By: Zach Metkler, The Burgh Blog Writer
If you have been following the Steelers official pre-draft visits, one thing should be evident: the Steelers are highly interested in defensive players. With 26 official pre-draft visits already completed, most of the players that have met with the team have been on the defensive side of the ball. This should be no surprise to anyone, as there are plenty of holes that need to be filled on that side of the ball.
I’m sure some of you readers will dislike this draft due to the cornerback position not being addressed until the 3rd round. Hear me out. There is a reason for my decision to predict it this way.
With that being said, here is my Steelers Mock Draft 5.0!
–Round 1 (25): A’Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama (6’4”, 307 lbs.)
(Photo from PennLive)
“Body beautiful for an interior lineman. Well-proportioned with powerful, tree trunk legs make it tough to move him off the spot. Has boom in his punch and dislodges guards and centers if they try and wait on him. Pure power to toss a one-on-one block aside. Athletic enough to give reasonable chase to the ball. Well schooled in using length to stuff cut blocks. Has frame and length to eat blocks and allow linebackers to run free. Heavy tackler. Running backs do not break his tackles and he rarely fails to finish when hes locked in on his target. Able to generate pocket push when he gets it cranked up as a pass rusher. Boss man in the locker room and in practice helping to hold teammates accountable. Coming into the draft with relatively fresh legs playing just 57 percent of Alabamas defensive snaps over last two seasons. Has brute force to match NFL power immediately.
In this mock draft, all of the corners that the Steelers would like to select (Jackson III, Alexander, & Apple) are off the board, which is a possibility with numerous teams looking to improve their secondaries. Instead of reaching for a corner in the 1st round, the Steelers take arguably the most versatile defensive lineman in this year’s draft: Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson. A stout player, Robinson plays well against both the run and the pass. Even though the Steelers have ranked well in run defense over the past few seasons, this should not prevent them from taking a player who has the ability to step in from day one and truly play as a 3-down, 2-gap player. With Steve McLendon no longer being on the roster, the Steelers have almost no depth at defensive tackle other than Daniel McCullers, who has yet to show any flashes of great potential even though he is a monster of a man. Robinson’s ability to stuff the run and rush the passer could give DC Keith Butler options for different schemes with the front seven. Robinson is truly a top-10 talent, so why do I have him falling to 25th where the Steelers are picking? Robinson was truly a man among boys at Alabama but still has some development to do, with the biggest issue being his pad level. When watching his tape and reading his numerous scouting reports, many parallels can be made to current Steelers star DE Cam Heyward whenever he was coming out of Ohio State in 2011. If defensive line coach John Mitchell can work the same magic on Robinson that he was able to use on Heyward, the Steelers have the potential to boast one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. An argument can be made that the Steelers have moved away from the days of using a true nose tackle, but if a talent like Robinson is still on the board, the Steelers would be wise to address the position.
–Round 2 (58): Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia (5’10″, 205 lbs.)
(Photo from Dallas Sports Blog)
“Team captain and impactful Leader. Plays with passion and a deep love of the game. Play-making safety with man cover ability and plus ball skills. Took reps heads up against Sterling Shepard. Quick to get head around and find the ball and always opts to try and take the ball away rather than break up the pass. Leaper who challenges the high-point. Finished with nine career interceptions and five this season in just four games. Plays run and pass with great urgency. True high/low option with toughness for the box and straight line speed to play rangy center field. Can pedal and shift from deep zone. Wolf looking for his next meal as a hitter.
Currently, Mike Mitchell is the only safety on the roster with any type of starting experience. With Robert Golden being the only truly reliable safety on the roster, it is imperative that the team bring in additional safety help. Realistically, you can even look at safety as being a bigger need than cornerback. They appear to recognize this need, as they have met with some of the top safeties in the draft. 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. Joseph has widely been criticized because of his size, but he makes up for it by playing fearlessly with great feet and awareness and by always seeming to trust his instincts. The coaching staff has had nothing but excellent things to say about the ballhawking safety and he has met with the Steelers extensively, further indicating that he is truly a high character player. With the Steelers lack of depth at safety, 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): D.J. White, CB, Georgia Tech (5’11″, 193 lbs.)
(Photo from Cleveland)
“Team captain and three-year starter. Patient from press coverage and plays with balance. Disrupts receivers with well-placed jabs. Plays with desired feel for his man throughout the route, working to stay in his pocket. Good short-area quicks to squeeze routes and close on throws. Challenges catch without running through receivers. Good leaper with high-point ability. Instinctive and disciplined. Attacks catch point rather than man when in position. Forced a fumble all four years at Ga Tech. Should not be limited by scheme.
Although this situation is not preferable (especially to Steelers fans everywhere, including myself), it is not entirely unbelievable that the Steelers wait until around the 3rd round to address cornerback. With the recent release of Cortez Allen, it would seem that this has only increased the need to address the position. Why this definitely would imply that, Allen was not in the teams future plans, meaning that his release really does not change the Steelers draft strategy. In this mock draft scenario, the top corners were off the board by the 25th pick and the team chose to select a can’t miss safety prospect. Waiting to select a corner like Georgia Tech’s D.J. White. A leader on and off the field, White would likely be a late 1st to 2nd round draft pick in any other year where the cornerback class was not as deep as it is. Even though he could play with some more strength, his athleticism allows him to play with the best of them. His instincts and ball skills give him big-play potential due to his ability to high-point the ball and be aggressive against receivers of all size. Considering the Steelers projected starters are William Gay, Ross Cockrell, and Senquez Golson, White could come in day one and see time on the field and develop into a strong, physical corner that the team desperately needs. Given a year to really grow, he has enough upside to project as a future #1 corner, which if you can nab a #1 corner in the 3rd round, you have truly found a value pick.
–Round 4 (123): Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (6’2″, 226 lbs.)
(Photo from NFL Draft Diamonds)
“Thick, muscular frame. Has proven over last three seasons that he can withstand a pounding. Has enough natural arm strength and hip snap to fit throws into an NFL window. Stands tall and delivers a tight spiral with over-the-top delivery. Very little windup and gets ball out with the flick of a wrist. When pocket is clean, can deliver accurate strikes around the field. Played with improved vision and care for football this season and eliminated many of the ill-fated throws that turned into interceptions in 2014. Still a work in progress, but continues to show a level of growth as a passer. Threat with his legs, scoring 37 rushing touchdowns over last three seasons and had 94 rushes of ten yards or more during that time. Can be used as goal-line rushing option. Willing to extend plays outside of pocket with legs but look to finish the play with his arm. Mentally tough enough to carry a heavy offensive burden for the Bulldogs over last three years. When protected better in 2014, showed an ability to challenge deep and strike with accuracy and touch.
Many people do not think that the Steelers need to address the quarterback position. But the truth is, 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 and maybe even develop into their future starter. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott used to resemble Tim Tebow of yesteryear, but over the past 2 seasons, he has really found his own in the passing game and has developed into a true dual-threat quarterback. Thinking about a muscular 6’2″, 226 lb. quarterback rumbling down the field to pick up a first down should instill fear into opposing defenses. Prescott brings with him a powerful throwing arm and great size and intangibles, much improved vision, and smart instincts that are crucial for the NFL. These improvements have allowed him to show a large resemblance to Roethlisberger. Prescott would be an improvement over Jones and could potentially even develop into Roethlisberger’s eventual replacement down the line. Giving a quarterback like Prescott 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. Teams like the Packers have taken quarterbacks early and let them develop under the incumbent player (Aaron Rodgers under Brett Favre). Even the Steelers did that in 2013 when selecting Jones in the 4th round. With the next few quarterback draft classes being relatively unspectacular, the Steelers could select their future quarterback this season and reap the benefits of that decision whenever Big Ben’s time in Pittsburgh comes to an end within the next few years.
–Round 6 (220)(Compensatory Pick): Jatavis Brown, LB/S, Akron (5’11″, 217 lbs.)
(Photo from Toledo Blade)
“Consistent and productive for three, straight seasons. Tremendous play speed and acceleration to cut off angles and catch running backs around the corner. Ran a 4.47 at regional combine. Explosive athlete with serious twitch. Glides and mirrors. Can outrace blockers to the spot. Rangy, but will squeeze backside. Team-oriented and not looking to play hero-ball. Instinctive and sniffs out misdirection plays. Attempts to disrupt tight ends getting into routes and has some cover ability. Uses quickness and burst to the quarterback to rack up sacks as blitzer.
At this point, I am beginning to sound like a broken record: the Steelers LOVE versatility. Not only do they need help at safety, but they could also use some depth at linebacker (both inside and outside). Why not kill 2 birds with 1 stone? Akron’s Jatavis Brown could be considered a poor-man’s Su’a Cravens (LB/S from USC), which is not a bad comparison considering Cravens has drawn comparisons to some guy named Troy Polamalu. Brown is not quite up to that billing, but he has the ability to play all across the field. With 4.47 speed, he not only has straight line speed in shorts, but also plays with extreme speed on the field, always closing in on offensive players with tremendous explosion and awareness. One area where the Steelers have struggled is their ability to cover tight ends. Even though Brown is only 5’11”, 217 lbs., he has shown the ability to cover tight ends that tower over him, playing with aggression and a high motor. His coverage abilities do not stop there. Brown looks the part of an NFL safety and his ability to cover near the box has always been one of his many strengths and that will likely continue in the pros. He has shown the ability to efficiently rush the passer as well, which only adds to the many tools he has equipped in his toolbox. As a 6th round pick, he would likely have to make his mark on special teams first, which is an area where he could flourish. In the 6th round, the Steelers could select a truly diverse player that would give them 100 scheme options on the defense to confuse offenses across the league. The Steelers have not had a player like Polamalu since Polamalu and if Brown could be even half of what Polamalu was for the Steelers, the team could potentially find a steal in the 6th round.
–Round 7 (229): Dean Lowry, DE, Northwestern (6’6″, 296 lbs.)
(Photo from 247 Sports)
“Comes off the snap with burst and good pad level. Gives chase on the backside with great motor and good play speed. Willing to pursue the ball with consistency or effort. When pad level is good, can generate effective speed-to-power attack. Has play frame to fit classic 3-4 DE spot. Coaches praise his work ethic and team-first mentality. Does the dirty work that helps others succeed. Always active. Tackle finisher who rarely allows runners to escape. Had as many tackles and more tackles for loss than Joey Bosa.
In the 7th round of the draft, most teams look for diamonds in the rough or guys that match the ideals of the team. Northwestern’s Dean 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. Lowry is a highly versatile player who can play in many different positions across the line, but he will likely find a home as a 3-4 defensive end. 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. The Steelers have always loved high character players and Lowry is yet another example of a selfless player who always puts his team and teammate first, which would be a welcome persona in the Steelers locker room. 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.
–Round 7 (246): Ken Crawley, CB, Colorado (6’0″, 187 lbs.)
(Photo from NFL Mocks)
“Good height. Three-year starter who has played over 78 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in all four seasons. Shows patience out of back pedal. Won’t open to one side or the other based on basic, first move by receiver. Flashed bursts of athleticism in Shrine Game practices and was able to open hips and transition into a sprint. Has mirror and match ability on stop and go routes. Consistent tackle production. Has balanced approach and usually drives through running back’s legs in run support.
As I previously mentioned, the Steelers need to address the depth of their secondary and selecting a cornerback in the 7th round with raw potential could pay dividends for the team down the road. Colorado’s Ken Crawley is another example of a player with great length and speed (4.41 40-yard dash) who boast a boat load of experience in college (three-year starter, played in 78% of Colorado’s defensive snaps). Crawley has shown the ability to comfortably locate the ball when defending receivers, as well as the speed to run with receivers down the field. With that being said, his skinny frame sometimes allows him to get overpowered by big, physical receivers and he suffers from “Ike Taylor” syndrome in the sense that his hands are essentially made of cement. Regardless of this, he plays with great fluidity and motion and plays extremely well off the ball and the receiver. In the 7th round, a player like Crawley could be a nice developmental pickup for a team that needs to continue to add depth. Although he likely will never be a #1, he could one day develop into a solid #2 due to his elite speed and athleticism and would be able to keep up with the deep threats in the NFL.
Check out my first four mock drafts here: