By Jeremy Hritz
The 2013 NFL Draft is still a ways off, but it is never too early to begin prognosticating the players the Pittsburgh Steelers will select. Below is the first edition of my mock draft, and you can expect it to evolve multiple times as we advance through the offseason. Player availability and moves made in free agency will have a tremendous impact on what the team will do in April, yet I fully expect each of the positions addressed below to find themselves in the Steelers draft.
Round 1: Cordarrelle Patterson – Wide Receiver, Tennessee: 6’3, 205 – 4.48
The Steelers need to get explosive on offense, and losing Mike Wallace and not replacing him is not going to make that happen. In order to compete in the offensive-focused NFL that scores lots of points, the Steelers need to have the personnel to ensure that this can happen. Patterson is a big, fast wide receiver who is physical and can go up for the ball. Described as a confident and fiery competitor with natural hands, Patterson could provide Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense with the tall target he has been asking for. While Patterson had only one year at Tennessee, he put up 1858 all-purpose yards and showed that he is versatile as a kick returner, averaging 27.6 yards on kickoff and punt returns combined. Last year as a receiver, Patterson caught 46 passes for 778 yards for five touchdowns, while prior to that for two years at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, he recorded 113 receptions for 1832 yards and 36 touchdowns. While he is a raw prospect that is not a polished route runner, his ceiling is very high, and his explosiveness not only in the passing game, but also in the return game, could add a special dimension to the Todd Haley Rosetta Stone.
Round 2: Giovani Bernard – Running Back, North Carolina: 5’10, 205 – 4.57
The reality is that the Steelers are in need of a running back. Looking at their current stable of running backs, assuming that Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer will return, the Steelers need to add a fast, quick cutback runner that will fit Haley’s offense, and the purported new zone scheme of new offensive line coach, Jack Bicknell, Jr. While there has been clamoring for Eddy Lacy, he is too much in the mold of Redman and Dwyer, whereas Bernard, like Patterson, can add another dimension of explosiveness to an offense that was stagnant in 2012. While not large in stature or super-fast, Bernard is decisive (something that Rashard Mendenhall was not), has good vision, and the ability to make a big run on the cut back. This past season, Bernard had 184 carries for 1228 yards, averaging 6.7 yards per carry for 12 touchdowns. Additionally, Bernard has shown that he can be productive as a receiver, catching 47 balls in 2012 and five touchdown passes (he also returned two punts for touchdowns). Bernard, in tandem with Patterson, could provide a nice special teams return unit. The biggest question facing Bernard is his durability, having suffered a torn ACL in 2010, yet he responded the next season by rushing for 1253 yards. While not the typical back the Steelers draft, he definitely fits the needs of the new Steelers offense.
Round 3: Brandon Jenkins – Outside Linebacker, Florida State: 6’3, 260 – 4.69
There are a lot of questions surrounding the outside linebacker position for the Steelers as LaMarr Woodley grossly underperformed, and it is uncertain whether or not James Harrison will return to the team. Compound that with unproven commodities in Jason Worilds and Chris Carter, and it is evident that the Steelers need to add some talent at the position. Because it is difficult to find an outside linebacker in the early rounds that can come in and play right away unless a team is picking in the top ten, they will more than likely draft an OLB in round three or later, and Jenkins out of Florida State is a strong possibility. Though Jenkins only played in one game in 2012 after injuring his foot, he put together a 13.5 sack season in 2010 and an eight sack season in 2011. Jenkins is a big player that has a great jump off of the line to get after the quarterback. With excellent acceleration and no quit in his efforts to pressure, Jenkins could contribute in obvious passing downs in 2013 and develop over the season into a complete player. In addition to concerns of durability, Jenkins also needs to get stronger and learn to play lower and with more leverage.
Round 4: Jonathan Cyprien – Safety, Florida International: 6, 209 – 4.56
While Cyprien may not be available when the Steelers select in the fourth round, the Steelers are in need of quality depth at the safety position, and they need a player that they can begin bringing along for when one of their revered safety duo retires. While Cyrprien did not face upper echelon talent at Florida International, he recorded 45 starts, which indicates his durability. In 2012, Cyprien racked up 93 tackles and four interceptions, and over his career, he accumulated seven total picks. Described as a physical player who can deliver the big hit, Cyprien could learn from Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu before assuming a starting role in a year or two. Impressed at the Senior Bowl with his intense effort in practice and in the game. Could be a steal if he happens to fall to the Steelers in the fourth round.
Round 5: Nick Kasa – Tight End, Colorado: 6’6, 271 – 4.76
Strong and an excellent blocker, though a raw pass catcher, Kasa in the fifth round would be another project for the Steelers that they devote some time to developing over a few years, allowing time to learn from Heath Miller. Playing on a horrible Colorado football team in 2012 that finished 1-11, Kasa made 26 receptions for 399 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a 70 yard touchdown reception. Kasa is thick with strong hands and has great potential to develop in an quality player. Invests time in his game and puts in the extra effort to get better, something that could speed up his acclimation to the NFL. Again, he is a project and would need to work on catching the ball with his hands and his route running. However, given the opportunity to grow under Miller with the Steelers, he could at least minimally serve as a solid number two tight end.
Round 6: Devin Taylor – Defensive End, South Carolina: 6’7, 275 – 4.79
Tall at 6’7, yet a bit light at 275 for a 3-4 NFL defensive end, Taylor would be another project for the Steelers that would need time to develop. Historically, the Steelers are known to draft defensive linemen in later rounds and allow time for their development (see Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel). With Taylor, a similar approach would have to be taken. While overshadowed by Jadeveon Clowney at South Carolina, Taylor is a hard worker and a leader who always gives a maximum effort. He is explosive and has solid acceleration, though his stature inhibits his ability to play low and get leverage on offensive linemen. Recorded 18.5 sacks over his four year career. The Steelers need to add some depth at the defensive end position, and Taylor can provide that and maybe then some if he can mature into a 3-4 defensive end over a couple of years.
Round 7: Bruce Taylor – Inside Linebacker, Virginia Tech: 6’2, 244 – 4.85
The Steelers cannot afford to burn an early pick on an inside linebacker with their needs at the skill positions on offense. Additionally, considering the complexity of the Steelers defense, it is highly unlikely that a first year ILB can come in and start. The Steelers best bet is to resign Larry Foote and hope that Sean Spence can recover from his injury to man the position. Plus, they finally need to decide what kind of player they have in Stevenson Sylvester. Selecting Taylor in the seventh would provide for some depth at a position where it is sorely needed. Over his career, Taylor has recorded 226 tackles, 33.5 of them for a loss, while also collecting 16.5 sacks. Taylor is a physical and high-motor player that is strong against the run and can effectively rush the passer up the middle. Known to over pursue at times and having a tendency for injury, if Taylor can stay healthy, he could become a decent backup for the Steelers.
|Round||Player||Position||School||Height||Weight||40 Yard Dash|
|2||Giovani Bernard||RB||North Carolina||5’10||205||4.57|
|3||Brandon Jenkins||OLB||Florida State||6’3||260||4.69|
|4||Jonathan Cyprien||S||Florida International||6’||209||4.56|
|6||Devin Taylor||DE||South Carolina||6’7||275||4.79|
|7||Bruce Taylor||ILB||Virginia Tech||6’2||244||4.85|