The Pittsburgh Steelers have their highest pick in the NFL draft since 2007, but two of the players at the top of their wish list probably will be off the board at No. 15.
Cornerback Justin Gilbert led the Big 12 in 2013 with seven interceptions and 123 interception return yards. Wide receiver Mike Evans led the SEC with 12 touchdown receptions last season and averaged 20.2 yards per catch. At 6’4 3/4″, he could be the tall receiver Ben Roethlisberger has always wanted.
Both players went to the Steelers in many January and February mock drafts, but their stock soared at the NFL Scouting Combine. Now, both are projected as top-10 picks.
As tempting as it might be, the Steelers should not trade up in the first round. Cornerback and wide receiver are two of their biggest needs, but those positions are deep in this draft.
The Steelers could get cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard or Kyle Fuller at No. 15, and there still will be tall receivers available in the second and third rounds.
To move up in the first round, the Steelers would have to give up picks in the later rounds. That wouldn’t be a good idea considering this draft’s overall depth.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, via NFL.com, said before the scouting combine that the 2014 NFL draft class is the deepest he’s seen in 30 years.
To fully take advantage of this draft’s depth, the Steelers could use more picks, not less, in the middle rounds.
The Steelers have traded up in the first round only twice since Colbert became general manager in 2000.
In 2003, they dealt their No. 27 pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for the No. 16 pick and drafted Troy Polamalu. In 2006, they climbed from No. 32 to No. 25 to take Santonio Holmes. Those moves yielded a future Hall of Famer and a Super Bowl MVP. So why not trade up this year since it’s worked so well in the past?
Because even if they don’t want to admit it, the Steelers are rebuilding after two straight 8-8 seasons.
That wasn’t the case in 2003. The Steelers drafted Polamalu, giving up their third- and sixth-round picks, after going 10-5-1 in 2002. Two years later they went 15-1. They were the reigning Super Bowl champions when they chose Holmes. Two years later, they won Super Bowl XLIII.
Super Bowls, or even playoff victories, are a distant memory now.
Let’s just say the Steelers traded their No. 15 pick in this year’s draft to the Detroit Lions for the No. 10 pick so they could get Gilbert. According to the draft pick trade value chart on Drafttek.com, the Steelers would have to give the Lions their fourth- and fifth-round picks this year as well as their third-rounder next year. A third- and fourth-rounder this year also would do it, but the Steelers don’t have a third-round pick to trade. They have a third-round compensatory pick, No. 97 overall, but compensatory picks can’t be traded. Without their original third-round pick, the Steelers’ ability to put together a package for a higher pick is compromised.
As long as we’re modeling trades, why not swing for the fences and see what it would take for the Steelers to swing a deal with the Houston Texans for the No. 1 pick.
However unrealistic drafting Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack would be, the Steelers need to be prepared for anything and should have scouting reports and grades on both of those players. Clowney would fill their need on the defensive line, to say the least. Mack, an outside linebacker who owns NCAA records for forced fumbles (16) and tackles for loss (75), would hopefully learn faster than Jarvis Jones.
Whoever wants Mack might need the top overall pick.
Clowney generally is regarded as the best player in the draft. But according to Peter King of The MMQB, the Texans have their eye on Mack.
So what would it take for the Steelers to trade up to No. 1?
As a starting point, they’d have to offer Houston their second- and fourth-round picks this year and their first- and second-rounders in 2015 and 2016. The Texans probably would bargain for more than that. The trade value chart doesn’t assign a value for future picks. This assumes that a first-round pick next year is worth a second-rounder this year, and a second-rounder next year is worth a third-rounder this year.
Such a deal would leave the Steelers with only two picks in the first four rounds of this year’s draft, and they’d be without picks in the first two rounds for at least the next two years. They’d have to get a lot of late-round picks right, something they haven’t done in recent years.
That’s one of the reasons they’re rebuilding. If they sacrifice picks for one player, they’d have less building material.