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.
In this mock draft, I will be taking an entirely different approach. As the draft approaches, many players that the Steelers have interest in have quickly rising stock. For this mock draft, I have a situation that would be nerve-wracking for the Steelers: all the players at the top of their big board are gone. In a move that is relatively uncharacteristic for the Steelers, they decide to trade back with a team with a lot of draft ammunition to stockpile more picks with better value rather than reaching for a player that they do not really want in the first round. Since the Tennessee Titans traded away the #1 overall pick in this year’s draft, they accumulated 4 picks in the top 76, which is huge for a team on the rise like the Titans. By trading back, the Steelers are able to pick up a 2nd, 3rd, and 6th round pick, which gives them 4 picks in the top 100 and 5 picks in the first 4 rounds to really target players that can make an instant impact. By getting more picks, the Steelers will also be able to address the offense without feeling like they are wasting valuable picks.
With that being said, here is my Steelers Mock Draft 6.0!
–Round 2 (45)(From Tennessee): Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson (5’10”, 190 lbs.)
(Photo from Hogs Haven)
“Fiery competitor who is quick to mix it up with a receiver after the play. Extremely confident and shows signs of being able to rise to the occasion against elevated competition. Allowed just 29.6 percent completions and no touchdowns. Got the best of OU wide receiver Sterling Shepard in back-to-back seasons. Smaller, but well built with good muscular definition. Able to read wide receivers and gain a head start on their plans. Goes to work in the film room. Reacts quickly to what he sees. Has very good recovery quickness within the first 10 yards to close out any early separation. Showed improved technique as season progressed. Loves to trap and crowd outside releases against the sideline. When he learns to play ball over man, his passes defensed will jump. Plays stronger than his size and his demeanor fires up his teammates.
Once upon a time, Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander was considered to be a surefire top 15 pick and was a top 3 cornerback in this year’s draft. Oh how the times have changed. With the recent emergence of Houston’s William Jackson III and the steady stock of Ohio State’s Eli Apple, Alexander has found himself taking an unexpected hit to his stock, even though he has done nothing to warrant this free-fall. The NFL is funny like that. 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. Alexander plays with the fearlessness and aggression that the Steelers love in their defenders. He was not targeted often in college, with most quarterbacks avoiding to throw in his direction. With his technique steadily improving as his college career progressed, Alexander would bring a future #1 to the Steelers. With an experienced William Gay and young corners Senquez Golson, Doran Grant, and Ross Cockrell, the Steelers secondary can take a big step in becoming a dominant unit with the addition of Alexander, who would be an absolute steal at this point in the 2nd round.
–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 (76)(From Tennessee): Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma (5’10″, 194 lbs.)
(Photo from Sports Daily)
“Silky smooth with terrific route quickness. Plays with consistent play speed into and out of his breaks and can hit the gas out of his breaks to create instant separation for anticipatory throws. Runs variety of routes from the slot. Almost impossible to stay with his “whip” route. Clean with his double moves and if cornerbacks bite, is able to get over the top to track throws and run under them for the big play. Will adjust routes to ball placement. Not afraid over the middle. Born to catch a football. Just eight drops with 253 catches and is able to adjust to high, low or behind him for difficult catches. Loves to compete. Willing to jump into a cornerback and get after him as a blocker from slot. Takes pride in his work ethic and scouts say his personal and football character is extremely high. Was a talented basketball player and long-jumper in high school.
Although the Steelers have an already deep wide receiver group, they never shy away from taking receivers that other teams have overlooked; take Sammie Coates for example. The Steelers were able to draft him in the 3rd round last season even though receiver was not on the top of the list of top priorities for the team. Yet, they found a future playmaker who will hopefully make 2016 his breakout season. This year, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard could find himself in a similar role, as many scouts do not consider him among the top receivers this season. That assessment could become the Steelers steal of the draft, especially since they have already shown a high degree of interest in the exciting receiver. Shepard has drawn lofty comparisons to Seattle’s Tyler Lockett. When Lockett was going through the draft process, he drew comparisons to Antonio Brown. Not a bad comparison. Unlike many receivers that come into the pros, Shepard boasts experience with an expansive route tree. He projects best as a slot receiver starting out and with Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton not being locks to be with the team long-term, the Steelers would be wise to add another piece into the fold. Not to mention his abilities as a receiver, but he also comes with much experience returning kicks, another position of need that the team needs to address. With Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Sammie Coates all locks to make the roster for this upcoming season, though, Shepard could be an additional body and another exciting player that the Steelers select in the middle of the draft and make into an impact player. No team has been better at drafting wide receivers in recent years in the middle and late rounds, and this likely will continue this year.
–Round 3 (89): Javon Hargrave, DL, South Carolina State (6’1″, 309 lbs.)
(Photo from Baltimore Ravens)
“Thick bubble and burly thighs. Compact frame allows him to play low and dip around the corner when playing in gaps. Dominated his level of competition. Surprising foot quickness with an adequate spin move. Plays with quick burst upfield and into blockers. Plus motor and effort and willing to pursue around the field. Better upper body power than in his trunk. Inconsistent with his hands, but when he uses them, they are effective. Raw, but has potential and flashes playmaking ability.
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. South Carolina State’s Javon Hargrave is one of the top small school prospects in this years draft and would provide the Steelers with a stocky, solid body in the middle and quickness and awareness that would tremendously help the Steelers against the run and even the pass by freeing up lanes for pass-rushers to easily get after the quarterback. Hargrave is far from a polished product but he has a boat-load of potential that will only help in his development, especially with a defensive line coach like John Mitchell. With his power at the point of attack and low center of gravity, 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): Jerald Hawkins, OT, LSU (6’6″, 305 lbs.)
(Photo from The Advocate)
“Long-limbed tackle with experience on both sides. Slides feet and hips into play-side positioning after making squared contact on reach blocks and the backside. Flashes power in his paws snatching a portion of defender’s frame and maintaining his grip. Plays with good weight distribution and balanced pass sets. Has foot quickness and change of direction for redirect move back inside without much hesitation and brace up his edge. Speedy snap off and search mechanism against twists. Generally well-timed climbs on combo blocks. Uses upward blow with decent hip snap into initial contact in run game. Held his own in snaps against A’Shawn Robinson from Alabama.
Even with the resigning of Ramon Foster and the signing of free agent Ryan Harris, the Steelers would still be wise to address the offensive line by adding depth and potential future players. One player that has been on the Steelers radar all offseason is LSU offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins. A long, athletic offensive lineman, Hawkins has the athleticism and experience to play at either tackle spot on the offensive line. Even though the team still has Alejandro Villanueva and Ryan Harris competing at left tackle and Marcus Gilbert firmly entrenched as the starting right tackle, the depth behind both spots is abysmal, with Mike Adams being the only player with any real experience behind them, which should not instill confidence into many people. With Ryan Harris not being a long-term option and Villanueva not being a fully proven starter yet, the Steelers could look to add a body to the mix to help find the best player for the spot. Although Hawkins likely would not see a starting spot during his rookie season due to some slight technique issues, he could find himself fighting for a spot after some time spent under offensive line guru Mike Munchak. Offensive line is a position being overlooked and undervalued by many people but the reality is that you can never have too many options on the offensive line and the Steelers will likely address the position at some point in the draft. With the extra draft picks in this scenario, they could potentially pull the trigger on a high upside prospect like Hawkins earlier on in the draft.
-Round 6 (193)(From Tennessee): Harlan Miller, CB, Southeastern Louisiana (6’0″, 182 lbs.)
(Photo from Behind the Steel Curtain)
“Plays with quick, darting feet and has the ability to mirror and match receivers’ movements down the field. Is always in hot pursuit in run support and is willing to sprint across the field to get into the action. Tenacious wrap-up tackler. Tall with good arm length. Will actively look for chances to make plays outside his area. In press, reads direction of release and slides feet in front of receiver to impede his route. Able to shift weight and change direction instantly. Hard-charging competitor with ball skills to boot.
Southeastern Louisiana’s Harlan Miller was a relatively unknown cornerback prospect throughout his entire career until he stepped foot onto the field for the Senior Bowl. At the Senior Bowl, Miller showed great tenacity and great form when covering receivers and making tackles. As a player with length, he matches up well against the tall players that he would have to compete against in the NFL and does a great job of locating the ball and making a play on it. One area of concern with Miller is his 40 time at the combine that raised some red flags from scouts after he only ran a 4.65 40. He improved this time at his pro day, running a 4.54 but that still leaves much to be desired. The odd this with this, though, is the fact that on the field, he rarely gets burned by players and plays much faster than his 40 time would indicate. He plays his best football playing off-coverage, which is how the Steelers like to play their cornerbacks. If he can work on his strength, he could potentially find a place in the Steelers secondary early on in his career and could potentially be a nice long-term addition to a secondary in desperate need of help and depth. As it currently stands, Senquez Golson figures to start out playing the nickel and an early round cornerback like Alexander will play on the outside eventually, which might cause some people to question why the Steelers even need to draft another cornerback. The answer is simple: you can never have too much cornerback depth and competition on your roster. There have been plenty of rumors circulating around the team that 2015 4th round draft pick Doran Grant could move to safety and William Gay is not getting any younger. The Steelers need to add depth to the position and find playmakers that can help shore up their porous secondary.
–Round 6 (220)(Compensatory Pick): Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford (6’3″, 218 lbs.)
(Photo from Redskins)
“Consistent winner and tough. Scouts say his teammates and coaches see through deficiencies and trust the competitiveness above all else. Has NFL size. Benefited from playing in a pro-style attack. Has adequate mobility and is unafraid to pull the ball down and get tough yards to extend drives. Extremely bright person. Doesn’t always look pretty, but finds ways to make winning plays in adverse situations. Doesn’t get cute and feeds his top talent. Tasked to manage the offense and did just that. Smart and self-aware. Understands his strengths and weaknesses and doesnt take very many low percentage chances. Was the most accurate short-yardage passer in Pac-12 at 76.7 percent.
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. Stanford’s Kevin Hogan came into college having to fill the shoes of Andrew Luck, which is a lofty task for anyone. After a solid freshman year, Hogan trailed off a bit and became an afterthought for most draft experts. After staying at Stanford for his senior year, he saw a tremendous spike in production and confidence, becoming one of the most accurate passers of short to medium range throws in college football. Although his accuracy and strength throwing the ball down the field still needs some work, Hogan shows the potential to be a late round developmental prospect who would not be pressured into playing right away. Additionally, he would serve as an immediate upgrade to Jones and would instill more confidence in Steelers fans backing up Big Ben than the former Oklahoma star. 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. 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 7 (229): James Cowser, OLB, Southern Utah (6’3″, 248 lbs.)
(Photo from Gridiron Fix Network)
“Has a high-end motor that never stops. FCS Defensive Player of the Year. Active pass rusher with quick hands and welltimed hand swipes at the top of his rush. Rushes from both ends and has a tight, basketball spin move from either direction that puts him in position to win. Quick second and third steps for darting inside moves. Sheds with proper timing to make the tackle. Studious in classroom and film room.
Very few teams in the NFL have been as successful in finding late round players who come in and contribute early on in their careers as the Steelers. This year, Southern Utah’s James Cowser comes to the NFL as the reigning FCS Defensive Player of the Year after being one of the most productive players in the Football Championship Subdivision in 2014 (28.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks in 2014, 19 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, 4 forced fumbles in 2015). Upon his graduation from Southern Utah, he will leave being the FCS career leader in sacks (42.5) and tackles for a loss (80). Cowser used strong hands, diverse pass rushing moves, and a great motor to beat tackles consistently and never plays with anything less than 100% effort. Even though he does not jump off the charts in any one area, he is an overall solid prospect with immense football intelligence. He fits the mold of a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker and does a good job of setting the edge and getting after the quarterback. Even though the Steelers already have their rotation set in place next season with Bud Dupree, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, and James Harrison (assuming that he does in fact come back for another season), Cowser would not be pressed into action immediately, giving him time to improve against elite competition and make an impact on special teams. With the long-term future up in the air for the Steelers’ outside linebackers (Jones entering his final contract year and Harrison being as old as he is), Cowser could find himself in a position to see the field sooner rather than later and if that is the case, look for him to fit right in with the Steelers aggressive style of play.
–Round 7 (246): Anthony Zettel, DE, Penn State (6’4″, 277 lbs.)
(Photo from The Collegian)
“Relentless motor. Doesnt give offensive lineman a snap off with a lazy rep. Credited by Penn State with 38 tackles for loss over his career. Urgency ratchets up even higher when he smells a play is there to be made. Reads quarterback’s eyes and steadies himself to time a leap into passing lane. Had six passes defended in 2015. Has decent lateral footwork and a functional spin move that can open opportunities for him.
In the 7th round of the draft, most teams look for diamonds in the rough or guys that match the ideals of the team. Penn State’s Anthony Zettel 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. Zettel 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 Zettel 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. Zettel is the definition of a project player and does not have a specific position that he fits the mold for on the defensive line, 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 Zettel has the potential to eventually develop into a solid player for the Steelers.
Check out my first five mock drafts here: