It has been 2 weeks since I put out my 2.0 version of the Steelers 2011 Mock Draft and since then the Steelers have had quite a few pre draft visitors to look over and the Pro Days have also wound down. With the draft just 2 and a half weeks away, now is a great time to put out version 3.0. As you will see, I have made quite a few changes. As much as I like what Derek Sherrod brings to the table, I do not think the Steelers view the tackle position as much as a need to just settle for the 4th or 5th best tackle in the draft now. I also see some scenarios where Sherrod could fall out of the first round and end up being an early second round pick instead. I think the Steelers instead really intend to address the secondary if all possible in round 1 and Aaron Williams might best fit both the best player available as well as a need. In addition, I have dropped Ian Williams as a mid round selection as I think the Steelers will look to get a nose tackle much later in the draft instead, if they do at all. The lone carry over from version 2 is tight end Lance Kendricks as the Steelers will almost certainly address the tight end position in the mid rounds and Kendricks really looks like a good match.
Here we go with mock draft version 3.
Round 1: CB Aaron Williams (Texas) – This pick will anger several in Steeler Nation, but I see him as a player that can contribute early in the secondary as a 3rd or 4th defensive back. The Steelers still stand to lose Ike Taylor and William Gay to free agency and Keenan Lewis has yet to live up to the standard as he heads into the final year of his rookie contract. The jury is still out on if Williams is a corner or free safety at the next level, but I think the Steelers could use him regardless until they find his ultimate landing position. Should Taylor and Gay remain Steelers, he can be eased in slowly and perhaps spell free safety Ryan Clark when teams go four wide. Williams is also a junior and new defensive backs coach Carnell Lake should be able to mold him in his own likeness. It should be noted that Williams also can contribute instantly on special teams his rookie season, where the Steelers will likely have some holes. I should note that I am not ruling out the Steelers trading out of the first round altogether and selecting either Williams or fellow Texas cornerback Curtis Brown in the early part of round 2. Trades are so hard to predict, but trading down looks much more likely than trading up in this draft as far as the Steelers are concerned. I am feeling pretty confident now that a Texas defensive back will be on the menu early in this draft. They could do much worse than selecting Williams in my opinion.
Round 2: LB Sam Acho (Texas) – Yes, I know, another Texas player and another second round linebacker selection at that. I am pretty confident that the Steelers will at least draft one linebacker in this draft and Acho fits the tweener mold that the Steelers look for in an outside 3-4 linebacker. Although it could have been a smoke screen at the Texas Pro Day, they sure seemed interested in Acho according to reports. LaMarr Woodley likely will not be locked up long term when the draft begins and the offseason back procedures that James Harrison has had also might be weighing heavy on their minds as well. You never know. In addition, 2010 2nd round draft pick Jason Worilds might be a better fit on the right side as he has yet to show he has mastered dropping into pass coverage. Reportedly Acho showed well in pass coverage drills at the Pro Day and could be a fit backing up Woodley on the left side initially. The Steelers also lost 2010 draft pick Thaddeus Gibson to the waiver wire last season so I could see them restocking that pick there as well. Much like Williams, Acho would see the field instantly on special teams as most young Steelers linebackers are often asked to do. A stretch this early? Sure I agree, but Acho certainly looks talented.
Round 3: TE Lance Kendricks – I am firmly in belief that the Steelers will address the back-up tight end position some time in the mid-rounds and Lance Kendricks certainly seems to fit the bill. It is indeed debatable if he will last until late in the 3rd round as I have seen him go in some mocks earlier and others a bit later. I do not think he last until the 4th round however and think the end of the 3rd is a perfect spot for him. He will have to improve his in-line blocking as the Steelers love to use two tight end sets. Matt Spaeth still could return depending on how the labor situation pans out and at worst, Kendricks might battle David Johnson for the h-back role initially. Kendricks is a bigger threat in the passing game than both Spaeth and Johnson combined and with proper grooming could become a legitimate passing game threat. He is a former wide receiver who is still learning proper technique for an everyday tight end and has been compared to the likes of Dustin Keller and Owen Daniels. I think if he is on the board still in the 3rd round, he is the pick.
Round 4: T Marcus Gilbert – The Steelers have had some success drafting University of Florida linemen and they certainly have interest in him as he was brought to the South Side for a pre draft visit. He offers extreme value in the 4th round and has no known character issues. He is deemed as a hard worker and a very mobile for a man his size. He could be the heir apparent to Max Starks at left tackle. He would be a perfect student for offensive line coach Sean Kugler to groom and back up both tackle spots initially until it is time to take over in 2012 at either the left or right tackle spot.
Round 5: WR Austin Pettis – Pettis is regarded as a tall possession receiver type with good hands and a reliable redzone target while at Boise State. He is a willing blocker and works well over the middle. With Hines Ward winding down his career soon, the Steelers will look to the draft to continue their history of drafting wide receivers almost yearly. Emmanuel Sanders looks primed to take over the role of Ward initially, but the recent foot surgeries Sanders had following the Super Bowl might also be of some concern to the Steelers brass. Depending on how the depth chart shakes out heading into the season, Pettis might be primed for a practice squad spot if he can\’t crack the 53 man roster initially. He could just as easy supplant veteran Antwaan Randle El on the roster as well should the Steelers decide to part ways with him.
Round 6: RB Da\’Rel Scott – Scott is regarded as an all-purpose type back and could push 2010 draft pick Jonathan Dwyer for a roster spot. Veteran change of pace back Mewelde Moore is a free agent and there is no guarantee that he will be back with the Steelers in 2011. Much like Moore, Scott is regarded as change of pace option and a third-down back. He could be a candidate for the practice squad should Dwyer turn the corner with his in-game recognition and pass blocking.
Round 7: DT Anthony Gray – The defensive line will likely be addressed late in the draft and it could be a 5 technique defensive end type or a young nose tackle. Gray is a pre draft visitor and certainly fits the mold of a 3-4 nose tackle. Auburn defensive tackle Zach Clayton, who fits the 3-4 defensive end mold, could also be the pick here as could Alabama A&M defensive tackle Frank Kearse. Kearse and Clayton could go undrafted and quite possibly could be undrafted free agent players the Steelers have eyes on once they are allowed to sign them.
In closing, it is easy to put so many of the pre draft visitor names on this list as the interest is certainly there. Will it be this many? Probably not, but I think position wise and round wise, this could indeed be much closer to what the Steelers do on draft day. I could do several scenarios in these mock drafts, but it takes the fun out of it in my opinion. Closer to draft day I might group some players by round before my final mock draft version is released. Have at it in the comments section, but do so respectfully or it will not be approved.