With two extra weeks of hype leading up to the 2014 NFL draft, most people are probably mock-drafted out at this point.
So how about another Pittsburgh Steelers mock draft?
This one comes with a twist. Not only does it predict picks but also trades.
Previously, we modeled four possible trades the Steelers could make in the first round. None of them are included in this mock draft. The first-round trade in this mock is more conservative, but there are two more trade-downs later in the draft that bring the Steelers’ total number of picks to 12. They’ve never had that many picks in a draft since it went to seven rounds in 1994.
With so many draft picks, the Steelers finally can admit they’re rebuilding and not in “transition” after missing the playoffs for two straight seasons and three of the last five seasons.
FIRST ROUND (No. 18, from Jets)
C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
(Sr., 6’2″, 234 pounds)
In this scenario, it’s the New York Jets who move up to No. 15 because they want LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who goes to the Steelers in our most recent mock draft.
If Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard is gone and the Steelers are set to pick Beckham, the Jets are going to have to pay if they want the Steelers’ pick. According to the draft pick trade value chart on Drafttek.com, there’s a 150-point difference between the No. 15 pick and the No. 18 pick. The Jets’ third-rounder, No. 80, is worth 190 points. But for the Steelers to essentially give up Beckham, they’ll drive a hard bargain. With 11 picks in the draft, the Jets can afford it.
At No. 18, the Steelers could fill their glaring cornerback need with Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, but he’s not quite a top-20 pick. Inside linebacker isn’t one of their biggest needs, but the Steelers need so much help on defense that they can’t go wrong picking at any position. The best value here is Mosley, one of the safer picks in the draft as long as he’s healthy. He’s turned in back-to-back seasons with more than 100 tackles.
The Steelers signed inside linebacker Arthur Moats in free agency, but he’s never started a full season. Vince Williams, a sixth-round pick last year, performed admirably after Larry Foote went down. Sean Spence, their 2012 third-rounder, was the last early-round investment the Steelers made on an inside linebacker, but he might not see the field after a devastating knee injury in his rookie year.
Mosley would be the Steelers’ first inside linebacker chosen in the first round since Lawrence Timmons in 2007, and that worked out pretty well.
SECOND ROUND (No. 56, from 49ers)
Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice
(Sr., 6’0″, 193 pounds)
The Steelers trade down again in the second round, this time with the 49ers, another team with 11 picks.
In our previous mock draft, the Steelers passed on Gaines because he would have been a reach at No. 46. In this mock, they move 10 spots back, get a third-rounder (No. 94) from the 49ers and take Gaines at a place that’s more in line with his value.
Gaines set a school record with 38 career pass breakups and made all four of his collegiate interceptions in 2013.
According to the chart, the 49ers could ask for the Steelers’ fifth-rounder, but they don’t need more picks in this draft. Instead, the Steelers offer next year’s fifth-rounder in this mock deal. The 49ers are the ones getting the highest overall pick in this deal, so they should take what the Steelers give them for a throw-in.
THIRD ROUND (No. 80, from Jets)
Chris Smith, OLB, Arkansas
(Sr., 6’1″, 266 pounds)
In the third round, the Steelers don’t pick until No. 97. That’s their compensatory pick. Now, instead of a 51-pick wait between their second- and third-round selections, the Steelers get four turns in a 41-pick span.
These hypothetical trades allow the Steelers to repeat their draft strategy from 2009, when they had three picks in the third round. All three of those picks, Kraig Urbik, Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis, are still in the NFL but not with the Steelers. The Steelers got a Pro Bowl season out of Wallace and Lewis was a late bloomer who the Steelers regrettably allowed to leave in free agency. In this mock draft, they’ll need more immediate contributions from their trio of third-rounders and hopefully can re-sign at least one of them when their rookie deal is up.
Smith recorded 24.5 tackles for loss and 18 sacks in his junior and senior seasons. There’s still a chance Jarvis Jones could be a bust, and Smith would provide insurance in case that happens. Even if Jones finds his way to the quarterback more often in 2014, Smith brings much-needed depth to the outside linebacker spot and can overtake Chris Carter on the depth chart.
THIRD ROUND (No. 94, from 49ers)
Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida
(Sr., 6’0″, 194 pounds)
The Steelers would have to trade up in the first round, not down, to draft elite wide receiver prospect Sammy Watkins. Instead, they infuse their roster with his bloodlines by drafting his older half-brother.
Jaylen Watkins never won a permanent starting job at Florida, but he’s versatile. He played cornerback, safety and was useful on special teams. He intercepted three passes and broke up 24 passes in college. With 12 picks in this mock draft, the Steelers can stash an extra cornerback into their shopping bag.
THIRD ROUND (compensatory, No. 97)
Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech
(Sr., 6’2″, 334 pounds)
The Steelers badly need bodies on their defensive line after losing Ziggy Hood and Al Woods in free agency and with Brett Keisel in limbo. They address the need before the end of Day 2.
Since Casey Hampton’s departure, the Steelers have been missing that haystack of a nose tackle in the middle of their three-man defensive front. Ellis could compete for that role with inconsistent free-agent acquisition Cam Thomas.
FOURTH ROUND (No. 128, from Panthers)
Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
(Jr., 6’6″, 225 pounds)
In this mock, the Steelers might be the only team to draft five seniors in the first two days of the draft.
Here, they choose their first junior after pulling off their third trade of the draft. They grant Ben Roethlisberger’s wish for a tall receiver with the tallest receiver in the class. However, Coleman’s a little raw and soft. His biggest season came in 2012 when he caught 43 passes for 718 yards and 10 touchdowns. Those numbers dropped to 34-538-4 last season. Coleman is a bust risk.
So the Steelers again move 10 spots back so they add a sixth-round pick and feel better about taking Coleman. He can be used primarily as a red zone weapon and won’t have to be the Steelers’ No. 1 or even their No. 2 receiver.
FIFTH ROUND (No. 157)
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OT, McGill (Canada)
(Sr., 6’5″, 315 pounds)
Some players are coaches on the field, but Duvernay-Tardif could be a doctor on the field.
The Montreal native balanced his medical studies with football at McGill University and is projected as the top overall pick in the CFL draft, according to the Toronto Sun. That draft will be held May 13.
A lot of teams are intrigued by Duvernay-Tardif and there’s no guarantee he’ll be available in the fifth round. If he is, he’d be a good value here.
The Steelers’ offensive line progressed in 2013. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked just seven times in the last seven games, the best protection he’s had in any seven-game stretch in his career. The hiring of Mike Munchak as their offensive line coach shows that the Steelers know the unit needs more work. They could use more depth on the line, especially at tackle.
FIFTH ROUND (compensatory, No. 173)
Khyri Thornton, DT, Southern Mississippi
(Sr., 6’3″, 304 pounds)
After an offensive interlude, the Steelers get back to the business of restocking their defense. They’ve never taken six defensive players in a draft since it went to seven rounds in 1994. In this mock draft, they take six in the first five rounds.
They’ve already drafted two cornerbacks. Now they reinforce another pressing need with another defensive lineman. Thornton is a three-year starter who played every position on the D-line in college.
SIXTH ROUND (No. 192)
Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley State
(Sr., 6’3″, 219 pounds)
With a dozen picks in the draft, the Steelers not only can double up at cornerback and defensive line, they also can get two players to fulfill Roethlisberger’s special request for a tall receiver.
Janis went to the Steelers with their sixth-round compensatory pick, No. 215, in our previous mock draft. He might not last that long and he might not even be available at No. 192. Janis caught 83 passes for 1,572 yards and 14 touchdowns at the Division II level in 2013.
SIXTH ROUND (No. 204, from Panthers)
De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
(Jr., 5’9″, 174 pounds)
The Steelers signed LeGarrette Blount but still need depth at running back. If they don’t re-sign LaRod Stephens-Howling, they’ll need a third-down specialist. Thomas averaged 7.8 yards per carry at Oregon and scored four kickoff-return touchdowns and one punt-return touchdown in college. He’s Chris Rainey without the baggage.
SIXTH ROUND (compensatory, No. 215)
Richard Rodgers, TE, California
(So., 6’4″, 257 pounds)
Rodgers’ father, Richard Rodgers Sr., made one of the laterals with the band on the field to help the Golden Bears defeat Stanford in the famous Cal-Stanford game in 1982.
The sixth round might be a little late to find Heath Miller’s eventual successor, but if the Steelers can somehow accumulate 12 picks, they should get a tight end somewhere. They need a better pass catcher behind Miller. No other Steelers tight end on the roster has caught more than 17 passes in a season (Matt Spaeth in 2008). Rodgers caught 39 passes at 15.6 yards per reception last season.
SEVENTH ROUND (No. 230)
Kevin Graf, OT, USC
(Sr., 6’6″, 303 pounds)
Graf projects as a right tackle in the NFL. The Steelers draft a domestic offensive lineman to go with their Canadian import.