Version 6A: (Staying put at the Steelers’ seven original picks with no trades; addressing primary needs first, while mixing in the best-player-available philosophy)
1. CB/FS Aaron Williams, 6-0, 205, Texas: This goes against the Steelers’ successful recent history of drafting proven college players and often the best player available. However, the Steelers have a huge need in the secondary that will only get bigger if Ike Taylor departs via free agency. Williams has the size and toughness that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau likes, and he may be worth the risk, although I could easily see Pittsburgh addressing a 2012 need by selecting slightly better prospect, Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod. Another option is taking the best player on the board even though he only fills a long-term need in Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward.
2. OT/G Ben Ijalana, 6-4, 315, Villanova: There is a 50-percent shot Ijalana is still on the board at this point; he would almost certainly be gone if not for offseason injures that prevented him from working out at the scouting combine. The Steelers would also love to have Alabama’s James Carpenter, but he probably will not be on the board. However, Georgia’s Clint Boling and Miami’s Orlando Franklin are other swing tackle/guard possibilities. Ijalana, though, offers greater upside than Boling and is more consistent than Franklin, who is lazy and often does not finish plays.
3. NT Kenrick Ellis, 6-5 345, Hampton: Many thought Ellis would be off the Steelers’ draft board due to character concerns, but they did bring him in for a visit. Ellis is not ready to be an NFL starter, but the Steelers do not need him to be since Casey Hampton is signed through 2012. Ellis could eventually be another great Steelers’ run-stuffing nose tackle in the mold of Ernie Holmes, Joel Steed and Hampton. He may simply offer too much potential for the Steelers to pass up at the end of the third round. Wisconsin TE/FB Lance Kendricks and San Diego State WR Vincent Brown would also garner serious consideration as well, but Ellis is more likely to be a future starter.
4. CB Rashad Carmichael, 5-10, 190, Virginia Tech: The Steelers may feel the need to hedge their bets at corner due to the risk of taking Williams in Round 1. Carmichael looks like a slot corner who also comes from a school the Steelers’ scouting department has an affinity for. Unlike several Virginia Tech prospects in recent years, Carmichael is a high-character individual and is also close friends with Pittsburgh 2010 second-round draft pick Jason Worilds. Carmichael, however, is not very good in run support, which is often a major red flag for cornerback prospects evaluated by the Steelers.
5. OLB Bruce Miller, 6-1, 255, UCF: Miller does not look like an NFL player when he walks off the bus, and he does not offer great value on special teams. But the Steelers’ front office wisely puts the most stock in productivity and few defensive prospects in this draft had better college careers than Miller, who had 35.5 career sacks. He also bench-pressed 225 pounds an astounding 34 times at the NFL combine.
6. DE Zach Clayton, 6-2, 300, Auburn: Clayton’s stock has risen from undrafted free agent to a prospect now expected to go somewhere in the last three rounds. The Steelers brought him in for an official visit, because he would be a natural fit as 5-technique defensive end in their 3-4 scheme. He was a part-time player on an Auburn defensive line that was the deepest and arguably the best in the country last fall.
7. RB Jamie Harper, 5-11, 230, Clemson: A big, intriguing running back prospect who split time at Clemson and – despite his bulk – is most polished as a third-down back at this point of his career. He needs to develop toughness as an inside runner, although Isaac Redman already fills that need for the Steelers.
Version 6B: (Staying put at the Steelers’ seven original picks with no trades; this mock addresses needs, but focuses first on taking the best player available in the first round rather than reaching for a primary need)
1. DE Cameron Heyward, 6-5, 295, Ohio State: The Steelers appear to be in good shape at defensive end for 2011. Brett Keisel is coming off his first Pro Bowl selection, Ziggy Hood is maturing into a fine NFL player after he started the second-half of the season in his second year, and veteran standout Aaron Smith is saying he would like to play two more seasons. However, five of the Steelers’ six defensive linemen from last season are at least 30, and two could be free agents this offseason (Chris Hoke and Nick Eason). In addition, Smith has missed significant portions of three of the last four seasons with injuries, and this draft is absolutely loaded with quality defensive ends in the first round. Heyward would be a top-15 selection in most years and is clearly a better prospect than any cornerback or offensive tackle who may be available to the Steelers at this spot.
2. CB Curtis Brown, 6-0, 185, Texas: Pittsburgh is very fortunate here when one of the top pure cover corners falls to them in Round 2, because some teams view Brown primarily as a slot coverage guy who lacks the bulk to match up against big receivers. But the Steelers, more than other skills, need a corner who can cover. In addition, Brown plays physical despite his size, and can add bulk as he matures. He would be a steal at the end of the second round.
3. OT/G Lee Ziemba, 6-5, 315, Auburn: Ziemba’s short arms are why most draft experts project him as a guard prospect who may be able to play right tackle. But he was a four-year starter in the SEC who dominated at left tackle both in the run and pass game as a senior. He offers position versatility and will eventually be an NFL starter.
4. RB Jacquizz Rodgers, 5-6, 195, Oregon State: Rodgers was a highly productive, all-purpose back who was at his best in the big games (ask USC) throughout his career. But his size leaves some scouts believing he can only be a change-of-pace back and his overall value (he is also a returner) took a hit when the NFL moved kickoffs up to the 35-yard line. Still, he would add another weapon to the Steelers’ offense, especially in the pass game. Think of him as a poor man’s Ray Rice, and Ben Roethlisberger’s new safety valve. Although his size will undoubtedly cause problems in pass protection, Rodgers is a willing blocker. The Steelers would prefer Taiwan Jones here, but he will be long gone.
5. K/P Alex Henery, 6-1, 175, Nebraska: Probably the best special-teams kicker to enter the draft in several years, the Steelers would be elated to find the NCAA’s all-time leader in field-goal accuracy available in the fifth round. Henery is also a serviceable punter, averaging more than 43 yards per punt in 2010. The lone knock on him is that he did not kickoff at Nebraska. However, he does have a strong leg and the NFL has moved kickoffs up to the 35. Plus the Steelers’ front office and coaching staff does not seem to place much value on their kicker’s ability to kick the ball deep.
6. ILB Mario Harvey, 6-0, 250, Marshall: Harvey was the only linebacker prospect the Steelers brought to the South Side before the draft. Although not invited to the combine, he turned in an amazing pro day (4.46 40-yard dash, 32-inch vertical). He could be a special-teams terror while he develops in to a serviceable inside linebacker down the road.
7. NT Chris Neild, 6-1, 320, West Virginia: A classic overachiever who plays with passion and is stout against the run, Nelid could be a quality reserve nose tackle who eventually replaces free agent Chris Hoke this fall. He is athletically limited, but fits in well in the 3-4 scheme.
Version 6C: (Assuming Mike Pouncey is still on the board, the Steelers will offer their 1st (31st overall), 3rd (95) and 5th (162) round picks to any team picking 16 or up that is willing to take less than the trade-value chart to get more picks. This mock assumes some team takes them up on that offer. It should be noted teams do not always follow the trade-value chart and in the rare times the Steelers do maneuver during the draft, Kevin Colbert has often come out ahead based on the trade-value chart.)
1. OG Mike Pouncey, 6-5, 300, Florida: The logic here is easy to follow: Put Mike Pouncey at center and he will not be near the player his brother is for Pittsburgh. Put him on another team at either guard spot and he will be an above-average player who may make some Pro Bowls. Put him at RG (the Steelers weak link on its offensive line for the past decade) next to his twin brother and the symmetry will be poetic as these two badasses help Pittsburgh establish a dominant inside run game for the next 10 years. Just ask Tim Tebow, who broke Herschel Walker’s long-standing SEC record for career rushing touchdowns, how nice it is to run up the middle with the twins blocking for him.
2. CB Johnny Patrick , 5-11, 190, Louisville: I am not a Patrick fan. He too often played soft coverage at Louisville for fear of getting beat deep. If you are scared in the Big East, what is going to happen in the NFL? However, he has all the physical measurables of a protypical Pittsburgh cornerback, is very tough in run support, apparently became a team leader after early problems, and the CB board might be pretty thin by the end of the second round. Regardless, the Steelers must take a cornerback in the first two rounds and they did bring Patrick in for a visit. Ryan’s favorite, Davon House of New Mexico State, could also go here and may have more upside than Patrick. But Patrick is generally rated higher and is viewed as much more likely to contribute early in his career, and the Steelers need help now at cornerback.
4. TE/FB D.J. Williams, 6-2, 245, Arkansas: Even though all three current Pittsburgh tight ends (Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, D.J. Johnson) are under contract for next year assuming Spaeth is not granted free agency in a new CBA, the Steelers seem interested in adding a receiving tight end/h-back/fullback in this draft. Nevada’s Virgil Green may be preferred, but he will probably be long gone by this spot. Williams is a productive receiver and a high-character individual who will fit right in with the Steelers. A big 3-4 defensive end like Arizona State’s Lawrence Guy or Southern Arkansas’ Cedric Thornton could also be the pick here.
6. RB Da’Rel Scott, 5-11, 210, Maryland: While this draft is weak at running back in the first two rounds, there is plenty of depth for rounds 3-7. A Pennsylvania native, Scott could replace free-agent-to-be Mewelde Moore as the third-down back while also adding more speed to the backfield rotation.
7. NT Anthony Gray, 6-0, 315, Southern Miss: A power run stopper with limited range who could replace free agent Chris Hoke as Casey Hampton’s backup, or project as the No. 2 nose tackle in 2012 after spending 2011 on the inactive list behind Hampton and Hoke.
Version 6D: (The Steelers trade their 1st-round pick (31) to the Cardinals for their early 2nd (38) and early 4th-round (103) picks as Arizona moves up to take a quarterback.)
2 (38). CB Brandon Harris, 5-10, 190, Miami: A strong cover corner who fills a major need for the Steelers, the undersized Harris could find himself covering opponents’ best receiver on a weekly basis if Taylor departs via free agency. That would not be a good scenario for any rookie, but Harris appears better suited for that potential challenge than anyone else the Steelers could draft at this spot, including Aaron Williams.
2 (62). CB/FS Marcus Gilchrest, 5-10, 195, Clemson: Although a little undersized, this guy is a pure football player who will contribute in the nickel and dime, and as a reserve corner early in his career and then eventually replace Ryan Clark as the starting free safety. Gilchrest excelled at both cornerback and free safety in the ACC.
3. OT James Brewer, 6-6, 320, Indiana: The Steelers would prefer Florida’s Marcus Gilbert at this spot, but he may be drafted already. Brewer was a good right tackle in college who has the athleticism and frame to play left tackle in the NFL.
4. (103): WR Austin Pettis, 6-2, 210, Boise State: Already having eight roster-worthy players (Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Antwaan Randle El, Arnaz Battle, Limas Sweed, Tyler Grisham), and six who were on last year’s 53-man roster all signed through at least 2012, the Steelers do not need a receiver in this draft even though most draft experts keep writing that they do. However, the Steelers generally take a receiver in every draft and Colbert has repeatedly said that he believes this draft offers deep value at receiver. Pettis provides size, toughness, experience and great hands. He is a possession receiver who could replace Battle on the roster for 2011 and eventually be Ward’s replacement, probably in 2012.
4. (128): NT Ian Williams, 6-1, 320, Notre Dame: A stout, athletically-limited, plugger in the run game, Williams could replace potential free agent Chris Hoke as Casey Hampton’s backup this fall. He has tons of big-game experience and could be a serviceable starter down the road, although his upside is limited.
5. RB Bilal Powell, 5-10, 205, Louisville: A one-year wonder who is at his best as a north-south runner on draw plays. That is exactly what the Steelers are looking for as they would like to upgrade their third-down back situation with Moore probably becoming a free agent who will not be re-signed. Powell is also a capable receiver.
6. DE David Carter, 6-5, 295, UCLA: Carter is athletic with a great frame for a 3-4 end. He was a decent starter, but did not make many big plays in college. However, the Steelers do not require that their 3-4 defensive ends to be playmakers.
7. OLB Mario Addison, 6-3, 245, Troy: The Steelers could add a linebacker in the later rounds and Addison has long-term potential as a pass rusher. In the short-term he will aid on kick coverage.
Other links you should click:
Steelers’ 7-Round 2011 Draft Value Board
Steelers Pre-Draft Player Visits
Yahoo’s Doug Farrar Talks NFL Draft
Steelers Lounge Steelers Mock Draft, Version 5
Steelers Lounge Steelers Mock Draft, Version 4
Steelers Lounge Steelers Mock Draft, Version 3
Steelers Lounge Steelers Mock Draft, Version 2
Steelers Lounge Steelers Mock Draft, Version 1