The 2013 NFL Scouting Combine is a distant memory and the Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t really done anything memorable in free agency.
Steelers fans looking for something to get excited about this offseason might have to wait until the NFL draft, which begins April 25
Since my last Steeler Addicts mock draft, which came before the combine, the Steelers have been awarded a compensatory sixth-round pick. That gives the Steelers a total of eight selections.
The Steelers must fill glaring needs at outside linebacker, running back and wide receiver and add depth at safety, inside linebacker, tight end and quarterback.
With so many needs coming off an 8-8 season, this is a pivotal draft for the Steelers franchise.
FIRST ROUND (No. 17 overall)
Kenny Vaccaro, FS, Texas (6’0”, 214 pounds, Sr.)
The Steelers’ need at safety isn’t as urgent as their needs at running back and wide receiver, but Troy Polamalu will be 32 next season and Ryan Clark will be 34. If Vaccaro is there at No. 17, the Steelers will have a hard time passing him up. According to NFL.com’s evaluation of Vaccaro, he can defend the pass (14 passes defended in the last two seasons), he can defend the run and he can blitz. Vaccaro would be the first safety drafted by the Steelers in the first round since Polamalu in 2003. The Steelers haven’t drafted any defensive backs in the first two rounds since Bryant McFadden in 2005.
Last mock draft: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
SECOND ROUND (48th overall)
Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor (6’2”, 208 pounds, Sr.)
The Steelers need receivers in this draft. With Mike Wallace gone, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are their only remaining receivers who have had any kind of an impact, and there’s still a chance the New England Patriots could sign Sanders to an offer sheet. Williams led the nation with 1,832 receiving yards last season and was named a first-team all-American. He caught 97 balls for an average of 18.9 yards per reception. Williams isn’t afraid to block, and according to NFL Draft Scout he can be an on-the-field leader.
Last mock draft: Robert Woods, WR, USC
THIRD ROUND (79th overall)
Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State (6’0”, 204 pounds, Jr.)
Even if the Steelers sign Ahmad Bradshaw, who was in for a visit Thursday, running back remains a need in the draft. Bradshaw has been dogged by injuries and likely wouldn’t be able to withstand the pounding as a featured back. The Steelers would need to draft a running back to complement Bradshaw. If they don’t sign Bradshaw, it becomes that much more important to take a running back before everyone goes to bed on Friday night of draft weekend. Randle ran for 3,085 yards with 43 touchdowns over the past three seasons. He also caught 108 passes at Oklahoma State and is solid in pass protection. His upright running style might remind Steelers fans of Rashard Mendenhall. That’s not a pleasant thought considering Mendenhall’s shenanigans last season, but if Randle can give the Steelers what Mendenhall gave them in 2009 and 2010, the Steelers will take it.
Last mock draft: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
FOURTH ROUND (115th overall)
Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford (6’3”, 244 pounds, Sr.)
The Steelers appear ready to give Jason Worilds a chance to succeed James Harrison, but they’ll hedge their bets by taking an outside linebacker in the middle rounds. Thomas might fall on a lot of boards because of his 4.91 time in the 40-yard dash, the slowest time for an outside linebacker at the combine, according to NFL Draft Scout. Thomas’ numbers are better on the field. He made 71 tackles, 14.5 for loss, and had 7.5 sacks in 2012. Thomas was named first team all-Pac 12, and according to NFL Draft Scout “Thomas plays disciplined with a high football IQ.”
Last mock draft: D.J. Swearinger, FS, South Carolina
FIFTH ROUND (150th overall)
Reid Fragel, OT, Ohio State (6’8”, 308 pounds, Sr.)
Even though they’ve invested two first-round picks and two second-round picks on their offensive line since 2010, the Steelers can’t completely ignore the offensive line in the 2013 draft. Marcus Gilbert is their projected starter at left tackle next season, and Mike Adams is slated to start at right tackle. Gilbert has no NFL experience at left tackle. He’ll be learning on the job as he tries to protect Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side. A former tight end, Fragel fits the mold for new Steelers offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr., who prefers athleticism over size. For comparison’s sake, Fragel is the same height as Max Starks, but 37 pounds lighter.
Last mock draft: Dwayne Gratz, CB, Connecticut
SIXTH ROUND (186th and 206th overall)
Terry Hawthorne, CB, Illinois (6’0”, 195 pounds, Sr.)
Despite their myopic decision to let Keenan Lewis leave in free agency, the Steelers appear set at cornerback at least for 2013. Cortez Allen will take over for Lewis as the starter opposite Ike Taylor. William Gay, back for a second tour of duty in Pittsburgh, becomes the nickelback. However, positional needs don’t matter as much in the later rounds of the draft. If Hawthorne is still available in the sixth round, he’d be a good value pick for the Steelers. He was honorable mention all-Big Ten is 2011 with three interceptions and eight pass breakups. His stock could drop because of his injury history, including a concussion in 2012, and a disappointing season not just for him but for the entire Illinois team. The Illini lost their last nine games in 2012.
Rodney Smith, WR, Florida State (6’5”, 225 pounds, Sr.)
This would be a good time for the Steelers to duplicate the success of their 2010 draft, when they found two productive receivers in Sanders and Brown. A couple of years after Plaxico Burress went to the Giants, Roethlisberger clamored for a tall receiver. The 6’5” Burress is back, but he’ll be 36 next season. Smith would provide the Steelers with height and youth at the position.
Last mock draft: Zach Sudfield, TE, Nevada
SEVENTH ROUND (223rd overall)
Steve Beauharnais, ILB, Rutgers (6’1”, 240 pounds, Sr.)
Beauharnais can tackle, blitz and make interceptions, but doesn’t seem to be able to do any of those things in an eye-popping way. It might be a little late in the draft for the Steelers to address their lack of depth at inside linebacker, but they’ve had modest success in the seventh round in recent years. Role players David Johnson, Baron Batch, David Paulson and Kelvin Beachum all were seventh-round picks.
Last mock draft: Colby Cameron, QB, Louisiana Tech