By Alex Kozora
Like Dave Bryan, throughout the draft process I’ll be occasionally posting mock drafts. Needless to say, bear in mind it’s still early and all mocks are fluid. Understandably favored towards the players I’ve already scouted. As I watch more, my opinions will change and the mock will be updated.
Round One: Eric Ebron/TE North Carolina
Tight end isn’t the biggest position of need for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But into his early 30s, Heath Miller will only plateau at best and decline at worst. No longer can Kevin Colbert call tight end one of two positions he definitely would not take in the first round.
You can check out Ebron’s scouting report here. In Dave’s summary, he calls Ebron a “dangerous weapon” who can stretch the field vertically. That’s backed up by his dual 4.50 40 times at the Combine. Ebron recorded 13 catches of 20+ yards last season for the Tar Heels.
As much as I’ve always loved Miller, I’ve always put a “move” tight end at the top of my wish list. Offenses that desire to be potent have to be multiple. A vertical threat at tight end gives you that. With as much 12 personnel as the Steelers ran upon Matt Spaeth’s return, there has to be a bigger passing threat. Too often, teams would stack the box against those sets.
With Ebron, you can run essentially run 11 personnel and split him in the slot. Ditto the times Pittsburgh spreads the field with four wide. Instead of relying on a Derek Moye type, Ebron becomes a wide receiver.
For those times when he has to play with his hand down, Ebron can be asked to down and angle block while he refines his run blocking. Heck, you could even use him as a WR in two wide receiver sets opposite Antonio Brown.
With the talent of a guy like Ebron, the possibilities become endless. Having options as an offensive coordinator is the goal. Want to see the Steelers join the ranks of the New Orleans and Cleveland’s (as odd as that is to say) with freaks at tight end that pose huge matchup problems to defenses. Ebron is that guy.
Round Two: Chris Borland/ILB Wisconsin
I’ve always been in Vince Williams’ corner. Based on circumstances, he performed admirably for a rookie season and if the team doesn’t take an inside linebacker, I’m excited to watch Williams grow.
This pick isn’t just rooted in the lack of prospects at inside linebacker though Williams aside, the cupboard is bare. But as you could tell in my scouting report, I’ve fallen hard for Borland. His size is easy to overlook, literally and figuratively, but his play isn’t. With active hands to shed blocks, a technician in his tackling form and ability to take angles to the football, and non-stop motor, he fits the Steelers’ “mold”. Instant Day One starter.
Round Three (Comp): Pierre Desir/CB Lindenwood
In most mocks, it’s uncommon for the Steelers to wait until the third round to take a cornerback. But two reasons why I’ve waited. The cornerback situation isn’t as dire as it’s made out to be. Ike Taylor is declining but his poor play was overstated last season (even if metrics don’t support that notion). He comes with a heavy base salary but is unlikely to be cut due to a lack of depth and his veteran leadership. A restructure is more likely than outright release.
Plus, the team has only drafted a cornerback in the first round three times since 1979 (Rod Woodson, Deon Figures, and Chad Scott).
Desir just reminds me of Cortez Allen so much. Small schools? Check. Raw? Yep. Long, leggy cornerbacks? Sure are. From those standpoints, the dots connect.
Although the situation isn’t dire, it’s one that can be improved. For any team, it’s a constant position of need. Desir may take some time to adjust to this level but has promise. Looked fluid for his tall statue at the Combine.
Round Four: Will Clarke/DE West Virginia
Partially chalk this one up to being biased to a player I’ve already watched. Can check out my scouting report on him here.
But there’s a lot to like with this local product and Mike Tomlin isn’t afraid to pick up kids from WVU (Ryan Mundy, Will Johnson). Clarke has a ton of length and when on his game, plays like Cam Heyward. Short-area quickness and strength to hold the point of attack.
Granted, he is frustratingly inconsistent and doesn’t always play to his ability. Despite 34 career starts, he didn’t produce until his senior season. It’s reasonable to assume the team can retain Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, neither will cost much, but depth will still be a huge problem. Clarke has excellent upside and is well worth the fourth round pick.
Round Four (Comp): Devin Street/WR Pittsburgh
Was trying to figure out where the team could take a wide receiver throughout this mock. If a player like Jordan Matthews falls into the third round, I’d be tempted to pull the trigger. Don’t anticipate that happening, however, and wanted to keep the mock as realistic as possible for a first attempt.
Street is just under 6’3 and can grow into his 198 pound frame. I don’t subscribe to the idea the Steelers *need* a tall wide receiver, I only care about talent, but it doesn’t hurt. Never posted huge numbers at Pitt but a balanced offense and poor quarterback play hindered him.
He was elected captain in his final year, speaking to his character. Actual interest in Street from the team is unknown but it’s likely he will visit with the team in private workouts. He won’t count against the 30 the Steelers are allowed to bring in. Surely worth a look.
Round Five: Victor Hampton/CB South Carolina
A player I’m anxious to find more about. Watching him solely at the Combine, he’s undersized and likely billed for the slot. But he flashed some of the quickest feet at the Combine. Very explosive. Also was the Gamecocks’ starting punt returner in 2013. 51 tackles and three interceptions last year.
At worst, as a rookie, he’ll be a core special teamer. Important since it’s likely Shamarko Thomas and/or Markus Wheaton will log more playing time on their respective side of the ball. Could need fresh faces at gunner/jammer.
Round Six: Jerick McKinnon/RB Georgia Southern
Listed as a quarterback, he only attempted 17 passes as a senior in GSU’s option offense. Instead, he averaged over 6.5 per carry (161/1050) and found the end zone 12 times. Precedent in taking an option runner after selecting Jonathan Dwyer. Hopefully with better results this go around.
Have yet to watch McKinnon on tape but the Combine numbers have me dying to watch. Absurd numbers all around. 4.41 40. 1.46 ten yard split (as fast as Dri Archer). 40.5 vertical. 11 foot broad jump. That spells explosion.
Round Seven: Jamie Meder/NT Ashland
The defensive line version of Chris Borland (I’m a sucker, sorry). Actually have been able to watch coaches tape on Meder and though I’m not finished evaluating, I’m a fan. Uber-strong with a rocks-solid understanding of pad level. Capable of driving lineman into the pocket. Bullied the GLIAC.
He finished 2013 tied for the team lead in tackles with 88. Led the team in TFL (7.5) and sacks (3). Participated at the NFLPA Bowl and stood out.
Primarily played defensive end in Ashland’s 3-4 but his size/strength also lends itself to playing zero tech.
Doesn’t seem likely to happen, however. Since 2007, the Steelers have only drafted two players below the FBS level (Cortez Allen and Nick Williams) let alone three in one draft. First changes I’ll probably be making for my next draft.