The Pittsburgh Steelers have selected a defensive lineman in the first round in two of the last four drafts in Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward. The other two drafts in that time span had the Steelers going offensive line with Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro. Rashard Mendenhall in 2008 was the last time the Steelers first round pick wasn’t a type of lineman.
The Steelers have been projected to go in a multitude of directions in the 2013 NFL Draft including offensive or defensive line, inside or outside linebacker, wide receiver or defensive back.
Now we all have our own opinion on which need is greater and what player the team should take with their first pick in the draft. Personally I think the Steelers should take Alabama guard Chance Warmack if he’s available when they pick because he would be an instant upgrade on the offensive line.
As far as the rest of the offensive line prospects, the only others who may even be considered are Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher, North Carolina G Jonathan Cooper and Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson. Joeckel will not be there when the Steelers pick and I don’t believe Fisher will either while I’m not sure Cooper or Johnson are worth taking that high. There are at least three inside linebackers who could be taken in the first round in Georgia’s Alec Ogletree, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o and LSU’s Kevin Minter. My favorite of that group would be Ogletree however again, I wouldn’t say any of the three are worth being taken that high.
Outside linebacker is very interesting in the draft with Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, BYU’s Ezekial Ansah and Oregon’s Dion Jordan all being good players but with questions that need to be answered. I do not really believe Jones will drop that far to the Steelers but his spinal stenosis could have him fall a little. Dion Jordan has a shoulder injury that could force him to drop and Ansah has a ton of potential but is completely raw. I could see either of these two players being taken before the Steelers come up to pick or both falling to the bottom half of the first round.
The wide receiver position is all over the place as I’ve seen Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, California’s Keenan Allen, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, Clemon’s DeAndre Hopkins, USC’s Robert Woods and Baylor’s Terrance Williams all having a shot at being selected in the first round depending on the mock draft you read. The Steelers could be in the market early in the draft if in fact they lose disgruntled receiver Mike Wallace to free agency this offseason. If I had to choose I’d take Patterson, Allen or Hunter, in that order, but honestly I don’t believe any receiver is worth taking that high in this year’s draft.
The Steelers other high profile free agent this offseason is Keenan Lewis and if they are somehow unable to re-sign him, cornerback would fly up the list of major needs. In that situation players like Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks or Connecticut’s Blidi Wreh-Wilson would be possibilities in the first round. If the team does in fact re-sign Lewis then corner wouldn’t be the pick and we can look at the safety position. I really like the top three safeties in the draft in Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro, Florida’s Matt Elam and LSU’s Eric Reid however, there has been a lot of debate on where each one will go. If the team went safety I think Vaccaro would be the pick at 17 at this point although I believe there is a shot he is taken before the Steelers come up. If that happened I don’t think Elam or Reid would be taken that high which would leave the Steelers with taking defensive line in the first round.
The team has come under a lot of criticism because first round picks Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward haven’t had the impact that some would want at this point. That has led to a lot of people being against taking a defensive lineman in the first round this year but if the team is not able to trade back that could be the best player available. The Steelers have three defensive tackles that I actually like in Steve McLendon, Alameda Ta’amu and Hebron Fangupo however, there are questions with all three. Fangupo was claimed off of waivers from the Seattle Seahawks before their week 17 matchup with the Cleveland Browns. Ta’amu was the team’s fourth round pick in the 2012 draft and was seen as the future at the position until he drank and drove and is now facing multiple felony charges. The only question I have with McLendon is why he did not get more playing time last season and I would have no problem going into 2013 with him as the starter at NT.
That is just my opinion however and if the Steelers do not trust McLendon to start, or are unhappy with either Ta’amu or Fangupo, they could go with a defensive tackle in the first round of the upcoming draft. Defensive tackle is one of the deeper positions in this year’s draft with eight different players possibly being taken in the first round. Utah’s Star Lotulelei and North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams will probably not be available when the Steelers pick so that knocks the list down to six. That leaves us with Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins, Georgia’s Johnathan Jenkins, Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson, Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, Purdue’s Kawann Short and Alabama’s Jesse Williams.
My favorite of this group would have to be Jenkins from Georgia and I think he would be able to sit and learn from McLendon and I even think he would be able to contribute as a rookie if given the chance.
There is a lot that needs to happen before April that will shape what the Steelers do in the draft and I think this will be a year that they could go in almost any direction.