For the fourth straight year, Pittsburgh Steelers fans had to suffer through another Super Bowl that didn’t involve their team. There was a time not too long ago when the Steelers were in the Super Bowl just about every other year. They went three times from 2005 to 2010.
What’s worse is that in 2015 the Steelers have to play both the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots and NFC-champion Seattle Seahawks on the road, with the possibility of playing the Patriots in the Thursday-night season opener.
Getting back to the playoffs in 2015 won’t be easy. That’s why the Steelers have to find players in the 2015 draft who make an immediate impact.
Now that the NFL offseason has officially begun, here’s an early Steelers mock draft.
FIRST ROUND (No. 22)
Quinten Rollins, CB, Miami of Ohio
The Steelers can’t afford any more mid-round misses on cornerbacks. In this mock draft, they take one in the first round for the first time since they drafted Chad Scott in 1997. They haven’t drafted one in the first two rounds since they chose Bryant McFadden in 2005.
It worked out pretty well the last time the Steelers drafted a player from Miami of Ohio. Like Ben Roethlisberger, Quinten Rollins also ran the offense at Miami. It just wasn’t the football team’s offense.
The 5’11”, 193-pound Rollins played point guard for four years on the basketball team, and finished second in school history with 214 career steals, according to CBSSports.com. He also stole some balls on the football field, intercepting seven passes for the Redhawks and garnering MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors despite playing just one year of college football. He played high school football, then had one year of eligibility remaining after playing basketball and used it to return to the gridiron in 2014.
Ike Taylor turns 35 in May and didn’t look a day younger than that after returning from his arm injury in 2014. He likely saw his last action as a Steeler when A.J. Green repeatedly toasted him in Week 13 at Cincinnati. Like Taylor, Brice McCain is a free agent. He and Antwon Blake are scrappy contributors, but can be exposed over the long haul. Cortez Allen remains a mystery.
The Steelers ranked 27th against the pass in 2014 and gave up 15 plays of 40 or more yards, second-most in the league. It’s time for them to draft for need in the first round instead of taking the best player available, and cornerback is their most glaring need.
Anthony Harris, SS, Virginia
The work on the secondary continues in the second round. Shamarko Thomas and Ryan Mundy are the only safeties the Steelers have drafted since Mike Tomlin became head coach in 2007. They haven’t drafted one in the first three rounds since they took Anthony Davis in 2006. That has to change this year.
Harris, a 6’1″, 190-pound senior, led the NCAA with eight interceptions in 2013 and made 80 tackles. He intercepted two passes in 2014, but increased to tackles to 109.
The Steelers probably will have to replace Troy Polamalu in 2015. They traded up to draft Thomas in the fourth round in 2013. Thomas and Robert Golden have contributed on special teams, but have shown little evidence that they’re ready to step in at strong safety.
All the attention the Steelers devoted to the offensive line in the early rounds of the draft in 2010, 2011 and 2012 finally started paying off in 2014. They need to do the same for the secondary this year.
Jesse James, TE, Penn State
The Steelers enjoyed a breakthrough season on offense in 2014. They ranked seventh in the NFL in points scored and second in yards, their highest rankings since 1995 and 1979, respectively.
But the Steelers can’t stand pat. They’ll eventually need a replacement for 32-year-old Heath Miller. At 6’7″, 254 pounds, Jesse James fits the mold of the modern-day behemoth tight end. He caught 11 touchdowns in three years at Penn State, a school record for tight ends.
The junior is from Glassport, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh.
Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State
Any chance the Steelers had for a deep playoff run ended when Le’Veon Bell hurt his knee in the regular-season finale. Bell has become their most indispensable player not named Ben Roethlisberger.
Since Bell’s career began, the Steelers are 0-4 without him. The Steelers need insurance in case he goes down again. Who better than his backup at Michigan State?
Bell and Langford both entered Michigan State in 2010, but Langford red-shirted as a freshman while Bell ran for 605 yards. Langford carried the ball just nine times in his first two seasons, but took the most of his opportunity after Bell left for the NFL. The 6’0″, 211-pounder ran for 2,944 yards and 40 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons.
JaCorey Shepherd, CB, Kansas
If this mock draft comes to fruition, it would be the third straight year the Steelers have drafted a cornerback in the fifth round. They’ve taken a corner in the fifth round in five of Mike Tomlin’s eight drafts.
They would need Shepherd to work out more like William Gay, who they took in the fifth round in 2007, and less like the rest of their fifth-round cornerbacks. That forgettable lot includes Joe Burnett, Crezdon Butler, Terry Hawthorne and Shaq Richardson.
The 5’11”, 190-pound Shepherd was second in the Big 12 with 13 passes defended in 2013. He intercepted two passes, including a pick-six, and three passes in his senior season.
Shepherd also led the Big 12 with 773 kickoff return yards in 2014.
This would be the third time during the Tomlin Era that the Steelers have chosen two cornerbacks in the same draft. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to double up on their most urgent need.
Geneo Grissom, OLB, Oklahoma
Even if the Steelers re-sign Jason Worilds, they need depth at outside linebacker. James Harrison and Arthur Moats also are free agents. Jarvis Jones is their only outside linebacker under contract, and he has three sacks in his first two seasons. Injuries prevented him from making significant strides in 2014. Jones isn’t immune from the bust discussion.
The 6’3″, 264-pound Grissom, a senior, had four sacks and an interception in both 2013 and 2014. He returned both interceptions for touchdowns.
Brett Boyko, OT, UNLV
The Steelers offensive line came a long way under Mike Munchak, but Ben Roethlisberger was sacked five times in the Steelers’ 30-17 playoff loss to the Ravens. So there’s still some work to be done.
The 6’7″, 310-pound Boyko was a four-year starter at left tackle for UNLV, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. He moved to guard for the final five games of 2014 and allowed just one sack for the season.
Boyko, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, is dealing with an elbow injury but is hoping to be ready for the NFL Scouting Combine.
He could at least provide an upgrade over Mike Adams as the Steelers’ top backup tackle.