What’s this? A mock draft in May? That’s right. With the 2014 NFL draft pushed back two weeks, there’s more time to dissect the big board and churn out our latest Pittsburgh Steelers mock draft.
The Steelers hold the No. 15 pick in the first round, the highest they’ve picked since 2007. They don’t want to make a habit of drafting in the top 20, because that would mean their playoff drought continues.
They’ve had a lot of so-so drafts (2012) and one clunker (2008). They need to hit this one out of the park to rescue this franchise from mediocrity.
The 2014 NFL draft takes place May 8-10 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
FIRST ROUND (No .15)
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Sr. Jr., 5’11”, 198 pounds)
Darqueze Dennard has been the popular prediction here for the last few weeks. However, the Chicago Bears at No. 14 also need a cornerback. Charles Tillman is 33 and Tim Jennings and Kelvin Hayden both are 30. With Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert gone, the Bears snatch Dennard before the Steelers can get him. Kyle Fuller is the next best cornerback, but in this mock draft the Steelers don’t rank him high enough to be picked in the top half of the first round.
The Steelers might try to trade out of this pick with Gilbert, Dennard and Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans all off the board. They don’t find a taker, and instead address their top need on offense. Beckham isn’t the tall receiver Ben Roethlisberger has been yearning for, but he has the potential to be the best receiver taken in this class, even better than Sammy Watkins.
Beckham is a consistent receiver with reliable hands who can block. He was third in the SEC with 19.6 yards per reception in 2013 and would be the Steelers’ kickoff and punt returner on Day 1. He led the SEC with 806 kickoff return yards last season.
The contributions of the 15th player taken in the draft can’t be limited to special teams, however. Beckham would be expected to immediately compete for the No. 2 wide receiver spot on the Steelers’ depth chart.
Previous mock draft: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
SECOND ROUND (No. 46)
Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame
(Jr., 6’6″, 304 pounds)
Cornerback might seem to be the Steelers’ most glaring need in this draft, and Steelers Nation will fill Twitter with millions of “wtf”s if they don’t take one in the first two rounds.
However, no cornerback is effective without a front seven that can stop the run and get to the quarterback, and the Steelers desperately need bodies on the defensive line. Their most experienced starter there is free-agent acquisition Cam Thomas with 15 career starts. Up-and-coming Cameron Heyward has started 13 games, all last season, and Steve McLendon has started 11 games.
Tuitt had 13 sacks in 2012 but underwent hernia surgery during the offseason and had just nine sacks in 2013. The Steelers don’t look for sacks from their defensive front, anyway. They need 300-something-pounders who can take up space and clog up running lanes in their 3-4 defense. It also doesn’t hurt that Tuitt can use his height to get his hands on passes like Brett Keisel did.
Tuitt comes with some medical red flags. There was the hernia surgery. Then his left foot was operated on after an injury was discovered at the NFL Scouting Combine, according to CBSSports.com.
Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines is possible here, but would be a little bit of a reach at No. 46. Versatile Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton is tempting, but the 273-pounder played primarily in a 4-3 and isn’t stout enough for a three-man front. The Steelers could fulfill Roethlisberger’s wishes and get a tall receiver such as Jordan Matthews, Cody Latimer or Martavis Bryant. But they took a receiver in the first round in this mock and have to start addressing a defense that’s getting younger, but not necessarily better.
Previous mock draft: Donte Moncrief, WR, Mississippi
THIRD ROUND (compensatory, No. 97)
Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson
(Jr., 5’11”, 197 pounds)
The Steelers prevent Friday-night picketing outside their South Side headquarters when they draft a cornerback before Day 2 ends.
Breeland broke up 10 passes in 2013 and intercepted four. He forced two fumbles and also had two sacks and five tackles for loss, both of which are a bonus for a cornerback. He’s more of a zone defender, so he’d fit well in Dick LeBeau’s defensive scheme.
This pick will end an agonizing wait that lasts longer than a round and a half for the Steelers. It’s a compensatory pick and will be the 33rd selection of the third round. They traded their original third-round pick to the Cleveland Browns so they could draft Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round last year.
If Montana outside linebacker Jordan Tripp is available here, the Steelers could take him to add some depth at the position. But Tripp has been on the rise and probably will go earlier in the third round.
Previous mock draft: Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
FOURTH ROUND (No. 118)
Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon
(Sr., 6’6″, 281 pounds)
The Steelers again turn their attention to their depleted defensive line. In this mock draft they choose two defensive linemen in the first four rounds for the first time since 1994, when they drafted Brentson Buckner in the second round and Ta’ase Faumui in the fourth (hey, he played in eight games in ’94 and ’95).
Hart borders on being too small for the Steelers’ three-man front, but he’s played defensive tackle, defensive end and even outside linebacker. That versatility could add value to this pick. Hart batted down 11 passes in college, according to NFL.com. If he keeps that up he could earn the nickname “Batman” even if he’s a few years late for the Pittsburgh filming of the movie.
Pittsburgh wide receiver Devin Street (6’3″) also could be a consideration here as Ben Roethlisberger’s long-awaited tall receiver, but the Steelers are thinking defense. And let’s not forget that 23-year-old Justin Brown (6’3″) spent last year on the practice squad and 26-year-old Derek Moye (6’5″) got into seven games and caught a touchdown pass.
Previous mock draft: Daniel McCullers, NT, Tennessee
FIFTH ROUND (No. 157)
Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
(Sr., 6’0″, 191 pounds)
Cockrell went to the Steelers in the sixth round of our previous mock draft, but his stock has been rising and the Steelers would be fortunate to find him waiting even in the fifth round.
The Steelers couldn’t get an elite corner on Day 1 in this mock, so they go for volume instead. Doubling up on cornerbacks has been an effective technique. In 2009, they took Keenan Lewis in the third round and Joe Burnett in the fifth round. They got a good year out of Lewis, but Burnett didn’t pan out. In 2011, they took Curtis Brown in the third round and Cortez Allen in the fourth round. Allen is coming along while Brown was a bust.
As long as they don’t go 0-for-2 with Breeland and Cockrell in this mock draft, they’ll get the job done at cornerback.
Cockrell has a knack for rising to the occasion. His interception secured the victory for the East in the East-West Shrine Game and he also picked off a pass to lock up Duke’s 28-21 win over Wake Forest.
Previous mock draft: Devon Kennard, OLB, USC
FIFTH ROUND (compensatory, No. 173)
Prince Shembo, OLB, Notre Dame
(Sr., 6’1″, 253 pounds)
The Steelers hope Jarvis Jones can make a significant second-year leap and Jason Worilds can do for a full season what he did in the second half of 2013.
Not only do they need insurance in case one of those things doesn’t happen, but they need depth at outside linebacker. Their top backup is Chris Carter, who is sackless as he enters his fourth season. They signed Arthur Moats, but he’s an inside linebacker in a 3-4.
Shembo registered 19.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss in four years at Notre Dame. He was investigated for sexual assault allegations made by a student who later committed suicide, according to NFL.com. He wasn’t charged. The Steelers will need to be convinced of his character before taking him.
Previous mock draft: Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama
SIXTH ROUND (No. 192)
James Hurst, OT, North Carolina
(Sr., 6’5″, 296 pounds)
This is a house-warming gift for new offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
The Steelers’ offensive line made strides in 2013, but they could use some depth and they’re a little more set on the interior than at tackle.
Kelvin Beachum has earned the job at left tackle for now, but because of his lack of prototypical size for the position it remains to be seen if he’s the permanent answer. Hurst made all 49 of his collegiate starts at left tackle. If he translates into more of a right tackle in the NFL, he has a chance to horn in on the apparent position battle between Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams in training camp. His weight might appear a little light on paper, but it would make him a good fit in Munchak’s zone-blocking scheme.
Hurst broke his leg in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 30, and his draft stock has suffered. Assuming he fully recovers, he’d be a steal here for the Steelers.
Previous mock draft: Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
SIXTH ROUND (compensatory, No. 215)
Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley State
(Sr., 6’3″, 219 pounds)
A sarcastic “Gee, thanks” percolates under Ben Roethlisberger’s breath as he finally gets his tall receiver in the sixth round.
Janis caught 83 passes, including 14 touchdowns, for 1,572 yards in 2013 and was invited to the Senior Bowl despite playing in Division II. He averaged 18.9 yards per reception. He would be the first Division II player chosen by the Steelers since they took cornerback Ricardo Colclough of Tusculum in the second round in 2004.
Hopefully Janis works out better. Even if he doesn’t, a sixth-round bust hurts a lot less than a second-round bust.
Previous mock draft: Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse
SEVENTH ROUND (No. 230)
Isaiah Lewis, S, Michigan State
(Sr., 5’10”, 211 pounds)
This is the part of the draft when the board gets very fluid and every position coach stands on a table shouting for one more guy for his unit.
The Steelers have devoted a lot of attention to safety. They drafted Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round last year and still have high hopes for him. Former Carolina Panther Mike Mitchell was their first free-agent signing this year. They’ve already clinched a defensive majority in this draft with five players chosen on that side of the ball, but they haven’t taken six defensive players in the same draft since it went to seven rounds in 1994. Considering their slippage on defense, this is the time to do it even if Lewis is nothing more than a special teams soldier.
Previous mock draft: Marcel Jensen, TE, Fresno State