We are moving closer to the NFL Draft, and closer to the conclusion to the Mike Wallace speculation. Once Wallace signs his tender or new contract with the Steelers, or once he signs with another team, the direction of the Steelers in the draft will become clearer. For now, considering all of the releases, other roster moves, and external factors such as player visits or organization representation at Pro Days, below is my first attempt at a Mock Draft for the Steelers for 2012 assuming that Wallace stays with the team. Like the Depot’s brain trust, Mr. Dave Bryan’s, my projections will change as more information regarding the Steelers’ current roster and draft prospects becomes available.
Round # 1: Dont’a Hightower: Inside Linebacker, Alabama (6’2 ¼, 265)
No surprise here as this seems to be the consensus pick amongst pundits across the nation. Combine the release of James Farrior, an aging Larry Foote, and an unproven Stevenson Sylvester, the Steelers need to bolster the inside with a run-stuffer. A high character guy and a hard-worker, Hightower would satisfy this need and would help to improve a run defense that struggled at times last year. While he will not start immediately, by midseason he should emerge in the starting line-up and will be a stud for many years to come in the middle.
Round # 2: Zebrie Sanders: Offensive Tackle, Florida State (6’5 5/8, 320)
Set at left tackle with Marcus Gilbert, the Steelers need to address right tackle position, even though Willie Colon will return in 2012. The frequent injuries to Colon make his durability a question mark and drafting Sanders would provide depth and an eventual starter at the right tackle position. If Colon gets hurt, or if Sanders outperforms Colon in training camp, Colon could be shifted to a guard position. Sanders in a huge man, but a bit light for his height. Another character guy who has been described as “cerebral” and tough, drafting Sanders would show that the Steelers are finally serious about doing what is necessary to protect Ben Roethlisberger.
Round # 3: Isaiah Pead: Running Back, Cincinnati (5’10 1/8, 197)
There has been some noise that the Steelers are going to sign Mike Tolbert; however, I believe that he would command more money than the Steelers are willing to part with, especially when considering that Wallace has not received a new contract. With the question marks surrounding Rashard Mendenhall, and with two big backs on the roster already in Isaac Redman and John Clay, Pead would provide a change of pace with his quickness and above-average speed. Also, Pead has shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield which would add another dimension to the Steelers’ offense. He has also flashed an ability in the return game in the Senior Bowl. The best feature of Pead is that he hits the hole like a madman, something that Mendenhall has not shown he is willing to do.
Round # 4: Mike Martin: Defensive Tackle, Michigan (6’1 3/8, 306)
Casey Hampton restructured his deal this week and took a pay cut. Hampton, along with Steve McClendon will be sharing the duties at nose tackle this year, yet another body is needed to spell these guys and develop into the heir apparent. Enter Martin from Michigan. Described as having a high-motor and great explosion off of the ball, Martin is a prospect that could be mentored this year by Hampton to take over the starting nose tackle position in 2013. Though Martin is a bit on the light side for a nose tackle, the Steelers will not be looking for him to come in and start right away, giving him to develop into a stalwart like his predecessor.
Round # 5: Trenton Robinson: Safety, Michigan State (5’9 ¾, 195)
Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are not getting any younger, and outside of Ryan Mundy, who is nothing more than a serviceable player, the Steelers have no true depth at the safety position. While not formidable in size, Robinson is known as a physical player who is not afraid to stop the run, which fits the Steelers mold. Robinson is known to break early on the ball and is at times vulnerable to double moves, sometimes giving up the big play. As with Martin, Robinson would be a player that would have the opportunity to develop and learn behind Polamalu and Clark and eventually develop into a decent starter.
Round # 6: Adam Gettis: Guard, Iowa (6’2 3/8, 293)
A project. Gettis is an opportunity to build quality depth on the offensive line. Gettis had a tremendous workout at the NFL Combine and is known as a hard-working, character guy with a “killer instinct.” Undersized at 293 pounds, Gettis is a player with size limitations who plays to the whistle and is very aggressive. Again, Gettis is a player that the Steelers will need to develop before he is ready to play, but he could eventually serve the team as a quality back-up at the guard position.
Round # 7: Chase Ford: Tight End, Miami (6’6 3/8, 258)
It is difficult to find a good player in the 7th round, and the Steelers need to adapt to the changing NFL passing game by drafting a pass catching tight end. Ford could fit this criteria. Ford is another project who is athletic and has good hands, but is a below average blocker. His size and potential make him an attractive pick in the 7th round, and the Steelers would hope that he would turn out like that other tight end drafted out of the University of Miami two years ago.