When we released our first 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers mock draft two months ago, we knew the NFL Scouting Combine might shuffle the draft board.
What we didn’t know is that the Steelers would be uncharacteristically active in free agency. So far they’ve signed seven players who were with other teams last season. That’s more players than a lot of teams will draft this year.
Safety Mike Mitchell was their first free-agent signing, and they drafted Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round last year. The safety position isn’t as much of a need as it was before the free-agent signing period began.
The Steelers also addressed their depth concerns at running back by signing LeGarrette Blount. It wouldn’t be surprising, though, if they drafted a running back in the late rounds.
Cornerback, defensive line, wide receiver and linebacker all remain on the Steelers’ draft radar. After two straight 8-8 seasons, they’ve become a perennial .500 ballclub and face another pivotal draft for the franchise.
The NFL gave the Steelers three compensatory picks last month and decided against stripping them of a pick as a penalty for the Mike Tomlin sideline incident in Baltimore. That gives them nine picks for the third year in a row.
FIRST ROUND (No. 15): Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Weight: 199 pounds
Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and 6’5″ Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans will be long gone by the time the Steelers pick. Trading up to get one of them is not an option. The aging Steelers need as many picks as they can get, especially in a deep draft like this one. So they stay put at No. 15 and choose the best cornerback available.
After an injury-riddled 2012 season, Darqueze Dennard emerged in 2013 and won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back. He intercepted four passes, broke up 10 passes and allowed just three completions of 15 or more yards out of 31 such passes thrown his way.
Dennard is more of a press corner. Steelers cornerbacks tend to play more in zone coverage, where Dennard isn’t quite as effective. But that shouldn’t be a deal breaker. Dennard is a physical corner who can bring some bite back to the Steelers’ defense.
North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron is a consideration here, but he’s not quite that Rob Gronkowski-type physical freak. The Steelers are better off drafting for a defense that slipped significantly in 2013.
Previous mock draft: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
SECOND ROUND (No. 46): Donte Moncrief, WR, Mississippi
Weight: 221 pounds
Ben Roethlisberger has lobbied for a tall wide receiver for years. According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers told Roethlisberger that they plan to draft one in the early rounds.
They could have their choice between Donte Moncrief and 6’4″ Martavis Bryant of Clemson at this spot. The decision can’t be based strictly on height. Bryant is taller, but he has a boom-or-bust look to him.
Moncrief has better hands and is a better route runner. Besides, even at 6’2″ Moncrief is taller than every receiver Roethlisberger has thrown to except Burress, Lee Mays, Limas Sweed, Dallas Baker and Walter Young. Take away Burress and the remaining four in that bunch have combined for 18 catches.
The Steelers were in dire need of receivers after losing Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery in free agency. They picked up Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey. But Moore will be 31 next season and Heyward-Bey has caught a pedestrian 70 passes over the last two seasons. The Steelers still need some young talent at the position.
Previous mock draft: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
THIRD ROUND (No. 97): Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
Weight: 245 pounds
This pick doesn’t change from our original Steelers mock draft. We made that prediction assuming the Steelers would get a compensatory pick at the end of the third round. Now it’s official that the Steelers will have the first compensatory pick of the draft.
Inside linebacker is another position the Steelers have addressed in free agency. They signed Arthur Moats from the Buffalo Bills, and Vince Williams showed flashes of promise in his rookie year. Still, if Shayne Skov is available at No. 97, he’d be a good value. Regardless of position, the Steelers could use all the help they can get on defense.
Skov tore his ACL in 2011, but he started all 14 games in 2013 and led Stanford with 109 tackles, including 13 for loss. He also had 5.5 sacks and forced three fumbles. Skov is a vocal leader on the field, according to NFL.com, and was a team captain.
Previous mock draft: Same
FOURTH ROUND (No. 118): Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee
Weight: 352 pounds
The Steelers’ run defense ranked 21st in 2013 with 4.3 yards allowed per carry. That’s their worst showing in both categories since 1999, two years before Casey Hampton arrived.
Steve McLendon replaced Hampton at nose tackle last season. The Steelers’ inability to stop the run wasn’t all his fault, but there’s something to be said for having that boulder of a human being at the front and center of a 3-4 defense.
The Steelers signed 6’4″, 330-pound Cam Thomas from San Diego, but he wasn’t good enough to hold down a starting job in 2013. McCullers takes up more space than Thomas and has massive 11-inch hands.
In 2012, the Steelers got burned when they gave up their sixth-round pick to trade up in the fourth round and draft nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu. McCullers isn’t a finished product, but as long as the Steelers don’t deal away a pick in a later round, he’d be a good choice in the fourth round.
Previous mock draft: Dion Bailey, FS, USC
FIFTH ROUND (No. 157): Devon Kennard, OLB, USC
Weight: 249 pounds
Devon Kennard is another Steelers mock draft pick that hasn’t changed since early February.
Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds are earmarked as the Steelers’ starting outside linebackers in 2014. But what if Jones, who had one sack as a rookie, turns out to be a bust and Worilds turns out to be a half-year wonder? The next man up is Chris Carter, who after three years is still looking for his first NFL sack.
It wouldn’t hurt if the Steelers drafted an outside linebacker at some point, even if he has enemy bloodlines. Kennard’s father, Derek Kennard, was the starting center for the Dallas Cowboys when they defeated the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.
Devon Kennard led the Trojans and was third in the Pac-12 with nine sacks in 2013.
Previous mock draft: Same
FIFTH ROUND (No. 173): Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama
Weight: 287 pounds
Brett Keisel remains a free agent, and the departures of Ziggy Hood and Al Woods has left the Steelers with Cameron Heyward and Brian Arnfelt as the only defensive ends listed on their roster.
Even if Steve McLendon is moved to an end spot, the position is an urgent need in the draft for the Steelers. However, there aren’t many in this class big enough to play end in a three-man front.
Ed Stinson is strong against the run, acccording to NFL.com, and can play anywhere on the defensive line.
Previous mock draft: None (compensatory pick)
SIXTH ROUND (No. 192): Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
Weight: 191 pounds
The Steelers double up on a pressing draft need by taking another cornerback.
Unlike Darqueze Dennard, Ross Cockrell is more of a zone guy and isn’t very physical. He was blocked far too easily at times, but showed some solid tackling in the East-West Shrine Game and made the interception that secured the victory for the East.
Cockrell intercepted 12 passes and broke up 53 in four years at Duke. He has the ball skills. If he can get stronger he could find a place on an NFL depth chart.
Previous mock draft: Deandre Coleman, DT, California
SIXTH ROUND (No. 215): Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse
Weight: 306 pounds
The Steelers pick up another versatile defensive lineman to address another glaring need on defense.
Jay Bromley led Syracuse with 10 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in 2013. He has to work on his technique but the three-year starter earned enough respect to be named a team captain.
Previous mock draft: None (compensatory pick)
SEVENTH ROUND (No. 230): Marcel Jensen, TE, Fresno State
Weight: 259 pounds
Ben Roethlisberger didn’t get all the height he wanted in a receiver when the Steelers selected Donte Moncrief in the second round. So the Steelers find some height at tight end and take a flier on Marcel Jensen.
Jensen wasn’t used much in Fresno State’s offense. He caught just 26 passes as a senior. But he’s a strong run blocker and was second among tight ends at the NFL Scouting Combine with a vertical leap of 35 inches.
It might be time for the Steelers to start thinking about life after Heath Miller, who turns 32 next season. Jensen is raw, but for a seventh-round pick, it’s a project worth trying.
Previous mock draft: Hakeem Smith, SS, Louisville