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have been making their rounds with players. With just under 4 weeks remaining until the draft, here is my second mock draft of the offseason for the Steelers.
–Round 1 (25): William Jackson III, CB, Houston (6’0″, 189 lbs.)
“At the next level, scouts and coaches covet speed at the position, but teams also want size and length to better match-up with the physical pass-catchers in the NFL. Jackson is a good-sized athlete for the position with an aggressive attitude that serves him well, doing a lot of wide receiver-like things at the catch point.
Brackets receivers against the sideline with terrific instincts and coverage sense to take away short passes and not get beat deep. He looks comfortable in either press-man or off-man. Balanced off the snap and extends his hands to jam in press-man coverage. Quick out of his stance to shadow routes, reading the receiver to sense throws and get his head turned to react accordingly.
–Dane Brugler (2/10/16)”
The Steelers have spent a lot of time this offseason looking at the corners that are entering the draft this year. The player that they have spent the most time meeting with, though, is Houston’s star CB William Jackson III. A lengthy, ball-hawking defensive back, Jackson brings a lot to the table in regards to natural athleticism and the ability to play in different fronts and schemes, which goes right along with the philosophy that the Steelers employ with their numerous sub-packages. He has shown great ability to play both man and zone coverage schemes and has the speed to keep up with almost all of the receivers in the league. As it stands right now, William Gay, Ross Cockrell, and Senquez Golson figure to be the starters for next season. Gay’s time as a #1 corner are quickly coming to an end, and both Cockrell and Golson project better as a #2 or #3 corner. With Jackson’s potential to become a true #1 corner, his addition to the team would immensely help the secondary become a dominant force.
–Round 2 (58): Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia (5’10”, 205 lbs.)
“Pound-for-pound one of the most physical players in the country, and plays much tougher than he looks. He loves violent contact and times his hits well to jar the ball loose. He plays fast and low to the ground to generate his power as a tackler, using leverage and reckless abandon as a finisher.
Joseph has quick reflexes to make explosive decisions and movements, shooting out of a cannon with an aggressive play style and never attacking half-speed. He strikes through his target and is a big hit waiting to happen.
–Dane Bugler (2/10/16)”
As one of the hardest hitting safeties in the draft, Karl Joseph brings a lot of talent coming from West Virginia. Before suffering a huge non-contact knee injury in October, Joseph was tied for the NCAA lead in interceptions and was widely considered by many to be the best true safety in this draft class. With the Steelers lack of depth at safety and Mike Mitchell being the only starting caliber player at the position, it is imperative that the Steelers address the issue. Shamarko Thomas was drafted to fill the void left by Steelers great Troy Polamalu but has barely shown any glimpses that he can be an every down player in the NFL. Drafting a player like the hard-hitting Joseph to pair with Mitchell would give the Steelers one of the rangiest, hardest-hitting safety groups in the league.
–Round 3 (89): Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State (6’4″, 314 lbs.)
“Possesses the thick-cut frame to fit even and odd fronts, alike, sporting broad shoulders, a big butt and gut and tree trunks for limbs. He’s stout at the point of attack, showing the coordination and leg drive to anchor as well as good core strength to stand his ground even when caught off-balance.
When he attacks with his hands, Johnson can stack and shed blockers in the hole. Locates the ball quickly and hustles laterally or downfield in pursuit. As a pass rusher, he shows more effort than explosiveness or technique, chopping his hands to fight through would-be blockers but rarely slipping by them freely.
–Rob Rang (2/10/16)”
Over the past few seasons, the Steelers have gone from relying heavily on their base 3-4 defense to using a large amounts of sub-packages and different fronts. This has caused the team to not use a true nose tackle or defensive tackle as often as they have in the past. Much of this can be pointed to the retirement of Casey Hampton, as the team has not had a true space-eater in the middle since. Austin Johnson would provide the Steelers with a huge body and great motor that would tremendously help the Steelers against the run, as well as free up lanes for pass-rushers to easily get after the quarterback. With his power at the point of attack, Johnson would be a welcome addition to the defensive front and give DC Keith Butler even more options to help the Steel Curtain regain it’s past dominance.
–Round 4 (123): Matt Judon, OLB, Grand Valley State (6’3″, 275 lbs.)
“Looks the part of an NFL defensive end, sporting a well-built frame with broad shoulders, long arms and a trim middle. Good initial quickness off the snap, accelerating smoothly to routinely cross the face of tackles as an edge rusher or when pulling to stunt back inside.
Good flexibility to dip under the reach of tackles, showing agility and balance to turn the corner, as well as a closing burst to attack the ballcarrier. Coordinated athlete who breaks down well in space to lasso ballcarriers, showing good lateral agility, balance and patience to force opponents to commit before he does.
Fights to keep contain, showing the speed to beat backs wide and force them back inside. Long, strong arms to grab hold of ballcarriers and pull them to the ground. Good situational awareness. Gets his hands up in passing lanes and rips at the ball when pursuing from behind, forcing eight fumbles over his career.
–Rob Rang (1/25/16)”
In last years draft, the Steelers selected Bud Dupree, a 6’4″, 270 lb. outside linebacker from Kentucky. His speed and athleticism was off the charts for a player of his size, which played a big part in the Steelers selecting him to help improve their pass rush. This year, a similar player could be in the mix for the Steelers as D-II edge-rusher Matt Judon boasts similar skills and traits that made the team fall in love with Bud Dupree. At 6’3″, 275 lbs., Judon led the NCAA with 20 sacks and demonstrated the burst, awareness, and ability to set the edge that NFL scouts look for in edge-rushers. Judon needs a lot of work with his technique (as would be expected from a small school prospect) but when given some time to develop, he could become a force off the edge, especially with Jarvis Jones being a huge question mark for the team moving forward.
–Round 6 (220)(Compensatory Pick): 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 (229): Tyler Ervin, RB, San Jose State (5’10”, 192 lbs.)
“Runs much tougher than he looks. Excellent balance to withstand contact and wiggle out of the grasp to always pick up more yards than he should. Smart runner and doesn’t take many punishing hits, but the main reason he has a chance at the next level is how quickly he reads his blocks to determine his best north-south path and hit his top speed instantly.
–Dane Brugler (2/6/16)”
Running back might not seem like a pressing need for the team with Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams being entrenched as the top two backs. But as much as this seems like a set situation, it is far from that. Bell is entering his contract year and is coming off of back to back season ending knee injuries. Williams will be 33 at the start of the 2016 season. It would be a good idea for the Steelers to add some depth and versatility to the position for the future. Tyler Ervin can help to the team in multiple ways. As a smaller back (5’10”, 192 lbs.,), Ervin does not run with much power. What he lacks in power, though, he makes up for with excellent speed and vision. He is a patient runner, seeing his blocks develop before he finds the best place to run. Do not let this patience mislead you, as he is very quick when making his reads. His ability to make quick reads and his 4.4 40-yard dash speed make him a solid candidate to be a return specialist early on in his career. If the Steelers took a shot on him towards the end of the draft, they would be getting a shifty back who would provide depth and special teams contributions as a rookie, with the latter being a much needed addition to the team.
–Round 7 (246): Jared Norris, ILB, Utah (6’1″, 241 lbs.)
“Norris locates the football quickly and does a very nice job of stepping up to blockers and either slipping free with an effective punch or sliding laterally to avoid them to make the play in the hole. Plays faster than he may time due to his recognition and pursuit angles. He closes downhill quickly and brings the wood as a tackler, facing up ballcarriers and driving them backyards when he can hit them square. Norris shows some feel for coverage, keeping his head on a swivel and reacting quickly to the ball once thrown.
–Rob Rang (2/13/16)”
Over the past 2 seasons, the Steelers have had one of the best and deepest groups of middle linebackers in the league. This upcoming season, though, the group will look different with the loss of both Sean Spence and Terence Garvin. The team added Steven Johnson to help the depth issues but the team could look to add another linebacker late in the draft and that player could be Utah middle linebacker Jared Norris. Norris is a very smart and instinctive player that excels with his ability to quickly recognize a developing play. Although he is not anywhere nearly as athletic as Ryan Shazier, Norris could fit right in with the type of tough linebackers the Steelers love to take. With an aging Lawrence Timmons on the roster, Norris would not be required to play right away but with Timmons time with the Steelers potentially coming to an end, adding a depth player like Norris could give him time to eventually learn the ropes before getting the opportunity to step in and compete within the Steelers rotation.