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Pittsburgh Steelers Should Not Trade Up in First Round of 2014 NFL Draft

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.

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2014 NFL Draft: Pittsburgh Steelers Must Do a Better Job Drafting Cornerbacks

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t the only team that passed on Richard Sherman in the 2011 NFL Draft. However, that’s not the only mistake they’ve made when it comes to drafting cornerbacks since Mike Tomlin became head coach in 2007.

As Sherman would say, their cornerback crop during that time has been “mediocre.” It’s been a factor in the erosion of a defense that allowed 11 plays of 50 or more yards last season.

Of the eight cornerbacks drafted since Tomlin joined forces with Kevin Colbert, five never started a game.

Joe Burnett, taken in the fifth round in 2009, lasted just one season in Pittsburgh and didn’t break up a pass. He’s best known for dropping a Bruce Gradkowski interception that would have sealed a win over the Raiders in the midst of the Steelers’ five-game losing streak.

The Steelers chose Burnett over Jason McCourty and Captain Munnerlyn.

Crezdon Butler, a fifth-rounder in 2010, never played on defense in his only season with the Steelers. He played for his fifth team in 2013 and still hasn’t broken up a pass in his career.

At least Curtis Brown, the Steelers’ third-round pick in 2011, had two passes defended to his credit in 2012. But he never developed as a cornerback and the Steelers released him in March.

Neither Terrence Frederick (seventh round, 2012) nor Terry Hawthorne (fifth round, 2013) made it out of Steelers training camp.

Even the cornerbacks who haven’t been busts have had mixed success.

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Pittsburgh Steelers: Ranking the Top 10 Tall Receivers in the 2014 NFL Draft

Perhaps Ben Roethlisberger is on to something when he expresses his desire for a tall wide receiver.

Eight of the NFL’s top 10 in receiving yards in 2013 stood at least 6’3″. Antonio Brown and DeSean Jackson, both 5’10″, were the only exceptions.

Of the 13 players who caught at least 10 touchdown passes in 2013, including tight ends, nine measured at least 6’3″. Erstwhile Steeler Jerricho Cotchery (6’1″) was among the outliers in that group. Eight of those players helped their teams reach the playoffs.

The pass-happy NFL is becoming increasingly height-happy when it comes to receivers. Tall receivers are no longer a luxury. A towering target isn’t something that Roethlisberger wants, it’s something he needs.

According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers have told Roethlisberger that they plan to select a tall receiver in the early rounds of the 2014 NFL draft.

There’s plenty of height in this deep wide receiver class. In our previous Steelers mock draft, we had them taking Donte Moncrief of Mississippi in the second round. He doesn’t make this list, however, because he’s a stumpy 6’2″. Based on the aforementioned statistical breakdown of NFL receivers, 6’3″ seems to be where the “You Must Be This Tall to Ride” line is drawn as NFL offenses evolve.

Yes, Justin Brown (6’3″) was drafted last year and spent 2013 on the practice squad, and Derek Moye (6’5″) dressed for seven games last season. But the Steelers are looking for an early-round stud who can be more Plaxico Burress than Limas Sweed.

Here’s a look at the top pass-catching prospects who stand at least 6’3″, ranked in order of where they should be on the Steelers’ big board.

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Mock Draft 2.0: Full 7-Round Predictions and Analysis

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.

Scouting reports from NFL Draft Scout and NFL.com were used as a resource for this mock draft.

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Pittsburgh Steelers: LeGarrette Blount Signing Is Surprisingly Bold Move

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t going out like lambs this March.

In recent years, the Steelers have bid a reluctant farewell to some of their most iconic veterans. They’ve said their share of goodbyes this March, as well, but no one’s shedding any tears. Rather, the water is flowing from the splash the Steelers have made in free agency.

That’s right.

A splash.

Just the thing we’re conditioned not to expect from the Steelers in March.

Friday’s signing of free agent running back LeGarrette Blount puts an exclamation point on the Steelers’ endeavors in the free agent market this year. Blount joins safety Mike Mitchell, nose tackle Cam Thomas, wide receiver Lance Moore and linebacker Arthur Moats as new additions in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have gone to three Super Bowls, winning two of them, since the turn of the century largely by building through the draft. Sure, there’s been the occasional James Farrior or Ryan Clark, but most of the Steelers’ free agent acquisitions through the years have been functional if not flashy. Sort of like getting socks for Christmas.

This year, however, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is coming down that chimney with a bag full of toys.

And the Steelers weren’t the only team waiting in line to snatch Blount off the shelves. The Baltimore Ravens were interested and the New England Patriots were trying to keep him, according to NFL.com.

Blount became a brand name after rushing for 166 yards and four touchdowns in the Patriots’ playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts. On that day, he became the type of free agent the Steelers just don’t get.

Not only did they get him, but they out-dueled their two most hated rivals to do it and looked past Blount’s baggage. The Steelers aren’t known for such brazen moves in free agency. But after two straight 8-8 seasons, something drastic had to be done.

Now, instead of Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones backing up Le’Veon Bell, it will be Blount. That’s what they call an upgrade.

The 6’0″, 250-pound Blount provides both a short-yardage complement to Bell and some insurance at the position. Much was made of Bell’s durability heading into his rookie season. Bell told Steel City Insider (subscription required) that he had never missed a game in college, high school, junior high or even youth football.

So guess what happened in the preseason? Bingo. He hurt his foot and missed the first three games of the regular season. While he played in all 13 remaining games, the Steelers still need someone who can carry the load as a starter if Bell gets dinged up again and has to sit out a game or two.

Blount started seven games last season, including the last four. Blount gained 354 of his 772 yards at an average of six yards per carry in those four starts. That doesn’t even count his playoff performance against the Colts.

Blount also replaces some of the red zone firepower the Steelers lost when Jerricho Cotchery signed with the Carolina Panthers.

The 27-year-old carried the ball seven times last season when the Patriots were at their opponent’s 5-yard line or closer, including the playoffs. He scored touchdowns on five of those carries. Bell, on the other hand, was handed the ball 19 times within five yards of the opponent’s end zone and scored on seven of those carries.

Bell and Blount were comparable in 2013 when it came to getting a first down in short-yardage situations. With three yards or less needed for a first down, Blount moved the chains on 21 of 33 of his carries (63.6 percent) and Bell got a first down on 25 of 40 opportunities (62.5 percent).

The Steelers’ second-round draft pick in 2013, Bell gained 860 yards last season and averaged better than four yards a carry in four of the last five games. He also caught 45 passes, which is almost twice as many receptions as the 23 Blount has had in his four-year career.

Bell is the Steelers’ unquestioned starter at running back. Overall, he’s more talented than Blount.

But when the Steelers are within spitting distance of their opponent’s end zone, Blount will be their man.

Who would have thought that the guy who trampled the Colts defense at Gillette Stadium in January would be a Steeler in 2014?

Follow Mike on Twitter.

 

 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Will Emmanuel Sanders’ Exit End the Curse of the No. 88?

Now that Emmanuel Sanders is gone, the Pittsburgh Steelers must retire the No. 88.

Not because Sanders deserves the honor, but rather because that uniform number is cursed. Those digits seem to weave their way into Steelers misfortune whenever they get together.

Isn’t it fitting that Sanders signed with the Denver Broncos, of all teams, on the day tucked between the Ides of March and his 27th birthday?

The Steelers met a Caesar-like demise in Denver two years ago. They have yet to recover from the shock of their 2011 AFC wild-card loss to the Broncos, when Demaryius Thomas – No. 88 – caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow in overtime to give the Broncos – the 8-8 Broncos – a 29-23 victory.

In the two years since then, the Steelers have finished nothing but 8-8.

The Steelers’ equipment manager should have sewn a hyphen between Sanders’ numbers.

Losing Sanders leaves the Steelers thin at wide receiver, but he wasn’t worth $15 million over three years.

In a year when the Steelers came all the way from 0-4 to within a hair of the playoffs, Sanders figured into one of the season’s more painful what-if moments. He dropped Ben Roethlisberger’s two-point conversion pass that would have tied the game with just over a minute left in Baltimore. The Steelers lost 22-20. Had they won that game, they already would have had a playoff spot locked up when Ryan Succop missed that field goal in the final seconds at San Diego.

It was one of the many times Sanders sent shoes flying into walls all over Western Pennsylvania.

Sanders didn’t catch more than 44 passes in any of his first three seasons, then broke out for 67 receptions in his contract year. He’s also had his share of injuries. He’s never started more than 11 games in a season.

The Steelers can get more for their money by taking advantage of this year’s deep draft class for wide receivers.

Lynn Swann, drafted in the first round 30 years ago, wore the number 88 with such grace from 1974-1982. He should have been the last one to wear that number.

Except for Ernie Stautner’s No. 70, the Steelers don’t officially retire numbers. However, the numbers of certain Steelers greats just aren’t used after they retire. No one has worn No. 75 since Mean Joe Greene. No one has worn No. 12 since Terry Bradshaw. No one has worn No. 32 since Franco Harris.

That hasn’t been the case with wide receivers. The NFL started allowing receivers to wear numbers in the teens in 2004, according to ESPN.com. Before that, they could only wear numbers in the 80s. With tight ends also wearing numbers in the 80s, uniform numbers were in short supply for wide receivers.That’s why the Steelers couldn’t give Swann’s No. 88 or John Stallworth’s No. 82 the unofficial retirement treatment. Nowadays, they have the numerical flexibility to avoid issuing Hines Ward’s No. 86.

Shouldn’t Swann have the same honor?

Even though the Steelers couldn’t really help it, they have paid a karmic price for handing out the hallowed number of a Hall of Famer to lesser players. Since Swann, the Steelers’ 88 jersey has been filled by the likes of Joey Clinkscales, Chris Calloway and Terance Mathis.

Clinkscales was a scab during the 1987 strike. He stayed on when the strike ended, but only six of his 13 career receptions came in legitimate NFL games. Calloway, a fourth-round draft pick in 1990, caught 25 passes in two years with the Steelers before going on to catch 334 passes in seven years with the New York Giants. Mathis made the Pro Bowl with the Atlanta Falcons in 1994, but didn’t have much left when the Steelers signed him in 2002. He caught 23 passes that year at age 35.

Considering the rotten luck the number 88 has brought, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Steelers’ worst season since Chuck Noll’s first year as head coach came in 1988. The Steelers went 1-13 under Noll in 1969 and 5-9 in 1970. They’ve won at least six games every year since then except for 1988. That also was the year Steelers owner and founder Art Rooney Sr. died. He passed away in August, so at least he didn’t have to witness that 5-11 fiasco.

Twenty years later, the Steelers had the 88th pick in the 2008 NFL draft. They used it on Bruce Davis, a linebacker who appeared in five games. He was among the many busts in the Steelers’ worst draft of this century.

The Steelers could have had the New England Patriots’ third-round pick in last year’s draft, but they decided to match the Patriots’ offer and keep Sanders instead. The Patriots used that third-round pick on cornerback Logan Ryan, who had five interceptions as a rookie. That’s more interceptions than all Steelers cornerbacks combined in 2013.

Sanders has been the Steelers’ most productive No. 88 since Swann. A week and a half after dropping that two-point conversion in Baltimore on Thanksgiving, he could have earned a cherished place in Steelers lore.

The Steelers trailed the Miami Dolphins 34-28 with no time left on the clock at Pittsburgh. Sanders caught a pass from Roethlisberger and set in motion what could have been the most memorable play in Steelers history since the Immaculate Reception.

Sanders latereled to Jerricho Cotchery, who lateraled to Le’Veon Bell, who lateraled to Marcus Gilbert, who lateraled to Roethlisberger, who latered to Antonio Brown, who raced along the Dolphins’ sideline for an apparent touchdown. The extra point would have given the Steelers a 35-34 victory and made the playoffs a realistic possibility at 6-7.

Alas, Brown stepped out of bounds. There would be no miracle. The Steelers recovered from that debilitating emotional blow, won their last three games and would have been in the playoffs had the Kansas City Chiefs reserves hung on to their 10-point lead in the fourth quarter at San Diego. Of course, the Steelers already would have been watching Bengals film when Succop lined up for that field goal if Brown had just stayed inbounds three weeks earlier.

And where exactly did Brown step out of bounds? The 12-yard line. He had 12 yards in front of him and 88 yards behind him.

There’s that number again. Two eights should never again be allowed next to each other on a Steelers jersey.

Follow Mike on Twitter.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers Can Re-Sign Jason Worilds Without Any Painful Cuts

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ salary-cap noose, which had been tight enough to choke even the most pencil-thin neck, is a whole lot more comfortable now that the NFL has increased the cap to $133 million.

That’s $10 million more than last season and nearly $7 million more than the projection.

This is the Steelers’ biggest stroke of luck off the field since David DeCastro dropped all the way to No. 24 in the first round of the 2012 draft.

With this windfall, the Steelers can get down to the business of re-signing Jason Worilds. They can even do it without making any of the gut-wrenching cuts that have become as much a part of March in recent years as green beer.

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2014 NFL Draft: Pittsburgh Steelers’ Wish List Remains Intact After Combine

No matter how much anyone’s stock rose at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, all the players at the top of the Steelers board remain within their reach in the 2014 NFL draft.

Sure, not everyone among Mike Evans, Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor and Louis Nix will be available when the Steelers pick at No. 15. But at least one of them will be.

This will not be a repeat of 2012, when Dontari Poe went to the Steelers at No. 24 in a lot of pre-combine mock drafts. Then the Memphis nose tackle blew away everyone at the combine with 44 reps in the bench press and skyrocketed into the top half of the first round, eventually going to the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 11.

Current Steelers nose tackle Loni Fangupo tied for third at the 2012 combine with 36 reps in the bench press, but he’s struggling to crack the lineup. Poe made the Pro Bowl in 2013 for a playoff team. The Steelers could have used Poe in 2013. They allowed 4.3 yards per carry, the most they’ve allowed since 1999.

Not that the Steelers had to “settle” for David DeCastro in the 2012 draft. He’s on a Pro Bowl track, and if they could get him at No. 24 in 2012, they can get Evans, Gilbert, Dennard, Clinton-Dix, Pryor or Nix at No. 15 this year.

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Ranking the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 7 Worst Drafts Since 2000

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ two-year playoff absence is their longest since Kevin Colbert became the team’s director of football operations in 2000.

Part of the problem is their recent drafts. Many of them are among the Steelers’ seven worst drafts since 2000.

Not every draft on this list was a bad one. This is just the bottom half of the 14 drafts that Colbert has run. But the higher a draft is ranked on this list, the worse it is.

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Ranking the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Top 7 Drafts Since 2000

The football world has descended upon Indianapolis this week for the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.

When all the bench presses, vertical leaps and 40-yard dash times for the 335 combine participants are recorded, the buildup to the 2014 NFL draft will kick into high gear.

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, who began his scouting career in 1984, said in a press conference Thursday morning that this is the deepest draft he’s seen in 30 years.

There will be a ton of new data to evaluate the 2014 draft class when the combine concludes Tuesday. For now, let’s take a look back and rank the Steelers’ top seven drafts since Colbert became the team’s director of football operations in 2000.

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