Here we go with mock draft version 3.0 for the Pittsburgh Steelers. As many of you well know by now, I only do five of these during the draft process as I like to watch as much tape possible on players throughout the offseason. The pro days are now pretty much behind us and next up will be the official team visits as the draft is now less than a month away. You can view my previous mock drafts at the links provided, and my next mock draft will likely be out in about two more weeks, just after the NFL schedule is released, and after several pre draft visits are made.
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I am not going to repost my breakdown of Cooper as that can be read in the previous mock. The Steelers did re-sign Ramon Foster since my last mock posted, but his $5.8 million deal over three years hardly guarantees that he will be a long-time starter. For now, however, Foster looks to be the starting left guard in 2013, and possibly an emergency right tackle. So what is on the Steelers roster behind the current starting five? Doug Legursky has yet to be re-signed so that leaves John Malecki as the only backup center on the roster that can possibly play both guard spots. Kelvin Beachum played some guard poorly during the preseason last year, but all of his regular season snaps came at right tackle after playing left tackle his entire college career. Do you see the obvious depth problem on the offensive line? Cooper can play both guard spots as well as center. He is a smart, high character kid who can move very well. Should the Steelers lose an interior lineman at any point during the season, Cooper should be able to be plugged in quickly without issues. I have pointed out several times this offseason how guards are disrespected in the first round and there is no reason to think thatchanges this year. Until the Steelers add legitimate depth behind the starting five, I will continue to perceive Cooper, and Chance Warmack for that matter, as possible draft options in the first round.
Round 2 – WR Robert Woods – USC
I am changing up things in round two this time around. While I am still very high on Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, I am getting the feeling that he will be off the board when the Steelers pick in the second round. Should that indeed wind up being the case, Woods would be my second choice. The 6 foot, 1 inch receiver is a polished route runner that understands how to set up defenders well. He comes back to the ball well and has shown to be effective in making tough catches in traffic over the middle. He answered questions about his speed by running in the 4.4 range and showed over the course of his college career that he can be a reliable possession receiver. While he is mostly regarded as a slot receiver, he can play all three receiver spots and is a more than willing blocker. As far as weaknesses go, Woods needs to work on high pointing the ball better and do a better job at not tipping his hand with indicators such as dropping his hands and chopping his feet. Although his 2012 season wasn\’t stellar, his 112 receptions for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns as a true sophomore can\’t be ignored. He is one of the most well-rounded wide receivers in this draft and the middle of the second round sounds about right for him.
The Steelers need a strong safety to groom to take over for Troy Polamalu and McDonald certainly fits the bill as potentially being that player. McDonald has an NFL bloodline as his father is Tim McDonald, who was six-time Pro Bowl safety in the league with the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers. His father also coached him at Edison High School in Fresno, California, where he played with Steelers current backup free safety Robert Golden. McDonald is best used in the box, much like Polamalu often is, and he has had good success covering tight ends and number two wide receivers in the slot while in college. While he is not a heavy hitter, he is a reliable tackler that wraps up well. His break on the footbball is better than average and he understands how to take proper angles. The Steelers like to play a lot of fire-zone cover-3 and McDonald would be perfect for that style of defense. While being groomed, he will be an asset to the Steelers special teams units. He bulked up at the NFL combine and that should help him become a heavier hitter at the NFL level.
Simon doesn\’t have the classic build of a Steelers 3-4 outside linebacker, but he certainly has the production of one. His production as a defensive end at Ohio State was quite impressive, and it included 45 career tackles for losses and 20.5 sacks. Simon has perhaps the best motor of any player in this draft, and his leadership qualities are off the chart. While he is considered a workout warrior, he will more than likely have to drop about 10 pounds at the NFL level, which should help him become a bit more flexible. He has quick feet for a player of his size and is above average at setting and holding the edge against the run. His bend around the edge will need improvement, and he will need to develop more counter moves, but he should be able to push the pocket consistently as an outside linebacker. While he will never be one that will be expected to follow a tight end across the field, his few drops into the flat seemed to be precise. He mostly played defensive end, so there will be an expected transition period to standing up as an outside linebacker. While he is not quick off the snap, he is measured, and has good read vision. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has a soft heart for Ohio State players and was present for his pro day in March. Regardless of where Simon lands in the draft, I expect him to play a long time in the league. His relentless playing style reminds you of former Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. If I knew Trevardo Williams could drop to here, I would likely choose him over Simon, but my confidence level in that happening is not good.
Barner would be the perfect compliment to Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman in the Todd Haley offense. The Steelers drafted Chris Rainey to be that compliment last year, but he of course didn\’t pan out. Barner is much in the same mold as Rainey, except he should be able to run inside a little more effectively. The Oregon product is a threat to score whenever he has the football in his hands, and those hands are perhaps the best of any running back in this class. He can return both punts and kicks, and that will be a plus. While his blocking needs improvement, Barner is willing to cut, and shows above average recognition in that area. Because many teams will not see him as a three-down back at the next level, he should still be on the board after the fourth round. While not as short, Barner kind of reminds you a little of New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles. He can get to the edge with ease, and is best suited for a zone blocking scheme that we will likely see more from the Steelers in 2013.
Kruger is yet another carryover from my last mock draft, and you can read my full breakdown of him there. I am also bumping him up a round as I feel that the sixth round is where he will wind up being selected as he is no longer a secret. Like McDonald, Kruger also has NFL bloodlines, and should he continue to fill out his frame, which it can certainly handle; he has the upside to become a premier 3-4, 5-technique defensive end in the NFL. The Steelers have depth questions at the defensive end position and defensive line coach John Mitchell would likely love to develop Kruger into the next Aaron Smith.
Mauti is my third and final carryover from my last mock draft because the upside that this kid possesses is special. The Steelers received a sixth round compensatory draft pick recently, and using it on Mauti, who vows to play in 2013, is worth it. If not for his knee injury last season, the Penn State product would be selected within the top four rounds. If the Steelers doctors like his progress made by draft day, he could easily be groomed to be a long-time BUCK linebacker in the Steelers 3-4 defense. Mauti has reached out to all 32 teams with a handwritten letter that professes his love of the game, and his want to play in the NFL. I wouldn\’t bet against him becoming a force at the next level despite his injury history.
I really think that the Steelers would like to get a developmental backup quarterback in this draft and Griffin fits the bill and the price. The Tulane product has above-average size and football IQ and appears solid at working through his progressions. He throws well on the move when forced out the pocket and possess better than average touch when asked to drop passes over the middle and into zones. While his touch is fine, he needs to develop more velocity on his other throws, especially those outside of the numbers. He needs to step into his throws more as he has a tendency to throw off of his back foot too much. He is still filling out his frame and should develop more arm strength in the process. Griffin didn\’t have the best protection in college, and I think that attributed to a lot of his rushed throws and poor mechanics. There is a lot to work with here; however, as far as tools go, and he is a tough quarterback who has proven he is not afraid to take hits while delivering in the pocket.