The Pittsburgh Steelers’ playoff absence has given fans and pundits more time to dissect the 2013 NFL Draft, and what the Steelers should do with the No. 17 pick in the first round.
The month and a half of draft buildup culminates in this 2013 Steelers mock draft.
Then on Feb. 23, the draft season really begins with the NFL Scouting Combine.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (6’2”, 242, Jr.)
Outside linebacker might be more of a need for the Steelers than most people realize. On one side, it looks like they’ll have either 35-year-old James Harrison or so-so third-year man Jason Worilds. On the other side, who knows if LaMarr Woodley will ever be the player he was before he injured his hamstring in 2011? Jones doesn’t come without questions. He has spinal stenosis, according to NFL.com, a condition that has forced some NFL players to retire early. A lot of teams who pick ahead of the Steelers might pass on Jones because of that. However, NFL Draft Scout ranks Jones as the top outside linebacker in the draft. It would behoove the Steelers to take a long look at Jones’ medical reports. As a sophomore in 2011, Jones led the SEC with 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks (tied for fifth in the nation). He followed that up last season by leading the country with 14.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles. Even if Jones’ career is cut short, it might be worth it for the Steelers to have him for a few years.
Robert Woods, WR, USC (6’1”, 190, Jr.)
Mike Wallace is likely to leave in free agency. It will be hard to replace his speed. While the Steelers will need a receiver in the draft if Wallace departs, they don’t need to find one with Wallace’s exact skill set. So instead of trying to find another Wallace, how about trying to find another Hines Ward? Woods might not have Wallace’s speed, but NFL Draft Scout calls him “unselfish.” That sounds more like Ward than Wallace, doesn’t it? NFL Draft Scout also says Woods is a good blocker and that he works hard in practice. NFL.com says that Woods can run all the routes and can keep the ball in his hands after taking a hit in the middle of the field. Woods caught 76 passes for 846 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012, and caught 252 passes as a Trojan. He had surgery on his right ankle during the 2012 offseason, so that will need to be monitored.
Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford (5’9”, 216, Sr.)
The Steelers can’t wait any later than the third round to take a running back. Rashard Mendenhall’s enigmatic days in Pittsburgh are likely over. That leaves Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman as the Steelers’ top running backs, and since both are restricted free agents, there’s no guarantee the Steelers can keep both of them. Taylor put himself on the map with his showing at the 2013 Senior Bowl. In his senior season at Stanford, Taylor ran for 1,530 yards on 322 carries (4.75 yards per carry) with 13 touchdowns. He also caught 41 passes in his senior season. He’s not the fastest running back, but in the pass-happy NFL, all a team really needs is a running back who can help keep the chains moving. The Cardinal used Taylor a lot in pass protection. The Steelers always could use more help protecting Ben Roethlisberger.
D.J. Swearinger, FS, South Carolina (5’11”, 210, Sr.)
With Ryan Clark turning 34 next season and Troy Polamalu turning 32 in April, the Steelers will need to re-stock the safety position in the near future. Swearinger is a physical safety in the Steelers mold. NFL.com calls him an “enforcer.” Both NFL Draft Scout and NFL.com say that Swearinger is prone to committing penalties, but it’s hard to find safeties in this draft who aren’t. The only game Swearinger didn’t play in his four years with the Gamecocks came in 2012 when he was suspended for hitting a defenseless receiver. Swearinger made six interceptions and broke up 15 passes at South Carolina while playing every position in the secondary.
Dwayne Gratz, CB, Connecticut (5’11”, 200, Sr.)
If the Steelers keep one free agent this offseason, it needs to be cornerback Keenan Lewis after his breakout year in 2012. If the Steelers can’t keep Lewis, Cortez Allen likely would become the starter opposite Ike Taylor, and Curtis Brown would probably be the nickelback. That’s not the most comforting thought. Whether or not Lewis stays, chances are good the Steelers will draft a corner. They’ve taken at least one in five of Mike Tomlin’s six drafts. Gratz isn’t the best tackler, which is one reason he’ll still be available in the fifth round, but he might have better ball skills than Lewis or Taylor. Gratz had eight career interceptions at Connecticut, including one on the national stage that he returned for a touchdown in the Huskies’ 48-20 Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma in 2010.
Zach Sudfeld, TE, Nevada (6’6”, 261, Sr.)
There’s no guarantee Heath Miller will be ready for opening day after tearing up his knee Dec. 23 against the Bengals. The Steelers drafted David Paulson last year and he can fill in for Miller, but they still might want to fortify the position. Sudfeld enjoyed a breakout 2012 season at Nevada with 45 catches for 598 yards. He scored nine touchdowns, one on a fumble. However, Sudfeld missed almost two full seasons with injuries and had six surgeries while at Nevada, according to NFL Draft Scout.
Colby Cameron, QB, Louisiana Tech (6’2”, 210, Sr.)
It’s time for the Steelers to take a quarterback somewhere in the draft. Ben Roethlisberger will be 31 next season. The Steelers hope to be years away from having to find his successor. But they need to look for his next backup since Byron Leftwich is 33 and Charlie Batch will turn 39 next season. Cameron went to the same school as Terry Bradshaw, but that’s where the similarities end. Cameron has limited arm strength and isn’t really suited to a vertical game, according to NFL Draft Scout. He did, however, throw an NCAA-record 444 consecutive passes without an interception.