Thursday, May 8, 2014

Who Will Be The Steelers' Selection In The 2014 NFL Draft?

Ask that question to 10 Pittsburgh Steelers fans and you're likely to get 10 different answers. From Aaron Donald to Taylor Lewan and from Louis Nix III to Eric Ebron. 

Even Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Monday that there are at least 15 players "that we would be very happy to pick" in the 15th slot in the first round Thursday night. 

The reality is that, depending on how the 14 picks above them unfold, there are likely only four or five players the Steelers will take with their first selection. Who are they? 

The Steelers have gone from a veritable "who's who" on defense to a veritable "who's that." Aside from Mike Mitchell, it's an array of young and unsung players who've been brought on board to fill holes and address depth issues. Ike Taylor is 34 years old and the Steelers need cornerbacks. They are absolutely looking strongly at taking a cornerback and a wide receiver in the first two rounds. But they replaced Jerricho Cotchery with solid veteran slot receiver Lance Moore, added Darius H...(sorry, dropped my pen) Heyward-Bey and they can definitely get a very good WR in round two. Therefore...

Darqueze Dennard, CB, 5'11", 200 LBs, Michigan State - If available, I lean toward Dennard at No. 15. The Steelers are paper thin at two areas on defense: defensive line and cornerback. With the only two real choices along the front seven being long gone by the time the Steelers pick, a top-flight corner would be the next best option. 

Despite LeBeau's scheme being difficult for rookies to grasp, he is likely to be ready sooner than later. I still have questions regarding his ability in the zone, and he does allow his athleticism to make up for decidedly minor, unpolished aspects of his cover game. 

But Dennard is an aggressive, NFL-type CB who looks to be a great overall fit for what the Steelers do, in that he is athletic and excels in man-to-man coverage. To paraphrase William Somerset from the movie Se7en: "This guy's methodical, exacting, and [best] of all, patient." - http://tinyurl.com/mqqau5b

What, though, if Dennard isn't available? Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 32 years old, after all, and he needs another big or "big play" receiving weapon to pair with Antonio Brown after losing three very productive WRs to free agency in 14 month span (Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery). If available, that WR in the first round would be...

Mike Evans, WR, 6'5", 230 LBs, Texas A&M - It has become fairly obvious, especially after watching the Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans Pro Day/workout, that Evans made Manziel’s two great college seasons. -  http://tinyurl.com/pboyhrp

He is the best bad-ball receiver in the draft, he’s 6'5", is 4.53 in the 40, has great moves, a great ball-catching arc and an ability to out jump and outmuscle smaller cornerbacks. He is a red zone beast who rarely drops passes. If he’s available at No. 15, I can't see the Steelers passing on him. 

Justin Gilbert, CB, 6'0", 200 LBs, Oklahoma State — Gilbert is a potential top 10 pick, yes. He ran a 4.37 in the 40, yes. He had seven interceptions last season, yes. He also had six career kickoff return touchdowns (one short of the NCAA record), yes. He might even be as good or better athlete than Dennard. 

BUT...his hips are a little more rigid than Dennard's and he has a history of biting on pump fakes. More importantly, he hasn't shown the same kind of physicality as Dennard in that he isn't nearly the run-stopping tackler and that is HUGE in Pittsburgh. 

Kyle Fuller (pictured), CB, 6'0", 190 LBs, Virginia Tech - Fuller especially won me over at the NFL Scouting Combine. Mike Mayock, too. Throughout the Tuesday (Feb. 25th) broadcast, the NFL Network analyst praised Fuller repeatedly. He gushed about his fluidity and tackling ability, giving likely the best compliment possible in saying: "He gets it." Mayock also said that if Fuller ran better than a 4.50/40 that he would be a "first-round lock." He ran a 4.49/40.

My personal choice (mainly because I doubt Dennard will still be there) may require a trade down to be accomplished. But he can play wide or in the slot, has a physical demeanor with good length, is very tough and loves to tackle. Has a good vertical leap and very smooth hips to be able to turn-and-go. He has smart route recognition, is quick to react, has very good anticipation and cover instincts, closes in a flash and is always looking to strip the ball to force turnovers.

Eric Ebron, TE, 6'4", 245 LBs, North Carolina - There's a lot to like about Ebron. He is a receiving tight end who has rare speed and athleticism for his size and is a good route runner. He is a mismatch nightmare who is generally sure-handed. He has a quick release off the line and excellent body control. Outstanding catch radius and leaping ability. 

His combine numbers were also impressive. He ran an official 4.6/40, completed 24 reps on the 225-pound bench press, recorded a 32-inch vertical leap and a 120-inch broad jump...but he doesn't well. Not at all. This one is a stretch and only happens if all others on their board are gone, and if they don't trade down. 

As has been the case for several months, If It Ain't Steel's choices are either Dennard or Fuller if they go corner, and Evans if they go receiver. 

Which will it be? We'll know as of approximately 6:15 p.m. EST. 


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