Below are three different hypothetical mock drafts for the 2012 Steelers based on positions of need both in the short-term and long-term, the best-player-available philosophy that Pittsburgh generally likes to follow within reason, how the overall draft board shapes up in terms of talent at each position area and for each round, and the Steelers’ drafting history under Kevin Colbert.
These are not my dream scenarios, but are presented rather to provide an idea of what the Steelers may be looking for in each round and how their draft may unfold. I always chuckle at folks who put together completely unrealistic team mocks, where seemingly every player is picked far later than all projections. These clutter message boards. Yes, it would be wonderful if the Steelers landed a consensus second-round selection in the fourth round and a third-round value in the seventh. But predicting so many players to precipitously fall just for the Steelers is a fruitless exercise.
Therefore, we tried to stay within reason on these mocks, assuming there was at least a 30% chance that the player listed would be available at the drafting spot slated in the mocks, and in most cases it was 50% or higher. Now, in some cases, it is noted that I believe the player will be off the board, but that the player’s draft projection or ratings on various sites shows that he may still be available at that spot.
We also tried to take into account both the depth or lack thereof at each position group in this draft, while also accounting for recent overall draft trends, such as running backs usually being drafted later than where they rank on the big board, whereas true 3-4 nose tackles, left tackle prospects, and cornerbacks possessing a nice combination of size and speed are often taken earlier than their overall rank. Finally, we put in different names for each mock draft for all three of the compensatory seventh-round picks the Steelers were rewarded just to provide more data.
Now that the disclaimers have been given, which of these mocks do you prefer? Where are we way off in our projections? Feel free to mix and match, or substitute other players in the process if doing your own mock.
MOCK DRAFT NO. 1: Staying Put – No Trades
1 (24): ILB Dont’a Hightower, 6-2, 265, Alabama: There is a chance that the Jets select Hightower with the 16th overall pick, although New York has more pressing needs. The better shot for him to be taken before the Steelers select is for Baltimore to move up from No. 29 to make Hightower the short-term replacement for recently-departed Jarret Johnson at strongside linebacker and the eventual successor to Ray Lewis in the middle. But the Ravens’ bigger need is on the interior offensive line and would they sacrifice their third-round pick just to move up for Hightower? The guess in this mock is no. Hightower is easily the most popular projected first-round pick for the Steelers by top draft experts and NFL insiders. Where there is smoke, fire is often present.
2. OG/RT Kelechi Osemele, 6-6, 335, Iowa State: Osemele is a lot like first-round prospect Cordy Glenn in that he could play right tackle, but probably projects best at guard in the next level. Osemele, however, actually has much more experience at tackle than Glenn. He would be a good value pick at this spot and would likely start by year No. 2 in Pittsburgh.
3. NT Josh Chapman, 6-1, 315, Alabama: It is true that 3-4 nose tackles tend to be drafted earlier than their overall ranking in this era, especially in a particular draft when that position is relatively thin. But Chapman is rated as the 111th best overall prospect by ESPN and No. 112 by CBS Sports, meaning that he should be on the board for this 86th pick overall in the draft. However, I suspect Chapman will be drafted before the Steelers’ fourth-round pick, and that Pittsburgh would not be able to find a future starting nose tackle after the third round of this draft.
4. WR Marvin McNutt, 6-3, 215, Iowa: I have wanted to draft this guy for two years. Based on size, straight-line speed, production and hands, McNutt should be drafted earlier. However, it is a deep draft for receivers with size in the middle rounds, and most prognosticators have McNutt slotted between the third and fifth rounds, so he could be there at this spot.
5. CB/FS Keith Tandy, 5-10, 200, West Virginia: Tandy, who visited the Steelers before the draft, is generally rated as a fourth- or fifth-round prospect. However, he is a tweener who fits in the Steelers’ scheme at corner, but not many others. Thus, he could fall to this spot, which would be wonderful news. He also has long-term potential at free safety based on his play-making skills and football instincts.
6. OLB Darius Fleming, 6-2, 245, Notre Dame: He posseses the No. 1 physical skill necessary to play outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense: A good first step on the pass rush. Fleming would likely battle Chris Carter for a roster spot, although both could stick with impressive training camps.
7a. H-B/TE David Paulson, 6-3, 245, Oregon: A very productive and versatile college player who could find his way onto the opening roster while No. 2 tight end Weslye Saunders serves a four-game suspension. Theoretically, Paulson could then battle veteran D.J. Johnson to stay on the 53-man roster after Saunders returns, or both could remain due to their versatility.
7b. RT/OG Levy Adcock, 6-6, 320, Oklahoma State: A mauler with limited upside who does have experience playing in plenty of big-games for a high-powered offense. Adcock would have a solid chance of making the team as the ninth offensive lineman.
7c. RB Bobby Rainey, 5-7, 210, Western Kentucky: A diminutive, small-school sensation who would battle Baron Batch and possibly Mewelde Moore (if he is re-signed) for a roster spot.
7d. OLB Jerrell Harris, 6-2, 240, Alabama: Probably the worst pro prospect to start for Alabama’s defense last season, but yet Harris still has a decent shot of being drafted this week. He played OLB in the Tide’s base 3-4 defense, but could also play ILB for the Steelers.
MOCK DRAFT NO. 2, THE TRADE-UP DRAFT: (Steelers send their first (24th) overall, third (86th) and original seventh round picks to New York for pick No. 16. The Jets take less than the trade-value chart, but are targeting a pass rusher and would likely still be able to chose from a deep list at No. 24 that could include Syracuse’s Chandler Jones, USC’s Nick Perry, Boise State’s Shea McCellin, or Clemson’s Andre Branch.
1 (16): OG David DeCastro, 6-5, 315, Stanford: If the Steelers have the chance to throw in their third-round pick to move up to take the most surefire star in the draft at their greatest position of need, it should be a no-brainer. I think DeCastro will be tabbed by pick No. 15, but many draft experts have him falling until at least No. 17 for the Bengals, making this projection a possibility.
2. ILB Mychal Kendricks, 5-11, 240, Cal: A short, tackling machine whose stock is rising due to being timed at several sub 4.5-second 40-yard dashes. Plays the run, can cover elite backs, and rush the passer. Sounds like a perfect Steelers’ linebacker.
4. RB Ronnie Hillman, 5-9, 200, San Diego State: Hillman would add a speedster to the Steelers’ backfield rotation. Running backs tend to be under-drafted, so Hillman could last until the fifth round. Although I cannot objectively project this, I would not be shocked to see Oregon star LaMichael James last until the fourth round as well, although he is generally rated as a second- or early third-round pick. James will not be a between-the-tackles runner in the NFL, and many of the highest-rated players still available at the start of the fourth round are running backs. Still, I can’t see James lasting until the latter part of the fourth round.
5. NT Loni Fangupo, 6-1, 325, BYU: Injury-prone and will turn 27 before opening day, Fangupo provides size and immediate depth to a position that needs both with veteran Casey Hampton’s availability for opening day in serious doubt after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL. Plus, the Steelers have a good history with BYU defensive linemen.
6. CB Donnie Fletcher, 6-1, 200, Boston College: Fletcher had a solid season, followed by a strong pro day. Still, he was not invited to the NFL scouting combine and is generally rated no higher than a fifth-round pick, because most teams do not believe he is capable of covering NFL receivers man-to-man down-field. However, he is good against short- and medium-routes, a locker-room leader, and stout run-defender who would mesh well with the Steelers’ secondary and fit their scheme. I think he will be drafted before this 193rd pick overall, but he is rated as the 203rd best prospect by CBS and No. 231 by ESPN.
7b. WR Jordan White, 6-0, 210, Western Michigan: A highly-productive and confident wide out from the MAC who lacks NFL desired measurables.
7c. DE Matt Conrath, 6-7, 275, Virginia: A productive 3-4 defensive end prospect who possesses a good frame, but lacks athleticism.
7d. S/CB Jeremy Jones, 5-10, 190, Wayne State: A big-play sleeper from a small program who the Steelers brought in for a visit.
MOCK DRAFT NO. 3, THE TRADE-DOWN DRAFT: Steelers trade their first- (24th overall) and seventh-round picks to San Francisco for its first- (30) and third-round picks (92). Steelers also trade their second-round pick (56) to Buffalo for its third- (71) and fourth-round picks (105).
1 (30): OG Kevin Zeitler, 6-4, 315, Wisconsin: A guard without any weaknesses who is not a great athlete, but will be a solid NFL starter for a decade. Zeitler would immediately provide an upgrade for Pittsburgh’s weakest area.
3a. NT Alameda Ta’amu, 6-3, 350, Washington: He may be drafted a little earlier due to his size, but Ta’amu’s stock fell precipitously last season while playing for a disappointing Huskie defense that ranked 11th in the PAC 12 in both scoring (35.9 points per game) and total defense (453.3 yards). He does not make many plays, but Ta’amu can occupy two blockers, which is the primary task of a 3-4 nose.
3b. RB Isaiah Pead, 5-10, 200, Cincinnati: Pead, who the Steelers have not been shy about showing their interest in drafting, is rated a little higher on most overall boards, but may last until the fourth round. He is versatile, fast, and should be both a solid third-down and No. 2 back at the next level. However, he did not produce great numbers for the Bearcats.
4a: ILB James-Michael Johnson, 6-1, 240, Nevada: A two-down plugger at ILB who could be Larry Foote’s replacement after two seasons.
4b. OLB Jonathan Massaquoi, 6-2, 265, Troy: The Steelers brought in several tweener DE/OLB prospects with size, indicating they would like to draft a developmental pass rusher. Massaquoi did not play well against elite opponents in Troy’s paycheck games last season but has talent.
5. FS Trenton Robinson, 5-10, 195, Michigan State: Robinson is similar to Ryan Clark (e.g., a cerebral playmaker, but not real fast and small for an NFL safety) in a lot of ways and could be his eventual replacement. Mike Tomlin clearly likes this prospect. He is rated a little higher than this spot on most big boards, but undersized free safeties are usually not coveted, so he could still be available at this spot.
6. WR Jeff Fuller, 6-4, 225, Texas A&M: One of many big, physical receivers who may be available late in this draft. Fuller has NFL bloodlines, but battled injuries throughout his college career.
7a. CB Micah Pellerin, 6-1, 195, Hampton: A small-school prospect who may be taken earlier due to his size, but is slated to fall around this area of the draft.
7b. OT Matt McCants, 6-5, 310, UAB: A potential left tackle prospect with good feet. However, his stock did not rise during the postseason as some expected.
7c. FB Cody Johnson, 5-11, 255, Texas: An improving lead blocker who also can play a little tailback in short-yardage situations and has potential as a receiver.
7d. DE John Hughes, 6-2, 310, Cincinnati: A likely defensive end in the Steelers’ scheme, Hughes would battle Corbin Bryant and Al Woods for a potential No. 7 defensive-line spot on the roster, but would likely spend 2012 on the practice squad.