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Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 seven-round mock draft

The cornerback watch is on in Pittsburgh.

The 2016 NFL draft begins Thursday, and the Steelers could draft a cornerback in the first round for the first time since they took Chad Scott in 1997.

Cornerback isn’t the Steelers’ only need, however. There are other positions that could use an upgrade, depth or a little finishing touch as the Steelers try to build on 2015’s injury-ravaged divisional playoff appearance.

Whether or not the Steelers draft a cornerback Thursday, Friday and Saturday could be just as important for the future of the franchise. The second and third rounds take place Friday and the fourth through seventh rounds will play out Saturday afternoon.

This seven-round projection of the Steelers’ picks might have a trade or two thrown in.

FIRST ROUND (No. 25)

Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State

So., 6’1″, 199

There’s no guarantee Apple will be there when the Steelers pick at No. 25. However, Vernon Hargreaves III seems to be sliding in a lot of mock drafts. Pete Prisco of NFL Draft Scout even has Hargreaves falling to the Steelers at No. 25. If Hargreaves can drop that far, so can Apple. It’s more realistic that Apple and William Jackson III will still be on the board when the Steelers are on the clock.

Jackson might be tempting with his nation-leading 23 passes defended, five interceptions and two pick-sixes in 2015. But the Steelers went interception-hunting in the draft last year and it didn’t work out too well. They drafted the nation’s top two players in interceptions, taking Senquez Golson (10 interceptions) in the second round and Gerod Holliman (14 interceptions) in the seventh round. While Golson’s ceiling remains high, Holliman was cut in training camp.

Apple didn’t put up the ball-skill numbers that Jackson did. He had three interceptions and 10 passes defended in 2014 and one interception and seven passes defended in 2015. But he played against a higher level of competition and that statistical dropoff suggests that quarterbacks hesitated to throw the ball his way.

The Steelers’ last two first-round picks from Ohio State, Ryan Shazier and Cameron Heyward. are key building blocks on defense. The one before that, Santonio Holmes, was a Super Bowl MVP. That’s not the reason the Steelers should pick Apple. It’s more along the lines of people having better luck with a certain brand of car throughout their lives. It’s a good bet Apple won’t turn out to be a lemon.

SECOND ROUND (No. 58)

Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State

Jr., 6’4″, 314

The Steelers need help on the defensive line almost as badly as they do in the secondary. The Jets signed Steve McLendon, which makes unproven Daniel McCullers the starting nose tackle. The second round might be a little early to draft a player who comes off the field on third down, but the Steelers haven’t had much luck in the middle rounds with the likes of McCullers and Alameda Ta’amu.

Johnson can occupy two blockers and had 6.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in 2015. Unlike Ta’amu and McCullers he’s not in the 350-pound neighborhood. His weight is well proportioned.

FOURTH ROUND (No. 105, from 49ers)

Miles Killebrew, S, Southern Utah

Sr., 6’2″, 217 pounds

The Steelers currently have no picks in the fifth round and only a compensatory pick in the sixth round, which means they’ll go 97 spots without a pick in the middle of the draft. If Duke safety Jeremy Cash is taken by the time the Steelers pick at No. 89 in the third round, they trade back and get a pick in the fifth round. In this scenario, the 49ers get the Steelers’ third-round pick in exchange for their fourth- and fifth-rounders and maybe a little something next year.

Since drafting Troy Polamalu in 2003, the only safeties the Steelers have drafted are Antonio Smith, Ryan Mundy, Shamarko Thomas and Gerod Holliman. That’s not exactly a tough act for Killebrew to follow. A four-year starter at Southern Utah, Killebrew lit up the NFL Scouting Combine, leading all safeties with 22 reps in the bench press. He also was second at the position with a 38-inch vertical leap and third with a 127-inch broad jump.

Killebrew is a physical box safety. He made 132 tackles in 2015. One scout told NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, via NFL Draft Scout, that he thinks Killebrew is better heading into the draft than former first-round picks Shaq Thompson of the Panthers and Deone Bucannon of the Cardinals. Those two players have combined to start 35 games over the last two years.

FOURTH ROUND (No. 123)

Willie Beavers, OT, Western Michigan

Sr., 6’5″, 321

With Kelvin Beachum gone, Alejandro Villanueva and former Bronco Ryan Harris are set to battle for the left tackle job. Villanueva is a guy who Steelers fans are rooting for, but there’s no guarantee that he or the 31-year-old Harris are the long-term solution.

Most if not all of the players with the potential to play left tackle in the NFL are gone by this point in the draft. Beavers is one of those players with blind-side talent, and if he’s still waiting for a call the Steelers should use their original fourth-round pick on him.

Beavers started 40 straight games at left tackle for Western Michigan. He was a first-team All-MAC selection in 2015 and showed he can handle himself against a higher level of competition when the Broncos faced Michigan State and Ohio State.

FIFTH ROUND (No. 142, from 49ers)

Kalan Reed, CB, Southern Mississippi

Sr., 5’11”, 192

Since they took William Gay in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, the Steelers haven’t fared well with fifth-round corners. That junk pile includes Joe Burnett, Crezdon Butler, Terry Hawthorne and Shaquille Richardson. If the Steelers make this hypothetical trade with the 49ers and Kalan Reed is still there at 142, he will either join that list or be the steal of the draft.

Reed led Conference USA with four interceptions and 17 passes defended in 2015. According to Pro Football Focus, he either broke up a pass or made an interception on 20.2 percent of the balls thrown his way in 2015.

The Steelers haven’t chosen a player from Southern Mississippi since Louis Lipps in the first round of the 1984 draft. That pick turned out pretty well.

SIXTH ROUND (No. 220)

Josh Ferguson, RB, Illinois

Sr., 5’9″, 198

The Steelers survived with their third-string running back last season, until that third-string running back fumbled against the Broncos in the AFC divisional playoffs.

Le’Veon Bell has yet to have an injury-free season in his career, and according to Pro Football Talk it’s not a given that he’ll be ready for Week 1 after tearing his ACL and MCL last season. Meanwhile, 33-year-old DeAngelo Williams hasn’t played a 16-game season since 2008. Running back is a position that needs to be on the Steelers’ draft radar.

Ferguson also dealt with injuries in 2015, but at least it was above the knee. He was limited to nine games because of his shoulder. The redshirt senior played five years at Illinois and amassed 2,586 rushing yards (5.1 yards per carry). He also caught 168 passes for 1,507 yards. He could turn out to be just a third-down back in the NFL, but that wouldn’t be a bad return on a sixth-round investment.

SEVENTH ROUND (No. 229)

Aaron Wallace, OLB, UCLA

Sr., 6’2″, 242 pounds

The Steelers break their three-year streak of drafting a linebacker in the first round, but in this mock draft they pick a linebacker at some point in the draft for the seventh straight year.

Jarvis Jones has just five sacks in three seasons, but the Steelers seem to like him so perhaps he does a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Bud Dupree showed promise in his rookie season but is still an unknown.

Wallace had seven sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in 2015, his only season as a starter.

SEVENTH ROUND (No. 246)

Trae Elston, S, Mississippi

Sr., 5’11”, 193 pounds

The Steelers finish the draft by trying to stock up at a position that needs depth.

Elston intercepted four passes in 2015. He led the SEC in pick-sixes with two and pass breakups with 14. It never hurts to tap the SEC for talent, but Elston will be a project at the next level.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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3 comments

  1. Gregg E Edwards

    Looks like the self-appointed experts are already howling!

    Actual picks will turn out to be different; however, I like the philosophy and logic.

  2. Robert cornwell

    Do you guys even think about these picks? PURE BS!

  3. Pittsburgh Frank

    Thank God the Steelers are picking and not you guys!!! Horrible mock guys, pure crap!

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