By: Zach Metkler, The Burgh Blog Writer
The time is finally here: draft night. With the Rams on the clock in just under an hour, I have put together my final Steelers mock draft for the 2016 offseason. So with that being said, lets get to it!
–Round 1 (25): William Jackson III, CB, Houston (6’0”, 189 lbs.)
(Photo from Behind the Steel Curtain)
“Good height and length. Stays low from a smooth backpedal. Plays with capable makeup speed when receivers get separation. Can click and close on throws in front of him with acceleration and has makeup speed deep. Possesses ball skills that defensive back coaches covet. Gets his head around to find ball on downfield throws and has excellent disruptive timing when attacking the throw. Instinctive and quick to diagnose and react to his keys. Allowed just 40 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed over last two years. Has feel for routes and will adjust coverage accordingly. Had three interceptions and scored two defensive touchdowns this season.
The Steelers have spent a lot of time this offseason looking at the corners that are entering the draft this year. One potential issue that might occur just like last year’s draft is all of the corners that the Steelers are highly interested in drafting will already be off the board. If Houston’s William Jackson III is still available, I expect the team will sprint to the podium to call his name. Arguably the fastest rising player in this year’s draft class, Jackson is a lengthy, ball-hawking defensive back that brings a lot to the table in regards to natural athleticism (ran a 4.32 40-yard dash) 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 in 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.)
(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): 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): Tyler Ervin, RB, San Jose State (5’10″, 192 lbs.)
(Photo from Real Sport 101)
“Short-strider in tight confines with ability to make sudden directional change. Despite lanky frame, doesnt run with any fear between the tackles and doesn’t look to bounce runs unnecessarily. Combines smoothness with quick reaction time to avoid traffic in the backfield and slalom his way through shifting, fluid creases along the line of scrimmage. Plus lateral escapability. Quality hands and can function as pass catcher with some matchup potential. Very good play speed and can punch the gas to top speed quickly. High-knee runner who can gain yardage in chunks if run fits break down. Scored three touchdowns on kickoffs over freshman and sophomore year and has returned kicks all four seasons.
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 6 (220)(Compensatory Pick): Tavon Young, CB, Temple (5’9″, 183 lbs.)
(Photo from Behind the Steel Curtain)
“Plays bigger and more physically than his listed height/weight. Drives through receivers with force at the point of the catch and can jar the ball free. Plays with winning ball skills. Grabbed four interceptions and had 14 passes defensed in 2014. Crowds receivers upfield and gets his head around to find the ball. Will violently rip and thrash at the ball to prevent a catch. Comfortable in bail coverage.
The Steelers have clearly not been afraid to have small, scrappy defensive backs on their roster (e.g. Antwon Blake, Senquez Golson, & Shamarko Thomas). Throughout the pre-draft process, the Steelers have shown substantial interest in another small corner: Temple’s Tavon Young. Young plays much larger than his size would indicate, never shying away from delivering a huge blow and always willing to aggressively defend against the pass with tall receivers. As it currently stands, Golson figures to start out playing the nickel and an early round cornerback like Jackson 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. Although Young will likely never be a #1 or #2 cornerback, he could serve effectively on the defense as a rotational piece and eventual nickel starter.
–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): Caleb Benenoch, T, UCLA (6’5″, 311 lbs.)
(Photo from Footballs Future)
“Plays with good knee bend. Above average athlete with long arms. Has lateral quickness off the snap to put himself in position for difficult zone blocks. Able to get to backside cutoff blocks when his angles are right. Has feet to mirror in space in pass protection. Aggressive worker with some recovery athleticism to work himself back into the play. Bumped inside to guard due to injury issues on team and handled his duties effectively.
In the 7th round of the draft, most teams look for diamonds in the rough that can develop into serviceable players for their team. At this point in the draft, the Steelers have the potential to select one of the “feel good” stories of the draft while also selecting a highly versatile, underrated offensive lineman. UCLA’s Caleb Benenoch has taken a long route to make it to the NFL (you can check out the story by Bleacher Reports Brent Sobleski here). Benenoch plays with excellent pad level, aggression, and quickness that gives him potential to play both guard and tackle, both of which he played at during his time at UCLA. The Steelers utilize athleticism and versatility in their depth offensive linemen and Benenoch would fill that need perfectly, especially with the team’s injury history across the line. If he can add more size and strength to his lanky frame, he even has potential to replace Ramon Foster at left guard after his 3-year contract ends, or even potentially compete at left tackle with Alejandro Villanueva and Ryan Harris. With an offensive line coach like Mike Munchak, the sky is the limit for the player from Nigeria and could pay huge dividends for the Steelers selecting him this late (does the name Kelvin Beachum ring any bells?).
Check out my first five mock drafts here: