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Players to watch in the combine for the Steelers: Defense

A couple days ago we wrote up some thoughts on players who the Steelers may be targeting on offense as they do their evaluations this week at the NFL combine. Similar to our list of players to watch on offense, this defensive list of prospects is broken down by the likely position the Steelers could go to address the needs on defense.  For example; since the team doesn’t figure to go Cornerback or Safety early on we’re profiling value picks at these positions for the team.

Inside Linebackers: The Steelers figure to address this position within the first 3 rounds, more than likely 2nd or 3rd round but depending on who’s available.

Dont’a Hightower, Alabama, 6’4″, 260 lbs.
Both Vontaze Burfict & Luke Kuechly will be gone by the time the Steelers draft in the first round. If they choose to go after a linebacker early, Hightower is the most obvious choice right now. Physical, tough, able to take on offensive lineman and get after the Quarterback. Plays well inside the box and is no stranger to calling plays for the defense. Blew out his knee in 2009 and has been steadily regaining his form in 2010 and 2011. Late round 1.

Value Options:
Audie Cole, NC State, 6’4″, 248 lbs.
Tough player, instinctful, no stranger to causing turnovers and getting after the Quarterback. Able to drop back in pass coverage.
Round 3

Jerry Franklin, Arkansas, 6’1″, 245 lbs.
Can play both inside and outside, solid tackler. Doesn’t have great speed but smart player in pass coverage.

Outside Linebackers: The Steelers don’t figure to look for help on the outside early in the draft so we’ll look at some value picks to watch.

Shea McClellin, Boise State, 6’3″ 248 lbs.
His stock fell when he showed up overweight at the Senior Bowl. If the Steelers think he has his act together they may be able to get him in the 4th round at a pretty nice steal. Solid in both run support and as a pass rusher. Had 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss in 2011.

Bruce Irvin, WVU, 6’2″, 235 lbs.
could find a home as an OLB in a 3-4 defense. Good pass rush skills, but needs to get better in run support. could be available in the 4th round.

Frank Alexander, Oklahoma, 6’4″, 255 lbs.
Started out strong in 2011 but production slowed late in the year. Good pass rusher, quick off the snap. Could have been a 2nd round pick if he had the same production late in the as he did early on. Could fall as far as round 5.

Nose Tackle:
This is a position the Steelers could address with their first round pick. Quite honestly it’s a no brainer. If either of these two are available when the Steelers draft in the first 2 rounds, they need to take one of them.

Donatari Poe, Memphis, 6’5″ 350 lbs.
When he gets set he can easily occupy 2 blockers and is hard to move. Gigantic player who isn’t very quick but is stoudt at the point of attack. With Hampton recovering from ACL surgery this would be a great choice.

Alameda Ta’amu, Washington, 6’3″, 341 lbs
If Poe is not there or they choose to go elsewhere with their 1st round choice, Ta’amushould be available in the 2nd or possibly early 3rd. Some have him ranked higher than Poe. Tough against the run but also able to move lineman back and collapse the pocket.

3-4 Defensive End: The team doesn’t figure to use a premium pick here since they have done so recently with Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward. They may look for depth though and if so, a 4th or 5th round talent could be had.

Kheeston Randall, Texas, 6’5″, 297 lbs.
Value pick that could go as early as 3 or fall to round 5. Raw potential that could be brought a long as a project.Solid tackler, impressed at the Senior Bowl.

Tony Jerod-Eddie, Texas A&M, 6’4″, 301 lbs.
Underachieved a bit, 56 tackles and 5 sacks in 2011 but still has good skills that can be improved upon in the right system. Good value in the 5th round.

Cornerbacks: Even if William Gay leaves in free agency this isn’t an area the team needs to focus on this year with any premium picks. They brought in Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen last year. A value choice here in the later rounds wouldn’t hurt though.

Trevin Wade, Arizona, 5’11” 182 lbs.
A standout corner on a bad defense. He was schooled by Justin Blackmon (but many others have been too) but overall had a good year. 52 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 13 passes defensed. Good value choice here that may fall to the 5th or 6th round.

Isaiah Frey, Nevada, 6’0″ 190 lbs.
A project player who could turn into a solid NFL corner with the right coaching. He had 5 interceptions and 16 passes defensed in 2011. Solid value choice late in the draft.

Omar Bolden, Arizona State, 5’10”, 195 lbs.
could have been 1st or 2nd round pick but blew out his knee in the spring of 2011. He’s been rehabbing to enter the NFL draft and could be a steal for a team like the Steelers who have several young CB’s already and can take the time work with him.

Safety: Both Polamalu and Clark are playing at a high level and both are healthy. No reason to think the Steelers will go Safety in any of the early rounds this year, other more pressing needs will take priority. 2013 or 2014 could be a year though as they look to the future.

Tavon Wilson, Illinois, 6’0″ 205 lbs.
Finished 2011 with 74 tackles, 1 sack, 1 intercpetion and 1 forced fumble. A project that could develop into a solid Safety within a couple years. Ideal for the Steelers here with Wilson, could fall to 4th or 5th round.

Tony Dye, UCLA, 5’11” 204 lbs.
A neck injury caused him to miss 8 games last year and his stock fell accordingly. If he is fully recovered enough to make a good impression he could be a solid value pick for the future. Recorded 23 tackles in 5 games in 2011.

Lance Mitchell, Oregon State, 6’2″ 205 lbs.
Very good in run support but does not have great speed and needs to continue improve his coverage stills. Value pick that could fall to the 5th or early 6th round.

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