Will The Steelers Be Too Stubborn To Draft A Nose Tackle In The First Round?

By Christopher DiMarino

There has been a lot of discussion about who the Pittsburgh Steelers might draft in the first round. For mockers and speculators alike, it has seemed more like sticking your hand in a grab-bag versus using discernible logic. I want to try and simplify the process. The general consensus is that right now no position sticks out more above another, so the Steelers might hope for a value to drop to them. This is why:

  • No safeties possess the elite talent level that is usually associated with highly drafted safeties. Harrison Smith was a late first round drafted safety last year who is probably more polished than anyone in this draft. So with the deep array of possible safeties, this position might get differed to the second or third round.
  • There is a slight talent level drop in wide receivers. Are Keenan Allen or Cordarrelle Patterson worth a first? There are many other options later in the draft and the Steelers are known for drafting receivers in the mid to later rounds. The combine will help discover which receivers run up the rankings and which are overlooked. The Steelers will likely look at a large bodied player, so if he underperforms his 40 time at the combine and drops, he might be a prime “under the radar” target for the Steelers.
  • Outside linebackers are like safeties in that there are no elite, absolute drafts for the Steelers. Considering that the Steelers will want to reconstruct any drafted outside linebacker pass rusher anyways, a project will be a logical choice. Again, there is a chance that a Jarvis Jones type of talent will drop, but it is unlikely, so a second or third is a likely destination.

The only positions left over that have been seriously considered in the first round are inside linebacker and nose tackle. The problem with those positions is that the Steelers spent a third round pick on Sean Spence and a fourth round pick on Alameda Ta\’amu last season. It is true that Spence was called a MACK linebacker when he was drafted and that he might be a depth guy, while Ta\’amu has heavily disappointed so far. So in my opinion, both positions should be open game in the first round, but the problem is that the Steelers might be too stubborn to draft them.

I\’m not a Steelers historian, but in past few drafts I\’ve noticed that the Steelers are apprehensive to draft overlapping talent. You would think an under-aggressive team like the Steelers that tends to draft the best player available would have inevitably fallen victim to overlapping in the past but you\’d be hard pressed to find a case. Take last year as an example, certain parties felt that outside linebacker and defensive end were big needs. Ziggy Hood hadn\’t panned out yet, and with the looming likelihood that James Harrison was playing his last year in Pittsburgh, Jason Worilds did not have our full confidence. While waiting until this year to grab an outside linebacker is acceptable, don\’t forget that it will take extenuating circumstances for a rookie to start on this defense.

By electing to abstain from the outside linebacker and defensive end positions, the Steelers did two things. Firstly, they gave Hood and Worilds another chance to prove that they can be the future. Secondly, they focused on offense by drafting two offensive lineman which has laid the foundation for the Steelers offense to grow this coming year. The risk is that the Steelers could be without a clear picture at outside linebacker opposite LaMarr Woodley, going into the season and that reps will be split between Worilds, Chris Carter and a new draftee should Harrison indeed be cut loose. It\’s tough to judge whether the Steelers won or lost on that decision as I think both Hood and Worilds showed strides this past season, but neither excelled to the elite level.

So do the Steelers plan to gamble with what they have once again? Is the combination of Spence, Lawrence Timmons, Stevenson Sylvester, and possibly even Larry Foote, enough to last until next draft? If not, what level of help does the position demand? A high level player that will be meant to take the position, or another mid round pick that will give Spence a run for his money? The nose tackle position is perplexingly more muddled. None of the incumbents did anything this past season to unseat Casey Hampton, who had a very underrated year. Steve McLendon did not fully back up John Mitchell\’spraise and struggled to get on the field. Ta\’amu did nothing, but didn\’t overstep enough off the field to get kicked off the team.

Both of those important positions, in my mind, are fair game for anything up to a first round talent. A high profile nose tackle will mean the Steelers wasted a fourth on Ta\’amu. Who cares? McLendon will still get on the field as this is a position that does rotate. A high profile inside linebacker just means that Spence becomes a special teams and depth contributor, which at this point looks like the shoe that fits him. I don\’t want either idea to seem mutually exclusive. In fact, there is no real inside linebacker prospect outside of Kevin Minter at this point that would be reasonable at 17, so if a inside linebacker is taken, it will likely be in the second round or later.

So while I\’m still miles away from understanding the variables enough to be able to slop together a mock draft, I hope this helps conversation. As always, position needs don\’t dictate the draft, player availability does. Ironing out the first round is the first battle in the war that is guessing the draft, and for the reasons listed above, at this point nose tackle seems like the odds on favorite unless someone special drops. Looking at the prospects right now, the front runners to be first round options would be Jesse Williams, Johnathan Hankin,and maybe even John Jenkins. I will start to get more into depth in the position coming up!

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I think the largest problem we have is we need impact, but that is going to be HARD to find. Look at our projected D:

    Woodley/Timmons/Foote/Harrison (assuming they are back)

    Where do we put a draft pick with our stubbornness to get players on the field?

    On offense, I see WR, TE, and RB as the clear positions of need. The problem again comes down to how you draft those positions. TE is only a need for a depth guy if you assume Heath is back healthy. Dwyer and Redman could both be back as well as Batch, but RB is a position you can find someone in the 6th round or even in the UDFA realm that is as good as your draft picks (see Willie Parker).

    To me the largest position is the hole left void by Wallace’s departure. I think you need a different kind of receiver there than Wallace, a big physical guy, but you need someone there.

    The problem in all of this, is that if this team continues to just slowly put people at these impact positions not taking any high risk/high reward moves, this draft will not impact anything till next year. So….they better have a different plan in place to make this team better than the 8-8 team which took the field this year.

  • RW

    I sort of disagree with your feeling on this year’s safety class. They may not be as “polished” as Harrison Smith was last year, but they are more athletic. You can coach one – not the other. I think there are a number of safeties worth a mid-late first round pick, including Matt Elam, Eric Reid and Kenny Vacarro (although I do think Elam is the most impactful player of the bunch). I think there is some major talent in this draft, particularly in the later rounds, so if the organization does its homework, we should be able to grab a number of future starters this year.

  • zyzak

    Steelers have so many holes I see them trading out of the first for additional draft picks.
    They dont need a NT or a this year. They need play makers on offense and defense.
    They could use an OT thats quick. The problem is Starks, Gilbert aren’t quick enough to play zone block scheme

  • westernsteel

    The draft is a hard process to “guess”, but I don’t understand what’s wrong with McLendon as a starting NT? How can he fully back up his praise from John Mitchell if he wasn’t on the field much? I think Ziggy could be a NT as well. I also think Worilds played pretty well with limited time.

  • Jollyrob68

    I disagree about McLendon. Anytime he was on the field he brought the heat. For some reason the Steelers are loyal to a fault with their Vets. McLendon should of been on the field more.

    I still believe that Ziggy is your NT and McLendon is the 5tech you want with Heyward on the other end.

    The Draft, ILB,NT,TE.. Everyone forgets that Heath Miller is older and now has a torn ACL. The draft has TWO first round TE and Selecting one of them would give Ben a large target he craves and insurance incase Miller isn’t ready at the start of the season.

    ILB I like KEvin MInster, MAnti Te’o(regardless of him being catfished) ALex Olgeltree, As well as SAm Montgomery.

    I believe The Steelers can move back and still select an impact player. Their issue as an organization is THEY NEED TO PLAY THEM SOONER RATHER THAN LATER.
    Safeties need to be ready to jump in and play this year. Troy is always injured and Clark is older and his style causes him to miss some time. He may also get released.

  • WilliamSekinger

    If impact is what the Steelers are looking for with their first pick, I don’t think the pick will be spent on defense at all. No rookie linebacker has started for the Steelers defense in…Forever at any spot. D-linemen are not really impact players, and no rookie defensive back will be starting over Ike, Troy, Clark or Keenan (assuming they resign him). I think the better opportunity to grab an impact player comes on the offensive side of the ball.

  • So you want to waste a number one on a player that won’t see the field under lebeau, remember, Casey got to start because he came under cower and before lebeau. lebeau is the genius that preferred slow , fat and old to young , fast and aggressive , as in get the qb.,

  • I would not be shocked if steelers go first 3 picks like this in any combo.
    ol,rb,wr. with rb being either 2 or 3, .

  • Broderick Wallace

    Currently, I like Keenan Allen in the 1st. He is a big-bodied hands-catcher that knows the route tree and has a lot of experience. He can start game one as #3 WR.

  • Jollyrob68

    NT I like Hankin & Williams. Jenkins will alwayas batttle a weight and endurance issue if he doen’t take his Job seriously as a pro.

  • RW

    I think you’re right. On the other hand, offensive impact players can often be found in later rounds (unless you’re talking QB or LT). I suppose the same can be said for any position, which is why I’m for best available, so long as there is/will immediately be a need. I think the positions that qualify for this year are SS, ILB, G, and WR. With the exception of guard, it would be nice to get an elite talent at SS, ILB or WR in the 1st/2nd rounds. Given that the WR class is not what one would consider “elite”, I suspect we will shy away from one until one of the later rounds. I do understand where you’re coming from with respect to impact, but I think we can get an impact RB and an impact WR in the later rounds (ones who can start immediately). I’m usually a big proponent of drafting lineman early, but we’ve done a lot of that in the last few years. One other thing you should consider – when was the last time our safeties made it through a whole season? We absolutely lose something without both back there (though Will Allen did fill in admirably). Plus, we need to draft for the future now, not when they retire.

  • steeltown

    I really dont understand all the ‘immediate impact player’ talk, especially when talking about Defense.. if they re-sign Foote then ILB is fine for THIS season.. if K.Lewis walks then Cortez starts opposite Ike and we’re fine for THIS season.. even if Hampton is gone McLendon starts and we’re fine for THIS season.. if Harrison is gone Worilds will start and we’re fine for THIS season, we have Ryan Clark for another year and Troy for another two yrs, so Safety is fine for atleast THIS season (of course re-signing Will Allen for depth would be smart) …there is no need for a Defensive player who is drafted to have to start right away.. or be an ‘immediate impact player’

    Now Offense is a whole nother story altogether… we need a RB for sure and another OL, WR and TE would nice… all could potentially contribute this year.

    All that being said, they will still go ‘Best Player Available’ ..regardless of the position, the only positions they will not target in the 1st Rd are QB & Center

  • Kenneth Wilt

    If he is there, he would be hard to pass on.

  • Cody Younkin

    This is stupid, we have Mclendon who is a truely underrated force AND already knows the Steelers system! No chance in the first. Other issues:
    Firstly, they need a defensive play-maker but he doesnt have to start this year, especially beacuse we havent seen worilds in a full season of action, wasting a first round pick when Worilds is already groomed in the system and might be a surpirse talent is dumb. if he doesnt pan out then theres always next draft.
    Second, There are plenty of WR’s in this draft and a lot of them are 2nd round talent but is not worth wating a first round pick. I would leave this to the 2nd round and get a big body Target
    Thirdly, while RB is of need, there are no 1st, or 2nd round worthy RB in this raft and LACY IS OVERRATED. I personally like Sephan Taylor in the 3rd round.
    Frouthly, While i agree we need an ILB (based on the fact that we havent seen Spence in action) I Think Foote (who is comming off his best year as a pro) is good enough.

    Fifthly, at Saftey we have no depth, While Troy and Ryan have a little in the tank, losing them will be the most devastating part of the defense. see that i dissagree with Chrisopher and seeing that there are some great safties this year, I would Consider Elam or Vaccaro 1st round options. PLUS they get to learn from troy and ryan!
    I could go on about this forever, but all im trying to say is that the Steelers will not get everything in one draft, its just not going to happen. OLB and ILB can be spared one year. CB is pretty solid since Lake seems to make even mediocre talent better (victorian). and if the first 4 arent worthly of the first round what is?? Saftey just makes sense here. you wont have a chane at these guys next year and they both play Polamalu style football. Remember is not just the 17th pick in the draft , its the 17th pick every round which brings more fortune then the past couple years at 24 +

  • JohnnyV1

    To the subject in the title of this article, I can say that the Steelers would not be “too stubborn” to draft a D-line position. You can’t teach big, and you can’t teach speed. So after any decent to franchise QB’s, you have OT, DE/OLB, CB, WR with size and speed, Generally the targets in the top half of the first round, which is where the Steelers will be, +/- a pick. As for RB’s, year after year you see 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th Rd guys put up some solid rush numbers. Adrian Peterson type guys come along once every 10+ yrs. Steelers will need WR, TE, and DL/LB. Throw in a QB in Rd 4/5, maybe an athletic OL. I think they sign CB K.Lewis.

  • LouPGH

    Why don’t you believe Jarvis Jones will fall? If he was my kid, I honestly don’t know that I’d want him playing in the NFL. You look hard enough and you’ll always find a doctor to tell you what you want to hear; that doesn’t make it safe. With a top ten pick, why risk it? Plus, there are some guys like Ezekial Ansah who could fly up the draft boards on hype and Combine performance. So even if Jones doesn’t hurt himself at the Combine — and I’ve read he’s not elite from a metrics POV — someone’s stock HAS to fall in order to make room for the guys’ whose stock is rising. Now, whether or not Jones falls to #17 is a separate issue, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Also, I don’t see any GMs having the cojones to trade up for a kid with a medical condition.

  • steepens

    The biggest needs are LB and WR/TE. Getting a big capable receiver and a healthy offensive line will do wonders for our anemic running game.

  • grw1960

    I think McLendon is the man this season and that the Steelers signed Fangupo as insurance to compete with Ta’Amu to be the Backup and so they would not have to draft a DT high in this years draft

    I also believe they will draft a WR and a RB in the first 3 rounds of the 2013 draft,
    Late 1 thru mid 2…. I like WRs Patton and Hopkins.
    And I like RB Gillislee , Florida in the 3d.

  • Garrett Hunt

    I see the Steelers going offense in the first round… of course it all depends who is on the board at 17.

  • HarryBackside

    Definitely don’t see the DL as a position of need. Sure, any position can benefit from an upgrade in talent, but if the team must go into the 2013 season with the talent they have on the DL, they will be fine.

    To me, the biggest need is WR. AB is the only WR under contract beyond 2013. I’m sure it’s likely that Sanders will be retained, but unless he shows more, is that enough? Cotchery and Burress aren’t long term solutions either. A lot of people feel that the Steelers have a limited amount of time to win another Super Bowl with Ben. If that’s the case, does it make sense to wait another year to add talent at the position?

  • steepens

    The Steelers immediate needs are ILB, TE, WR, and OL. If there isn’t value at 17 for any of these, consider DL and OL. Otherwise, trade down. The Steelers have two great OLB, both of whom have been too injured to make an impact in the past 2 seasons. Colon may be gone, has been injured alot, and is expensive; Gilbert is ok but injured alot also. Wallace is only a threat in the vertical game, not so much in the dinkin-dunkin O… in fact he’s turned into something of a butterfinger. Oh what an impact a receiver or two would have on setting up the running game and offensive output in general.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    The Steelers just lost their pro bowl #1 TE (Miller) for at least half of the 2013 season. They will almost surely lose their pro bowl #1 WR (Wallace) for his career. Anyone who feels TE and WR are not among our highest priorities is not evaluating our roster accurately. We should be able to trade down a few spots and still get one of the following: Eifert, Ertz, Allen, Patterson.

    So if you do draft a DL, he better be worth more than one of those four guys (plus the potential extra pick). I believe Star Lotuleili would qualify. I do not believe Jenkins or Williams fits that standard. The tricky one for me is Hankins and here is why…

    John Hankins is 6’3″ 335. He possesses elite ability to anchor and shed blocks against the run. But he’s also quick enough to get by a single blocker on passing downs. He has good experience at a top school (Ohio St). And fills a position that has a lot of uncertainty on the current Steelers roster. And whereas pro bowl WRs and TEs can often be found in middle rounds. Rarely does an elite DT make it past the first round. There are only a few of them on the planet.

    Lastly, I believe a dominate NT makes a lot of other positions better. If your NT consistently draws the double team (which Hankins does) one of your DEs and one of your OLBs is usually single blocked. Plus your ILBs have better lanes to plug or blitz. I would not cry if we drafted Hankins. But WR and TE are a bigger need IMO.

  • Nolrog

    We can’t keep spending high round picks on the line. That would give us a D line with three number ones, to compliment an OL with two number ones and two mumber twos. At some point, we actually have to get some skill guys in. We’re going into the season without our starting RB, starting TE and one of the starting WRs. One of those has to be a high round, if not first round pick.

  • Nolrog

    I agree.

  • lefnor

    McLendon is a nickel rusher, a one gap player who can attack a gap but can’t shed blocks and can’t dominate anyone against the run. He proved that this year.

    In our base D, he has no place. I have much more faith in Fangupo than him.
    I wouldn’t pick a NT this year because there is Big Snack who silently put together one of his best season! He was consistently able to penetrate the backfield even against double teams. He told that there is 2 more year in the tank and I believe him because NTs (like Pat Williams) can play at age 36-38 effectively.
    Jesse Williams is VERY overrated, a second round prospect at best. Hankins right now looks like a 43 man and John Jenkins is simply not enough good. Strong but inconsistent and plays too high. His center of gravity and body control doesn’t look good. I see a lot of Cody in him and that is not a compliment.
    The best college NT is Louis Nix, but he made a terrible decision so we have to wait him a year. He is the real deal, the best NT prospect since Wilfork. Worth the wait.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    i agree with you 90% if WR,,TE,RB is taken the first three rounds i wont be mad but I think those 3 positions can be mixed into the 2nd to 7th round so with that being said i know we had no.1 d but was on the field to long and lacked turnovers so i would used the first on talented safety then 2nd wr/te who has speed and can catch 3rd lb/dl who is make plays 4th rb 5th honeybadger this guy reminds me of tp43 6wr/te which ever one we didnt draft earlier and seveth lb/dl which ever we didnt draft earlier hopefuly we can give our first for an extra pick to go along with our comp picks and get lineman on both sides and whatever else we need for depth like qb/ol/nt we go shopping in free agency if this were to happen ill say we’ll be back to playing steelers football i just think we need to draft nothing but skilled players for the most part and pick up the extra pieces on the side.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    my point exactly thats why ill go with and elite safety first like elam and i really want the honeybadger to go along with an lb/dl that can make an impact can you imagine elam, tp43, mathieu and lets just say ansah to go along with the rest of our starters I see us being no.1 d with more rings to come i would get the offensive side as we go speedy wr who can catch gifted rb and te to fill in while heath gets healthy then we should be set for years to come which i will then be glad to give up a few picks whenever johnny football enters to learn and take over for ben and use the rest of the picks back up positions of need then we have a new steelers legacy building up

  • Maurice_hill_district

    Grat stuff. Yur descriptin of all our current players is exactly right.

    But yur article titled “Nose Tackle” skipped what is status if Taamu. What is the status of criminal proceedings, what was/is the outcome of the supposed criminal trial portion? Seems 2me whatever is the potential jailtime or status of our NT drafted last year shuld matter.

  • Maurice_hill_district

    That scoop about the safeties coming out is helpful. And as to all that, I hope you are right.

  • Maurice_hill_district

    McClendon is a disruptive force. Ziggy is not. Since Ziggy doesnt need doubl-teamed at DE, he is not functionally strong enough to be a NT. Hampton is not sculpted like Ziggy but is a more disruptive force than Zig. Bodybuilder bod obviously doesnt matter for either DL positn in a 3-4.

    I hope Fang turns into a decent NT to back up McClendon.

  • Clint Martin

    A great draft for DT and O-line.

  • LucasY59

    I think there are 5 players that the Steelers would have to pick if they slid to 17 (Lotulelei, Hankins, Jones, Moore, and Werner, maybe even trade up 2-4 spots if they are available) they are the only elite 1st round talents in this draft. If none of those players are available (they shouldnt be) then the smartest thing to do IMO is trade back for extra picks and take Ertz, Eifert, Elam or a WR

  • Michael Mazanowski

    NT is too important for us to pass up! Unless Keenan Allen is there take the biggest m’fr that fits r scheme!

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    I agree with almost everything you wrote. I would be very careful with the medical report on Jones. I’m not familiar enough with spinal stenosis to know the long term implications but if he is a 1-3 year risk I might go with a more stable 10 year starter type guy instead. I don’t know. The other 4 guys I’d say yes, and I would probably put Fisher and Milliner in their category as well.

    I’m also really hoping for a trade back of 4-5 slots like you described. I think we could pick up an additional 3rd rounder which would help tremendously right now.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    I agree with you as far as our need for safety. But I when you compare the 1st round safeties this year to 1st round safeties in previous years, to me, they don’t match up. IMO, Vaccaro and Elam are solid prospects, but there are some guys who can be drafted in rounds 2-3 that are only slightly less talented.

  • mokhkw

    Looking at the Mock Boards as they now stand, even with some QBs climbing the boards for no apparent reason, there seems to be about 3 DTs in the 15-30 Pick range that are natural 320 + lbers. Unless someone drops between now and the Draft I see about 6 other players in other positions who I think the Steelers would consider in that same Pick range, so if I’ve done my math correctly, that’s about a 33% chance of the Steelers drafting a NT in the 1st.

    At last years Draft some people wanted the Steelers to take Poe. Since then the position has not improved; an aged vet, a back-up not earning more playing time & a rookie who didn’t contribute & had off the field issues.

    Ta’amu was a 4th so I don’t think the Steelers will view it as doubling up on a position. As an eg, in 01 they draft ILB Bell in the 2nd, then in 02 they draft Foote in the 4th. In 2000 they drafted NT Clancy in the 3rd, then in 01 they drafted Hampton in the 1st.

    If I had to place a bet today for which position the Steelers will draft at No.17 in April, I’d bet on NT.